With a major update: Palace PR at full throttle II

22 11 2020

One of hundreds of pieces of graffiti attacking the king and royal family

As we said in an earlier post, the palace public relations machinery has long had to “manage” Vajiralongkorn’s mostly self-inflicted PR disasters, ranging from his erratic and vengeful behavior to rumors of violence, illnesses, philandering and associations with crime. These PR exercises have mostly involved strategies that had “worked” for his father.

King, queen and ultra-royalist

However, as popular criticism of the monarchy has reached levels that no one can recall in their lifetimes, what we have called the Hello! strategy has emerged, mostly revolving around the women currently closest to King Vajiralongkorn: Queen Suthida, Princess Sirivannavari, and chief concubine Sineenat.

The king is now almost always seen arm-in-arm with Suthida, as she guides her often shaky looking husband around crowds of royalist well-wishers, encouraging the “common” touch of selfies, autographs and statements of encouragement to selected ultra-royalists. The queen is seen as the one recognizing the ultra-royalists,  beaming and fist-pumping to supporters, and directing the king to them.

Sirivannavari as “one of us”

Meanwhile, Sirivannavari is high profile, fostering a kind of “people’s princess” image, seeking to link to younger people. This effort has not always been successful. Protesters know that Sirivannavari has been officially promoted and the recipient of “award” just because she’s the king’s daughter. And, protesters know that she’s cycled through a series of expensive “career choices” that have cost the taxpayer plenty. We recall she was the top student at university, a national badminton player, a diplomat, a Paris fashion designer, etc. That knowledge has led to the princess being spoofed by protesters.

Clipped from LA Times. Photo credit: Jack Taylor AFP / Getty Images

Sineenat has sometimes been seen making up the royal triplet in public, but has recently been off in the countryside, also cultivating a “people’s” semi-royal persona. Yet her troubled, on-again, off-again relationship with the king is well known and rumors of her role in palace and royal family tensions are also widespread.

The general idea seems to be to show that the palace is not really aloof, hugely wealthy, grasping, erratic and uncaring, but is really at one with the people. This is a strategy that carries high risk. After all, making the monarchy “popular” challenges the most basic premise of royals as special, divine, blue-bloods. It is blood and position that counts, not popularity.

But when a royal house is challenged, it is often a spur to make the royals “popular.” And the challenges are coming thick and fast.So strong is the anti-monarchism that even the Hello! strategy is having to be surpassed with publicity that shows the grasping king as “generous.”

In the most high profile PR effort to date, the Bangkok Post reports that the king will “give royal land title deeds worth ’10 billion baht’ to four educational institutes in a handover ceremony.” (That the Post puts the figure in quotation marks suggests a need for caution.)

Our first thought was that this declaration is a response to pro-democracy demonstrators having announced that their next rally will be outside the Crown Property Bureau on 25 November. The palace is trying to pre-empt that demonstration by showing that the king and CPB are “generous.”

Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation Minister Anek Laothamatas reportedly said:

… ownership of royal title deeds covering more than 100 rai of land along Ratchawithi Road in Dusit district would be handed over to two universities and two schools [Rachawinit elementary school and its secondary school] already located on the land…. Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University will receive title deeds covering more than 60 rai, while Suan Dusit University will be granted more than 37 rai, Mr Anek said, adding that the value of the land was estimated at about 10 billion baht.

That statement is not at all clear. Is there a difference between “ownership of a royal title deed” and ownership of land? How much is “more than”?

We recall that, in 2018, there were reports that these universities had been told that they would need to relocate. The CPB kind of confirmed this.

The Post claims, seeming to cite Anek, that the “land where the universities are located originally belonged to the King and the land is part of Dusit Palace, which is a complex of royal residences.” This means prior to 1932 for it was after that revolution that the new regime used (took over?) some of the land “for educational purposes…”. As Wikipedia has it: “In 1932 the absolute monarchy was abolished and part of the Dusit Palace was reduced and transferred to the constitutional government. This included the Khao Din Wana (เขาดินวนา) to the east of the palace, which was given in 1938 to the Bangkok City Municipality by King Ananda Mahidol to create a public park, which later became Dusit Zoo.”

It seems that the current king is the one who has had this land “returned” to him.

