Turkey’s intelligence agency has escaped audit and is hiding its spending under a new veil of secrecy

Abdullah Bozkurt/Stockholm

In yet another blow to transparency in Turkey’s governance, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has blocked the intelligence agency, a key institution it has increasingly relied on to govern, from submitting a expense report, thus hampering the audit of the agency. .

For the first time, Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı, MIT) did not submit its expenditure and asset report to the Court of Accounts this year in defiance of Turkish law, hampering the parliamentary oversight of the intelligence agency.

Until last year, the Court of Accounts (Sayıştay) examined the accounting data of the agency, confirmed whether the expenditure had been carried out in accordance with the regulations and then submitted its report to the parliament before the deliberations on the budget of the agency. ‘Next year.

Law No. 6085 on the Operation and Structure of the Court of Accounts, as amended in 2010, authorizes the court to control the expenditure and budget of the intelligence agency in accordance with internationally established accounting standards. The court has the right to audit a public institution not only in terms of expenditure but also in terms of performance. Secondary law and regulations govern the methods of publicizing data.

In the past, Turkey’s once-mighty military used to have broader audit exclusions, especially for commercial companies, and the audit report was kept secret from the public. But this practice was abolished in 2012 with changes introduced as part of Turkey’s harmonization process with the EU.

Now MIT seems to have replaced the military enjoying this heavy veil of secrecy and is not held accountable for spending taxpayers’ money. The Erdoğan government has amended intelligence bills in recent years, providing full immunity from criminal prosecution for the agency and its employees.

The building of the Court of Accounts in Ankara.

MIT’s failure to send data to the Court of Auditors is seen as another step towards transforming Turkey into a state increasingly ruled by intelligence services through fear and intimidation. The agency has been headed by Hakan Fidan, a pro-Iranian Islamist and confidant of Erdoğan, since May 2010 and has been implicated in extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, orchestrating false flags and plotting politically motivated operations. to strengthen Erdoğan’s regime.

Available accounting data from last year, while not very detailed, nevertheless revealed how the government poured a huge sum of money into the agency to finance the expansion of clandestine operations, which are mainly aimed at undermining the opposition. and to support Erdoğan’s regime.

Last year’s Court of Auditors report said the agency spent nearly half a billion Turkish liras on covert operations in 2020 while benefiting from a huge increase in the assets it holds, valued at more than 32 billion lire.

MIT spent 495.4 million lira on what was described as “secret service expenses”. Moreover, its assets jumped to 32.7 billion lira, a whopping 92% increase over the previous year.

In 2018, MIT had only 3.8 billion lira in assets, but the agency became a wealthy institution in two years, increasing its wealth to 32.7 billion lira, a 761% increase in not much time.

The report also showed that the agency spent 1.3 billion lira on agents in 2020 and spent 756.1 million lira from a budget item described as “unidentified”. The same figure was assigned to the depreciation of agency-owned properties in another section of the report.

A government document shows that MIT spent almost half a billion lira on covert operations in 2020:

Turkish_intelligence_agency_MIT_2020_secret_funding

The agency also spent far more than its budget of 2.2 billion lira allocated by Parliament for the year 2020, exceeding its expenditure ceiling of 274 million lira, which was then provided to the agency from additional budget.

Still, that wasn’t the whole picture either. The agency was able to dip into the coffers of the Defense Industry Support Fund (SSDF), an extrabudgetary defense resource managed by the Defense Industry Presidency, formerly the Undersecretary for Defense Industry (SSM). .

With a relevant law change in 2014, Erdoğan simply allowed MIT to draw from the SSDF for its expenses. MIT’s requirement to be bound by SSDF regulations governing tenders has been waived. As a result, the agency was not required to divulge information about what it needed the money for and could organize tenders to procure weapons according to its own regulations, and the SSDF would simply provide funds, regardless of the amount.

According to the report, MIT used 76.3 million lira from this defense fund, originally established in 1985 to purchase weapons and related items for the military. The Turkish military was uncomfortable with the new practice, but critics were muzzled after a failed coup on July 15, 2016, when hundreds of generals and thousands of senior officers were sacked of the Army.

MIT’s 2020 tally shows that the agency has amassed enormous wealth in two years, reaching more than 32 billion Turkish liras:

Turkish_intelligence_agency_MIT_2020_wealth

In line with Erdoğan’s goals and strategy, MIT also benefits from a considerable share of the discretionary fund given to the president to spend whatever he wants without having to divulge any details. Money spent from the discretionary fund last year was TL 2.7 billion, a 35% increase from 2020.

According to data from the General Directorate of Public Finance Administration and Transformation, the money spent from the discretionary fund for the first eight months of this year was TL 2.5 billion.

Although crippled and rendered almost ineffective by Erdoğan’s regime, the Court of Accounts remains the main control body of the Turkish state, reviewing the expenditure of government agencies on behalf of taxpayers. Although limited in scope and unsatisfactory in content, the Court of Auditors’ report remained one of the few clues available about MIT’s operations. This limited oversight of the agency’s budget and spending seems to have been destroyed this year.

MIT has always enjoyed some immunity from state audits due to the sensitive nature of its operations, but it has become virtually untouchable, especially as Erdoğan has become more autocratic. The Turkish leader deliberately weakened the already weak control exercised by parliament, hampered the supervisory authority of the judiciary and gagged the press, only letting it speak when it was beneficial to it.

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