Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
07BANGKOK1754
2007-03-23 10:22:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Bangkok
Cable title:  

THAILAND'S NEW SECURITY STRUCTURE: BETTER LIVING

Tags:  PGOV PREL PINR PTER ASEC KDEM TH 
pdf how-to read a cable
VZCZCXRO3495
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHBK #1754/01 0821022
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 231022Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5803
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS PRIORITY
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 3978
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 6945
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 2923
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 BANGKOK 001754 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/MLS
PACOM FOR FPA (HUSO)
NSC FOR MORROW

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/14/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR PTER ASEC KDEM TH
SUBJECT: THAILAND'S NEW SECURITY STRUCTURE: BETTER LIVING
THROUGH ISOC

REF: BANGKOK 01715 (SURAYUD ON CIVIL LIBERTIES)

Classified By: Political Counselor Susan M. Sutton. Reason 1.4 (b,d)

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 BANGKOK 001754

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/MLS
PACOM FOR FPA (HUSO)
NSC FOR MORROW

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/14/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR PTER ASEC KDEM TH
SUBJECT: THAILAND'S NEW SECURITY STRUCTURE: BETTER LIVING
THROUGH ISOC

REF: BANGKOK 01715 (SURAYUD ON CIVIL LIBERTIES)

Classified By: Political Counselor Susan M. Sutton. Reason 1.4 (b,d)


1. (C) Summary. Since taking power in September 2006, the
Army-dominated interim government has publicly moved to
re-engineer the old, communist-era Internal Security
Operations Command (ISOC) into the key internal security
coordinating mechanism for the Thai government. While the
exact nature and role of this new version of ISOC appears to
be a work in progress, critics have denounced it as a
thinly-veiled power grab by the Army. We recently met with a
military officer deeply involved with ISOC, who put to rest
several of the more sensational rumors surrounding the new
security body, but outlined a mechanism that could strengthen
the Army's role in all aspects of internal security,
including police functions. End Summary.

THE BEAST THAT WOULDN'T DIE
--------------


2. (C) ISOC's roots lie in the Communist Suppression
Operations Command (CSOC) of the 1960s. CSOC was established
under the Anti-Communist Activity Act to provide Ministry of
Defense (MOD) coordination for military, police and Ministry
of Interior (MOI) operations against the communist movement
in Thailand. A series of military governments in that era
also used CSOC--in 1969 renamed ISOC--to facilitate their
rule, including the bloody suppression of student-led
protests in 1976.


3. (C) By the 1980s, with the dissolution of the communist
threat and Thailand's move towards increased democratic
governance, ISOC was an organization without a mission.
While ostensibly having oversight over border areas that were
still under martial law--in effect giving the Royal Thai Army
(RTA),which dominated the ISOC structure, precedence in
those areas--ISOC became a dumping ground for generals
without portfolio.


4. (C) In 1999, then-PM Thaksin dissolved the old ISOC and

re-instituted it as a coordinating body formally charged with
defending Thailand's borders and fighting illegal narcotics.
Under this new formula, the PM served as head of ISOC, which
was no longer subordinate to MOD. Thaksin's Deputy PM,
Chawalit Yongchaiyudh tried to push passage of a new internal
security act, which would give ISOC personnel (Note:
soldiers, police and civilians on rotation to ISOC. End
Note.) broader domestic security powers, but the law inspired
political opposition and died. ISOC briefly reappeared in
the news in 2006, after several RTA officers serving in ISOC
slots were implicated in the alleged car-bomb attempt on
then-Prime Minister Thaksin.

WE CAN REBUILD IT. STRONGER, FASTER...
--------------


5. (C) Following the September 19, 2006 coup, leaders on the
Council on National Security (CNS) began to publicly propose
reinvigorating the old ISOC, ostensibly to better coordinate
operations in the restive South and to deter public
"undercurrents;" for example, school-burnings attributed to
pro-Thaksin supporters in the countryside, which GEN Sonthi
has called "domestic terrorism." Given Sonthi and his
allies' penchant for invoking the successes of the
anti-Communist campaign, and the need to apply the lessons
learned back then, this made sense. In an October 2006
order, interim PM Surayud Chulanont reorganized ISOC, placing
RTA and CNS Chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin in charge.

...THE MONSTER IS ALIVE!
--------------


6. (C) Despite having existed on paper in this new
incarnation for nearly five months, the exact nature and role
of ISOC remains publicly unclear. Critics have publicly
labeled ISOC a power grab by the Army, or an attempt to
institutionalize military governance. One subset of this
criticism alleges that the new ISOC will allow the CNS to

BANGKOK 00001754 002 OF 004


maintain control even after a democratic government is
elected later this year. Local media has also reported
variations on the rumor that ISOC will have its own pool of
personnel--separate from Army or civilian bodies on loan from
other ministries--ranging from a few hundred to tens of
thousands. Several press reports focused on an alleged
proposal by GEN Sonthi to establish an ISOC "Special
Operations Command," with as many as 60,000 personnel at its
disposal.