The zoo comes into the Post story: “Apart from the handover of the deeds, the royally-owned land where Dusit Zoo, the country’s first public zoo, was once located will be used for the construction of a public hospital.” It seems to us that this is a recent decision designed to reduce the criticism of the palace’s grasping. Add to that the “Nang Loeng racecourse in Dusit district [which did belong] to the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) … is now to be “transform[ed] … into a public park in commemoration of … King Bhumibol…”. Yes, another one. As far as we can tell, this is another new idea.

Clearly the ideological war is expanding.

Update: The Nation has a listing of the “grants”, saying the king “granted nine land title deeds to government agencies and educational institutions.” Hopefully there’s someone out there who knows more about this than PPT, but the PR on this story seems to overwhelm what seems to have been going on. And we are not sure we know, but we smell fish.

The report states that the “King and Queen arrived at Amporn Sathan Throne in Dusit Palace to hand over land title deeds of royal properties in Bangkok and other provinces to use as government workplaces and educational establishments.” That doesn’t quite sound like the land is changing ownership.

When one looks at the properties involved, it gets fishier still. There are plots of land that have long been occupied and used by government bodies, the military and the Border Patrol Police. Take the latter as an example. The report states:

Commissioner of the Royal Thai Police, Pol General Suwat Jangyodsuk, received a land title deed for an area of 185 rai, 1 ngan and 85.20 square wah, in Cha-am district of Phetchaburi province for use as a working place for Naresuan Camp Border Patrol Police headquarters.

Commander of the Border Patrol Police, Pol Lt-General Wichit Paksa, received a land title deed for an area of 275 rai, 3 ngan and 57.20 square wah in Cha-am district of Phetchaburi province to use for Border Patrol Police headquarters, Rama VI Camp (Maruekhathaiyawan Palace) in Phetchaburi, which was in addition to the land bestowed in 2017.

As far as we know, the BPP has been occupying and using these plots of land since the early and mid 1950s. It isn’t clear to us who owned the land back then, but one source states:

Before building Naresuan camp in Hua Hin, the camp site had been allocated to the army’s royal guard to provide security to the royal family but as soon as [the CIA’s] Bill Lair proposed the site for building a camp for PARU, both Phao and the royal family agreed to give the land to Lair and PARU instead of the army.

Lair and the king. Clipped from Amazon

That seems to suggest that the land might have once belonged to the royal family. It remains unclear to us whether there was any official transfer back then. Another source states that Lair “used an old Imperial Japanese training camp in Hua Hin to train a select crew of Thai police in guerrilla warfare, including parachuting.” It is clear that the king developed quite a jolly relationship with the PARU/BPP and with Lair.

So it seems like the king is acknowledging longstanding occupation and use, if not “ownership.” It remains unclear if receiving the title deed amounts to transferring ownership.

Updated: Another day of defiance

17 10 2020

The past 24 hours have been a churn. The regime is struggling to control defiant students who appear far more nimble and far smarter than the regime’s leaders. The regime’s response is repression.

The most startling events were the demonstration last evening, where thousands of mostly young people, organized through social media and smart phones, assembled at the Prathumwan intersection, leaving the authorities looking daft as they surrounded and barricaded the Rajaprasong intersection (where they expected the rally).

The chants of “release our friends,” “Prayuth out,” and “ai hia O” were lound, even though the event was largely leaderless.

The police then marched down the road and “dispersed” demonstrators using water cannon laced with dye and chemicals. The police looked comical when their first effort to use the cannon resulted in the police spraying themselves.

The regime denies the use of chemicals, but all reporters at the scene said the water caused itching and irritation to eyes. Police arrested some people, some seen being thrown into police vans. Most protesters decamped via Chulalongkorn University.

The police used were reportedly Border Patrol Police, infamous for their murderous role in 1976. But these are the police the regime considers sufficiently loyal.

Reporters were not safe from the arrests. Prachatai announced that one of its reporters, Kitti Pantapak “was arrested in front of MBK Centre while reporting live on Facebook about the police crackdown…”. He was “wearing a press armband from the Thai Journalist Association, a symbol that separates the protesters and media.” He was taken to “Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters in Khlong Luang, Pathum Thani, where other protesters were also detained.” At 2am he was released after being fined.

