CIA Director John Brennan dithered when asked if the United States foresaw the failed military coup against the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in America’s NATO ally Turkey.
He did say that American intelligence officials were well informed about “stresses and strains” inside Turkey and substantial opposition to President Erdogan, but he would not explicitly answer when asked whether the United States saw the attempted coup by segments of the Turkish military coming, reports the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
While addressing an audience at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance on Tuesday, CIA Director Brennan highlighted how U.S. officials handled last Friday’s attempted efforts to overthrow Erdogan — led by the country’s military, which considers itself the guardian of Turkey’s secular constitution.
The first thing you do when you have a situation like that is you try to ascertain the facts, and a lot of time… it’s very, very difficult because a lot of information is coming in and it is hard to distinguish between rumors.
Dr. Jennifer Sims, a former State Department official and nonresident senior fellow for national intelligence at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, moderated the Tuesday’s event.
She asked Brennan, “Did we see it coming?”
The CIA director almost addressed the question, ultimately saying, “Good try anyway, Jennifer.”
He began his response by saying, “We…” and awkwardly laughing before he continued.
He went on to say:
There have been a number of developments in the Turkish political scene over the last several years [under]… President Erdogan… with the consolidation of power and authority. It also sits astride a very unsettled area, and with the challenges that the [terrorist group] PKK [Kurdistan’s Workers Party] and the Kurdish terrorists present to Turkey…
We know that there have been stresses and strains on the government, and there has been a number of actions that the government has taken to try to address… what they perceived as, opposition domestically.
So we were aware of the pressures that the government was under as well as some of the sentiments that people expressed. But we made sure that our policymakers were kept informed about developments in Turkey. And that’s where most of our intelligence assessments go as opposed to here.
The audience then laughed.
Such allegations have led the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, to issue a statement denying the claims, saying, “This is categorically untrue, and such speculation is harmful to the decades-long friendship between two great nations,” reports USA Today.
President Erdogan has accused Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, of being behind the revolt, an allegation that has fueled suspicions in Turkey that the U.S. orchestrated the attempted coup.
Erdogan has reportedly either suspended or detained an estimated 50,000 people as part of a purge of the army, police, and the courts that expanded to universities and schools following the failed military coup attempt.
Many of those individuals have been targeted for alleged ties to the U.S.-based Imam Gulen.
Erdogan is pushing for the reinstatement of the death penalty in Turkey and has demanded that the U.S. extradite Gulen.
According to official government figures, about 232 people were killed and another 1,541 injured as a result of the coup attempt.