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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Turkey’s biggest intelligence base to be handed over to the Natl. Intel Org. (MİT)

Turkey’s highest capacity electronic military intelligence base, known as the Flag Garrison and formally as the General Staff Electronic Systems Command (GES), will be placed under civilian control, according to a report published in the Radikal daily yesterday.

Radikal reporter Murat Yetkin wrote that the necessary procedures to place the GES under the control of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) were already under way. According to the report, this was recently started under orders from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. When the process is complete, MİT’s Electronic Technical Intelligence (ETİ) unit will move to the Flag Garrison, located in the south of Ankara off the Haymana highway. Yetkin says this has been confirmed by unnamed military sources who said the project was part of larger efforts to coordinate GES and MİT’s activities more effectively and to avoid a duplication of intelligence gathering.

He also cited a source from MİT who said: “Wiretapping, technically, is a very costly activity both in terms of technical equipment and in terms of personnel expenses. We recently started a project with the General Staff to merge the activities of these two agencies. With the General Staff handing GES over to MİT, this would contribute to significant savings and also increase the center’s technical capabilities. Talks are currently under way, but the process of transferring GES to MİT is nearing completion.”

GES is currently part of the General Staff’s Warfare and Electric Information Systems (MEBS). It was established by the US during the Cold War in the late ‘50s to gather intelligence on the USSR. Later, it was placed under NATO and Turkey’s control. The center has state-of-the-art wiretapping equipment, antennae and other devices that enable monitoring of wireless communications. The system has satellite and ground systems that can ensure encrypted communication with Turkish units located in far-off places from Afghanistan to Somalia.

Yetkin says GES purportedly aided the US in its 2003 operation in Iraq by marking US targets electronically to help the US forces during blackouts in northern Iraq during nighttime airstrikes. Security experts say MİT, the National Police Department and the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) have no equipment that can match the satellites and ground antennae owned by GES. According to experts, there is not a single electronic device or telephone line inside Turkey or the surrounding region that GES cannot listen into.

GES recently became a source of much controversy. It was first heard of publicly during the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d’état, when it was used as a communication center by the coup leaders. Its secrecy was undermined during a search at the military’s Tactical Mobilization Group unit as part of an investigation into an alleged assassination attempt on the life of Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç. In February 2008 a tape recording that allegedly featured the voice of GES commander Gen. Münir Ertan was posted online. The broadcast was used as propaganda by the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to indicate that Turkey’s over-the-border operations on PKK bases abroad were failing.

In the most recent scandal, civilian prosecutors searched GES in October 2010 as part of an investigation into a gang accused of using prostitutes to blackmail engineers and military officers working on key defense projects to steal and sell information about these projects to foreign intelligence services. Yetkin’s sources said it is no coincidence GES was being handed over following these developments.

There is also a political and symbolic meaning to the transfer. Handing over a facility that has become a symbol of the Sept. 12 coup to MİT is regarded as a watershed event in terms of military-civilian relations. It comes as part of a general trend of the demilitarization of some of the country’s key intelligence and security units, such as MİT and the National Security Council (MGK).

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