Earlier in the day, police invaded a press conference at the headquarters of the Progressive Movement, “with a search warrant, interrupting a press conference called by Piyabutr Saengkanokkul.” He was “speaking against the state of emergency and legal action taken against protesters accused of causing harm to … the Queen.”

The search warrant was issued under the state of emergency. (For critiques of the emergency decree, see here and here.)

Because there were so many reporters at the conference, the police raid was livestreamed. Piyabutr was heard urging the police to take the side of the people, “instead of following orders from their superiors.” The officers were clearly embarrassed and were repeatedly on the phone to their superiors. They eventually left seemingly finding nothing, but the threat to the Progressive Movement was clear. The regime sees a plot, with the students being led and funded by the Progressive Movement.

Update: In the post above, we had missed The Dictator, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s response to calls for him to resign, as reported by Khaosod:

“Let me ask you what I did wrong? What did I do wrong right now? Can I ask you?” Prime Minister Prayut said to reporters in the first news conference since he declared a “severe emergency” over Bangkok.

When a reporter suggested it was because Prayut has been a Prime Minister for too long, the general replied, “Have you listened to monks’ prayer? Have you visited a temple at all? I guess you don’t often visit a temple, that’s why you are like this.”

“Listen to the prayers … don’t be careless, because people can die today, or tomorrow,” Prayut said, hours before a new protest is planned in Bangkok’s city center. “As the prayers go, don’t be reckless with your life. Prepare to die any moment, by illness or whatever.”

He went on, “Do not trifle with the powerful Grim Reaper. Death may come today, or another day. Everyone can die at any moment.”


Rising rightists

30 07 2020

As predicted, the rightists are rising in opposition to student calls for change. The Bangkok Post reported that an unknown “right-wing group calling itself Archeewa Chuai Chart will hold a rally on Thursday [today] in what is seen as a bid to support the government in the wake of protests by student activists.”

Suthep thanks the Army

On social media, this group is widely seen as having been created by groups associated with the anti-democratic People’s Democratic Reform Committee and Suthep Thaugsuban, who led the rallies that paved the way for the 2014 military coup. Indeed, the group claims to have formed in 2013 to support Suthep’s attacks on the elected government.

This new rightist group” criticised the Free Youth group and the Student Union of Thailand…”. It claimed the “student activists used fake news and false information to cause misunderstanding about the monarchy…”. They vowed to “defend the monarchy.”

Why royalists want to “protect” a monarch who lives in a foreign country is anyone’s guess. Perhaps they hope that another member of The Munsters can take over.

Khaosod adds that many have expressed concern that the rally could be a precursor to political conflict. Even Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has expressed concerns (see more below).

We are not convinced by Prayuth’s alleged concern, especially when he warned: “I have ordered police to prevent them from confronting each other…”.

As Khaosod reports, this is just one element of a broader rightist and ultra-monarchist denunciation of the students as part of a “plot” to bring down the monarchy. This includes the Army commander Gen Apirat Kongsompong. Last week saw the first counter-protest, at Army headquarters.

As Thai PBS reports, critics include all of the “usual suspects” who have organized all manner of “protests” and groups to “protect the monarchy.” It lists several of them, all yellow-shirts since the days of the People’s Alliance for Democracy:

Senator Somchai Sawaengkarn voiced concern at the presence of protest placards with veiled and direct references to the monarchy.


Sondhi Limthongkul, a media mogul and former yellow-shirt protest leader, said he was convinced the mastermind behind the placards aimed to provoke violent clashes between police and protesters. [We thought he was in jail….]

Academic [Is he? Really?] and media personality Seri Wongmontha said he was convinced that “people pulling the strings” behind the anti-monarchy placards wanted to incite violence between the protesters and angry royalists….


And, as Khaosod reports, fascist maniacs like Mongkutwattana Hospital director and Army officer Maj Gen Rientong Nan-nah is back at work, seeking to mobilize ultra-royalists. He declares that he will support those who “report” student activists to companies, government agencies, universities, and other educational institutes, demanding they never be employed. He called on supporters to “quietly infiltrate [the student protests] and take the photos of these people who joined the god damned protests. Try to make sure the photos have detailed faces that can be traced their identity.” He wanted these photos posted on Facebook, making the protesters political targets and illegally discriminated against.

