ANKARA AFP + agencies  –  19.3.2013 – : The head of Turkish intelligence, Hakan Fidan, is the driving force behind the state’s clandestine peace talks with a jailed Kurdish PKK rebel chief that aim to end a bloody three-decade insurgency.

Low-profile Fidan, 45, was appointed to the top spy seat by close ally Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May 2010. Fidan took part in peace talks with senior figures from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Oslo in 2009, which unravelled in 2011 when secret recordings were leaked to the media revealing the talks. After the failed negotiations, Erdogan’s government delegated Fidan to hold talks with PKK chief Abdullah Ocalan, who is serving a life sentence in the isolated prison island of Imrali. When state prosecutors last year asked the senior intelligence official to shed light on whose authority the agency held the Oslo talks, Erdogan publicly voiced support for his ally. “It was me who sent him to Oslo and to Imrali,” the premier said.

“He is my secret-keeper, he is the state’s secret-keeper,” Erdogan said, describing Fidan as a “very well-trained bureaucrat.” Erdogan’s ruling party later introduced a bill in parliament requiring the prime minister’s authorisation to interrogate the spy agency’s agents, effectively immunising Fidan from any prosecution. Details about the spy’s life are largely confidential because of his role at the top of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MIT). According to a brief resume on the MIT’s official website, Fidan served in the Turkish Armed Forces as a non-commissioned officer. He also worked at NATO’s Germany-based Allied Rapid Reaction Corps.

The married father-of-three has a bachelor’s degree in political science and government from the University of Maryland University College in the United States. He also earned a master’s and a doctoral degree at Ankara’s private Bilkent University.

He headed a public agency for development known as TIKA, which is active in the Turkic states and Africa but also in other Muslim countries where Turkey has been trying to gain a foothold as part of its strategy to become a regional power.

Local media say he fostered ties with an influential Islamic movement headed by Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the United States, during his four-year tenure at TIKA. The Gulen movement, which has dozens of schools abroad, is considered close to Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), in power since 2002. Before he was appointed the new head of MIT, Fidan worked in Erdogan’s office as a deputy undersecretary. He is also known to have worked closely with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Following Fidan’s MIT appointment in 2010, Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the Israeli defence establishment, particularly Mossad, viewed his promotion with concern, accusing him of steering Turkey away from the Jewish state and closer to Iran. The paper cited unnamed Israeli sources as speculating that Fidan, along with Erdogan and Davutoglu, orchestrated a change in Turkish-Israeli ties — which were wrecked after Israeli commandoes raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, killing nine Turks on board.

In an opinion piece last year, the daily Haber-Turk editor in chief Fatih Altayli claimed that Erdogan was grooming Fidan for the post of prime minister. “He (Erdogan) brings Fidan along in many important talks with foreign heads of state. It feels like he is considering Hakan Fidan for an important mission in the future,” Altayli said. If Fidan’s efforts bear fruit, the peace talks could lead to the disarmament of some 4,000 rebels in southeast Turkey and in northern Iraq and, ultimately, to the end of a 29-year-old rebellion that has cost some 45,000 lives, mostly Kurdish.