Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) has seen a 31 percent increase in its assets in the course of only one year, a state audit report for 2018 has shown.
Used as a prop to support the neo-nationalist Islamist regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by continuously spying on critics in Turkey and dissidents abroad, MİT’s spending details are not properly disclosed nor are they open to inspection or investigation.
Assets have been rising, especially the last couple of years, seeing a 248 percent jump in 2017 over 2016.
According to the audit report for 2018 by the Court of Accounts, MİT assets rose from TL 2.9 billion in 2017 to TL 3.81 billion. That figure was TL 834 billion in 2016. Although crippled and rendered almost ineffective by the Erdoğan regime, the Court of Accounts is still the major auditing body of the Turkish state, reviewing the spending by government agencies on behalf of the taxpayers.
Erdoğan pursued a strategy to increase the prominence of the intelligence body by making it wealthier, stronger and less accountable over the years. The allocations from the main budget have seen a parallel increase in this strategy, as can be seen in the chart. Over the last years, especially after Erdoğan’s dirty secrets were laid bare by two consecutive corruption operations in 2013, the amount of money received by the agency has seen sharp increases.
In the 2017 central budget, MİT’s allotments amounted to TL 2 billion, whereas this figure rose to TL 2.34 billion in 2018. In other words, the allocation from the budget increased 17 percent over the previous year. The Budget Expenditures and Allowances Table presented by MİT shows that the total amount of allowances received by the intelligence body was TL 2.9 billion, including the figure from 2018 budget plus the transferred allowances from the past year.
In line with Erdoğan’s goals and strategy, MİT also enjoys a considerable share of the discretionary fund given to the president to spend on anything he wants without having to disclose any details. The Public Financial Administration and Transformation General Directorate’s monthly bulletin shows that the money spent from the discretionary fund for the first eight months of this year was TL 1.5 billion, whereas this figure was TL 1.3 billion the previous year. In all of 2018, arbitrary spending from the slush fund reached TL 1.7 billion.
MİT furthermore enjoys the coffers of the Turkish Defense Industry Support Fund (SSDF), an extra-budgetary resource for defense that is managed by the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM). With a modification in relevant laws in 2011, Erdoğan simply allowed MİT to tap into the SSDF for its expenditures that involve defense operations. MİT was bound by SSDF regulations governing tenders, but this obstacle was removed with another legislative change two years later. MİT was thus taken out of the scope of auditing, was not required to disclose any information concerning what it needs the money for and could organize tenders in line with its own regulations, and the SSDF would merely provide the funds, no matter how much.
This move encountered some reaction from the army back then, since the SSDF was originally created in 1985 solely for the financing of defense-related projects of the military. However criticism from the army ranks was muzzled after a failed coup on July 15, 2016 as hundreds of generals were discharged from the army.
The auditing report indicates the amount drawn by MİT from the SSDF was a total of TL 623 million in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Against this figure, in 2018 alone, MİT received TL 792 million from this fund, a number that is almost a third of its already augmented budget allowance. In other words, the intelligence agency got almost 20 percent of the cash available in the defense industry fund to back its own undisclosed spending.
On the MİT balance sheet for the year 2017, the tangible fixed assets section is worth a closer look. In 2017 the land and parcels account stood at TL 1.53 billion, up from TL 483 million a year ago. The buildings owned by MİT were valued at TL 437 million, while ongoing investments, which were simply nonexistent in 2016, were TL 821 million. Including the accumulated depreciation account, the total of fixed assets owned by MİT was TL 2.68 billion. The audit report, referring to the Tangible Assets Summary Sheet, showed that the total value of all of real assets — buildings and other immovable properties — was TL 19.56 billion as of the end of 2017.
In this year’s report, although the land and parcels item on the balance sheet saw no significant change, the ongoing investments line skyrocketed from TL 821 million to TL 2.13 billion. Although MİT has several building projects, such as transforming the Ankara Saray sports facilities into an Intelligence academy and land expropriations in various provinces, their total cost is extremely unlikely to reach a whopping number like this, especially in such a short period of time, a point that sparks curiosity as to whether the “ongoing investment account” is merely an on-paper excuse for some undisclosed covert operations.
As for the liabilities section of the balance sheet, the most significant change is in the value movements line, which indicated a tremendous rise from TL 4.67 billion in 2017 to TL 7.27 billion in 2018, an increase of 56 percent. This line, although its details were not disclosed, likely comprises money transferred from the SSDF, the discretionary fund and other government institutions, since the value movements sums up the liquid and non-liquid transfers among different public bodies that are part of the same budget.
As usual, MİT’s highest spending was for personnel expenditures, with TL 941.7 million in 2018, 13.8 percent higher than the previous year. This increase should be normal given annual wage increases and new recruits. The mission costs, the expenditures from operations, however, saw a decline from TL 453 million to TL 302.4 million in the mentioned years. However, current expenditures as part of projects jumped from TL 4.4 million in 2017 to TL 236 million.
MİT had always enjoyed some immunity from state auditing due to the sensitive nature of its operations, but it has become practically untouchable, particularly since Erdoğan has grown more autocratic. The Turkish leader purposely mutilated the already feeble oversight mechanism of parliament, maimed the judiciary’s auditing authority and gagged the press, letting it speak only when it beneficial to him. Under current conditions, although limited in scope and unsatisfactory in content, the Court of Accounts report is still one of the few clues available as to how powerful and relentless the national spy agency is becoming.