More worrying are the regime’s moves. Khaosod has reported that “[r]iot police were ordered to mobilize and prepare detention facilities to accommodate student protesters arrested by security officers…”. Most threatening for the student activists, it is the notorious, royalist and heavily armed Border Patrol Police who were mobilized:

Two companies of riot police would be housed at the regional Border Patrol Police headquarters in Pathum Thani’s Khlong Luang district north of metro Bangkok, while about a 100 protesters would be held at a separate building inside the base, the letter wrote.

A “guest house” is also prepared to accommodate 5 protest leaders….

Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree, the leader of the Free Youth Movement, suggested the memo might have been intentionally leaked by police as part of their psychological operations.

“They just want to threaten protesters,” Tattep said. “Our movement is not against the law or causing harm to anyone.”

Given the BPP’s murderous history, it is not an idle threat.

As Thai Examiner explains/warns: “there is no denying that conservative forces have now been mobilised by this protest wave which they infer, carry with it, criticism of the monarchy and Thailand’s traditional values.” Those conservatives already have a lot of blood on their hands.

Updated: Big Oud replaces Big Joke

20 04 2019

In yet another Khaosod report carrying the disclaimer: “Note: Some details were omitted from this story due to legal concerns,” it reports on the outcome of the still unexplained removal of Big Joke, Surachate Hakparn, a former immigration chief who was quickly and surprisingly taken into custody, removed from his posts and then made a civilian.

That self-censorship line usually implies something to do with the monarchy.

This new censored report states that Maj Gen Sompong Chingduang, known by the nickname “Big Oud,” has been appointed by Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan as the new chief of the immigration bureau.

The naming of someone in the military and police as “Big” seems to us to carry a similar meaning to “Sia” that is often applied to “jao phor” and underworld gang bosses.

Big Oud is reportedly in charge of the Border Patrol Police and a usually reliable source states that, like Big Joke, Big Oud is close to Gen Prawit. If true, then those who felt that Big Joke’s removal was a slap for Gen Prawit were probably wrong. That said, the BPP has long been close to the monarchy.

But the mystery continues. Big Joke is reported to have fled overseas gone on holiday overseas. Gen Prawit states a disciplinary inquiry is not going to happen: “There won’t be any…. It’s over.”

When asked for reasons for Big Joke’s fall, Gen Prawit refused to comment, except to say: “I don’t know. If you want to know so much, go ask him yourself…”. Big Joke cannot be contacted.

This is Thailand today. A senior and a policeman who rapidly became the public face of the police is simply removed from all positions and his previous life erased, without any explanation.

Update: The Bangkok Post has an an editorial that calls for transparency over Big Joke’s dismissal. It states that Big Joke is now in the USA but that many questions remain about his sudden and unexplained downfall.

Ominously, it adds:

The officer was last seen at Government House, following the April 9 order, where he reported briefly to Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who supervises the Office of the Permanent Secretary under the PM’s Office.

Once an active netizen, Pol Lt Gen Surachate has been absent from social media, and unreachable by telephone.

The implication is that Thailand is no better than a banana republic – well, a banana monarchy.

Murderous monarchists II

22 01 2019

Yesterday we posted on the handcuffed, disemboweled bodies, filled with chunks of cement, found on the banks of the Mekong, and how one of the victims was likely Phoo Chana, a 57-year-old who had fled Thailand after the 2014 coup and lived in exile in Laos, working with Surachai Sae Dan (Danwattananusorn).

Surachai, Phoo Chana and Kasalong all went missing at the same time. Their enforced disappearance was probably the work of murderous monarchists, acting under orders. We assume that the orders to torture, murder and dispose of the bodies probably originated high up in Thailand.

It is now confirmed that the second tortured and mutilated body is that of Kasalong. Khaosod reports that “a source at the Forensic Science Institute … speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed Tuesday that DNA testing has linked the second body … to a man known as “Comrade Kasalong…”.

This also means that Surachai was probably also tortured and murdered.

The real identities are not publicly known but both were red shirts working with Surachai.

It seems that at least five anti-monarchy Thais have been “disappeared” and probably killed.

The viciousness of the murders brings to mind the work of rangers and Border Patrol Police in earlier times but also reminds one of rumors of cruelty and murder in the 1990s linked to high places.

In the report of this particular murder, “Police in Nakhon Phanom, where one of the bodies was recovered, vowed Tuesday morning to find those responsible.” Presumably they will be sleuthing in Bangkok.

More royal forces

27 08 2018

Readers will know that the Army maintains units that is meant to protect the king and royal family. The command of those forces was delivered to the king by the military dictatorship.

To be honest, we have lost track of the units that are now commanded in the palace for the palace.

In addition, the whole military apparatus is effectively at work for the king and monarchy as a force for internal security.

Not to be left out, the police has formed a division to “be responsible for ensuring security for His Majesty the King and members of the royal family…”.

The Crime Suppression Division’s commando unit is to upgraded and will “report directly to the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB),” not the king himself, if the proposal is approved by the junta’s cabinet. It is likely to be monikered the royal guard and special operations division and will eventually located in Nonthaburi.

To protect the royal family, the division is proposed to have a commissioner as a police major general, with 10 deputies – police colonels – 20 deputy sub-division chiefs, 42 division inspectors and more than 100 deputy division inspectors. In total it will have about 1,200 personnel, a number of who will be transferred from the Border Patrol Police.

It will be populated by “those with military-like personalities, good discipline and being quick learners.”

We can’t recall how many military and now police will have responsibilities for “protecting” the monarch and the extended royal family. It is a heck of a lot, in line with this royal family being one of the wealthiest and and costliest of the world’s few monarchies.

A few other things

12 08 2018

While the junta is busy censoring us, they might find some of these things of interest, several supplied by readers:

1. A couple of doctoral dissertations: Claudio Sopranzetti’s “Owners of the map” is available as a free download from Harvard, http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:11169780; and Sinae Hyun, Indigenizing the Cold War : nation-building by the Border Patrol Police of Thailand, 1945-1980.

2. Readers may find this site of interest: Music of Thai Freedom. Songs from the Thai Pro-Democracy Movement Translated for the English-Speaking World.

3. National Security Archive has accessed 16 documents on Thailand Black Site and (now CIA director) Gina Haspel describing extended sessions of physical violence and waterboarding; CIA cables detail contract psychologists working for Haspel. It is disturbing stuff.

Protecting the king

9 04 2018

It seems that the king needs extra and special protection. That’s the gist of a story at the Bangkok Post that details “advanced anti-terrorism training course” for 60 police officers.

That number is “double that of past years” and that’s why we say extra protection. That this is special protection is seen in the rather odd notion that the king’s protection requires “advanced anti-terrorism training.”

This year is also said to be “special” because usually it involves just 30 officers from the Border Patrol Police. The latter have a long connection to the monarchy (opens a PDF) that began when the US’s CIA began pouring money into this unit and the rest of the police force in the early 1950s.

The additions for this year included the Crime Suppression Division (CSD), which “is to set up a new unit whose main duty is to ensure security for … the [k]ing and members of the royal family as well as other important persons.” It is added that those who “come from the CIB [Central Investigation Bureau] will be selected into a team to ensure security for … the [k]ing…”.

The training takes place at the CIA’s old lair for the BPP at Naresuan Camp near one of the royal family’s palaces in Cha-Am. The training is said to have been “updated recently based on an Israeli training module.”

The “CSD will [also] receive an extra budget of more than 200 million baht to cover the cost of purchasing new and high-tech weapons…”.

The taxpayer money spent on the world’s wealthiest monarchy continues to expand.

With a major update: Remembering the 6 October 1976 attack

6 10 2013

The Bangkok Post reports:

A ceremony to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the October 6, 1976 bloodshed was held at the historic park at Thammasat University on Sunday morning.

Assoc Prof Udom Rathamarit, deputy rector of Thammasat University, presided over the opening of the ceremony which was attended by relatives of those who died in the incident and some leading political figures who were part of the then student movement for democracy.

Thai Rath Newspaper

Thai Rath Newspaper

A statement was read out in memory of the “heroes” who sacrificed both in the October 6 event and the October 14 student uprising which took place earlier in 1973.

To be honest, that seems a pretty scant report for one of modern Thailand’s most significant royalist-monarchy massacres of democracy protesters. Perhaps the royalist nature of the killing and burning of protesters at Thammasat is the reason for so much silence. Should any reader think the king and palace were anything other than rightists bent on pushing extremists for murderous action, read this post from a few months ago.

The murders of 1976 were in the monarchy’s name and supported by the palace. The most dramatic and horrible event was the royalist-inspired attack on people – mostly students – damned as “disloyal.” Just days after the bloodshed, the crown prince distributed awards to paramilitary personnel involved. The massacre at Thammasat University has never seen any state investigation. Impunity was the rule because the state’s troops and rightist gangs were doing the work of the royalist state. The main perpetrators of the massacre are claimed to be the Border Patrol Police who trained many of the rightist gangs in the name of the monarchy and with considerable U.S. funding. The BPP was (and remains) close to the royal family.

The regime that was put in place following the massacre and a coup was headed by a palace favorite. Thanin Kraivixien remains a Privy Counselor even today, considered “respected” because of that. Yet the fact is that his administration was one of the most right-wing, repressive and brutal regimes in Thailand’s modern history.

In other words, the massacre at Thammasat University was intimately linked to palace political machinations.

Update: The Bangkok Post has a longer article about one of the remembrances of 6 October. PPT was aware that there was a split between “Octobrists” with some now red shirt activists with another group having continued to support the People’s Alliance for Democracy and its political progeny. The Nation reports that the 14 October Foundation is now “seen as part of the yellow shirts, as it is under Dr Wichai Chokwiwat.”  The latter is quoted as complaining that “capitalists have played a bigger role in Thai politics.” He explains his perspective:

Since the … [14 October 1976] uprising, people have become more aware of their rights. They fought [for] elections. But elections…are not the answer … as the representatives do not aim to solve the country’s problems, [they aim] to maintain their power and benefits. This is…not a real democracy…”.

The yellow shirt disdain for elected representation is clear.

At the Bangkok Post, the red shirt-related group is discussed. It is led by human rights activist and red shirt Jaran Ditapichai, who proclaimed that the “protests [of 1973-76] had paved the way for greater freedom of speech and assembly.”

Two recently released lese majeste convicts attended. Surachai Danwattananusorn was only released from prison last Friday but attended. Also there was Tanthawut Taweewarodomkul, released a couple of months ago. He praised the October Generation: “Without the courage and contributions of the October Generation, nobody else would have fought for democracy in subsequent years…”.

Writer Watt Wallayangkoon observed that “the victories earned by the … “October Generation” were short-lived and were counteracted by ultra-royalist elements and a fear of communism within wider society.” He added that  “The red-shirt struggle [for democracy] is not yet finished…”.

Cold War, CIA, universities

13 01 2013

Earlier in the week, PPT posted a comment by a U.S. operative on the manner in which the Americans helped re-make the monarchy in the teeth of the Cold War. We still haven’t been through all the more than 900 pages of reminiscences that download in one document, and there’s a lot of interesting material.

We felt the following might interest some of our readers, especially given the links between the royal family and the Border Patrol Police, “hill tribes” and many of the other people and interests listed in the account.

These comments are from James L. Woods, who was with the Research Analysis Division, Department of Defense in Bangkok from 1964 to 1967 and then was Advisor, ARPA [Advanced Research Projects Agency] Unit, Bangkok in 1969-1973. with annotations and bold by PPT:

…[I]n the fall of ‘64 I was in Thailand, probably working on a Long-range Assistance Strategy, and found an old management intern friend out there, Lee Huff, running a little office for the Advanced Research Projects Agency, and we got together. He said, “I’ve just been called. They told me I’m going to be posted back to Washington rather abruptly. We’re looking for a replacement. Would you be interested?” I said, “What are you doing?” He explained that this was a special project – Project AGILE – under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency…. In Thailand it was still operating out of a hotel downtown and at the SEATO Graduate School of Engineering on the Chulalongkorn University campus, with a very small staff under Marine Colonel Tom Brundage…. Lee was running the social-behavioral science research program and asked if I would be interested….

…[W]e worked closely with them [the CIA] in the field, because they were operating out of AID/USOM, running the Border Patrol Police program, and also they were very interested in general in the issues of internal security and they had their advisors in many of the same agencies that we had ours…. We also did some work for something called CSOC, which was a Thai organization, the Communist Suppression Operations Command, run by General Saiyud Kerdphon, and there were a number of CIA advisors over there operating for the most part out of the embassy. We were all part of the country team and the ARPA field unit in Thailand was a U.S. component of that…. The U.S. approach was that this was a counterinsurgency-oriented program. Thailand was the laboratory for the soft side and Vietnam was the laboratory for the hard side or things that go boom. So in Vietnam – I would go over there from time to time, and they would come over to Thailand from time to time to escape Vietnam mainly – they were doing a lot of systems work – village information system, hamlet evaluation system, territorial forces evaluation system. They were doing stuff trying to evaluate how was the war going, for MACV. They were also doing ordnance testing; the Armalite rifle which developed into the AR-15, which developed into the M16…. On our side we were doing studies and analyses and systems research and a good bit of electronic research including remote sensing, trail sensors, testing different kinds of mobility equipment and communications equipment…. Our office – the Research and Analysis Division – was in charge of social and behavioral and systems research, and we worked for the most part through contractors. We brought in rather sizable teams from RAND, RAC – Research Analysis Corporation … – Stanford Research Institute, Cornell Aerolab, BMI, AIR – you name it, we had it – and a lot of individual scholars on contract.

We built some systems and libraries, which were turned over to the Thai, which hopefully they have found useful –for example, the Thailand Information Center with a gazillion documents. Everything useful that had ever been written about Thailand that we could find in the scholarly community was in there. We turned that over to a Thai university actually. Our hill tribes data base, we turned that over to another Thai institution, the Tribal Research Center, in Chiang Mai. The Village Information System, we turned over to a Thai ministry, although it was still very much in an embryonic state…. [PPT: Readers might find this related article of some interest, although the extent of U.S. involvement is not discussed in any detail.]

… [T]hey have Border Patrol Police, which was very much a U.S.-funded program, a lot of it. The CIA provided a lot of the equipment and guidance and so on, but the Thais have kept it up….

After going back to the U.S. and completing a course at Cornell University, with the doyens of Southeast Asian Studies there – George McT. Kahin is mentioned – Woods returned to Thailand:

I went back to the ARPA field unit, or research center, but I was posted immediately to Chiang Mai University in the north for a year as advisor to the dean, which sounds odd but we knew the dean from his previous position in Bangkok and he was trying to establish an expanded research program on northern Thailand, especially the tribal minorities problem. There was a Tribal Research Center, which the Thai government was attempting to operate, co-located at the university, and so my job was trying to build a tribal research program in the north working out of the university….

Much of their [RTG] information came from the Thai Border Patrol Police who were posted to the outermost fringes of the kingdom and were basically a CIA project or at least were getting support and training through the CIA part of USOM…. We were also sponsoring basic ethnographies by a number of anthropologists, European and American, at the time, again trying to collect in-depth ethnographic understanding of several selected lesser known tribal groups. So that’s how I spent a rather odd year as the advisor to the dean of the faculty of social sciences at Chiang Mai University….

This, of course, eventually came to the attention of the American Anthropological Association and some others and got them greatly excited. It’s cited in a book which was published some years later called Anthropology Goes to War featuring me as one of the devils they identify as corrupting the practice of anthropology….Anthropology Goes to War

Before the war went bad and became greatly unpopular, we had the leading American anthropologists on Southeast Asia on the consultant payroll and they were hard at work, and some of them stayed at work. Dr. Gerry Hickey – an expert on the Montagnards of Vietnam – worked with us throughout the war….

… We had Dr. Ladd Thomas, Northern Illinois University. Now, Ladd, I recall, was a political scientist, and he reported that students invaded his office and threw his furniture and books out the window….  The same thing was going on all over. We had a couple of very senior professors out in California, David Wilson, political scientist, and Herb Phillips, anthropologist, and they had been cutting-edge scholars on Thailand. Herb capitulated. David basically got up on his feet and told all his student and faculty critics to go to hell; they could think what they wanted but they weren’t going to interfere with his right to speak out. But Herb went over; Herb gave up.

Project Camelot is also mentioned. On the impact of this work, Woods says: “So I would say to the extent there was an impact, it was over on the counterinsurgency side where the CIA was very much involved as well and USOM with the USAID development programs…”.

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