7. (C) RTG leaders have not added much clarity to the debate
over ISOC, with conflicting public statements over the new
organization. Some have characterized ISOC as similar to the
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with others
denying that the new organization will absorb other agencies
as DHS did.

"LIKE MOVING A MOUNTAIN"
--------------


8. (C) Earlier this month Polcouns and poloff met with Major
General Surapong Suwana-adth, Director of Policy and Plans at
Supreme Command to discuss ISOC. Surapong, who is one of the
key players in establishing the new security body, painted a
picture of a coordinating command still in flux. According
to Surapong, there is a "misunderstanding in the media" about
the scope and role of ISOC. While the vision for ISOC
remains relatively unchanged, the details surrounding its
organization and capabilities are rapidly in flux; Surapong
complained that even government officials have trouble
understanding it. As Surapong outlined it, ISOC is the
government's attempt to provide better coordination and
policy implementation in the face of several non-traditional
security issues, ranging from illegal immigration to
narcotics and terrorism. "ISOC is a new vehicle to tackle
these non-traditional threats."


9. (C) Surapong bemoaned the difficulty the RTG has in
coordinating responses to these challenges--given the host of
rival agencies and organizations with overlapping
responsibilities and resources. In the Thai cultural
context, effective coordination depends on face-to-face
contact and personal relationships, which means that relevant
agencies must be brought together in an institutionalized
manner to produce results. Surapong added that fixing this
problem is even harder, saying, "changing the government
structure is like moving a mountain." Past attempts to
rectify these shortcomings led to ad-hoc fixes that failed to
produce effective coordination. For a given problem, a
temporary working group was established. But that working
group often focused on the interests of whichever ministry or
department led the effort, leading to suboptimal results.
Surapong admitted that the Army effectively dominates the
current ISOC structure.

HOW ISOC WORKS
--------------


10. (C) Surapong explained that the Thai National Security
Council (NSC) will continue to formulate policy, but "NSC is
only 100 people." ISOC will serve as "the eyes and ears of
NSC" in implementing that policy. He emphasized that the
vast majority of people working for ISOC, were dual-hatted,
i.e. serving in other staff positions in their parent career
service, but responsible for attending ISOC coordinating
meetings. Surapong dismissed press reports that anywhere
from 60,000 to one million civil servants worked for ISOC,
saying that this number reflected personnel serving in their
career ministries, sitting in their "old jobs," but with new
responsibilities under ISOC. When asked if Thai leaders, in
comparing ISOC to the U.S. DHS, envisioned a similar merging
of individual agencies under one new ministry, Surapong
appeared somewhat surprised by this concept, and denied any
such plan.


11. (C) In explaining ISOC's structure, Surapong emphasized
that it is different from the "old" ISOC. The only full-time
ISOC body is a coordinating center in Bangkok with
representatives from 22 ministries and 10 independent

BANGKOK 00001754 003 OF 004


agencies. This center serves as a clearing house for
information and allows RTG leaders to coordinate policy
implementation. The center is supplemented by separate,
regular meetings of inter-agency officials on specific issues
of concern. CNS and RTA Chief Sonthi serves as ISOC
commander, with RTA Chief of Staff Montri as
secretary-general. Eight deputy ISOC

SIPDIS
commanders--representing the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines,
Supreme Command, Police, Ministry of Interior and Ministry of
Justice--serve under Sonthi. The four chiefs of each Army
region concurrently serve as ISOC regional commanders, with
Army subordinates in each province serving as provincial ISOC
commanders. (Note: this appears to have had the most impact
in the restive South, where ISOC is technically in charge of
the reconstituted Southern Border Provinces Administration
Center (SBPAC) and the Civilian-Police-Military Task Force
43, although the SBPAC legally reports directly to the PM.
Surapong was unable to explain this contradiction, which we
understand has further muddled the already confused chain of
command in the South. End Note.)

DEPUTY GOVERNORS?
--------------


12. (C) When asked about GEN Sonthi's proposal to place Army
officers as deputy governors in each province--which has been
publicly criticized as an Army power grab--Surapong was
dismissive, saying that such critics don't "get the whole
picture." He characterized the proposal as similar to
placing U.S. National Guard liaison officers in each U.S.
statehouse. As Surapong explained, the Army is traditionally
responsible for a host of non-traditional security issues,
particularly in border areas. For example, during seasonal
flooding or forest fire outbreaks, the Army is responsible
for mobilizing the government's response. Surapong cited his
personal experience with the difficulty in coordinating the
Army relief efforts--Governors (who are MOI careerists) often
call Army headquarters in Bangkok asking "what do I do?"
Surapong says that the new system will allow for swifter and
smoother responses to these issues; "it may save lives." He
added that the police and other ministry representatives
serve in the governors' offices, "why not the military?"
Besides, he continued, the officer filling the deputy
governor slot would have no troops under his control "just a
car and a driver." Surapong says that he understands that
some local politicians are concerned that an ISOC deputy
governor could serve "as a check on them," but added "if
local politicians don't do anything wrong, this shouldn't be
a problem." (Note: we have seen no actual progress in
implementing this plan outside of the South--where ISOC
deputy governors appear to be in place. Expanding this
program throughout the country is likely to remain
controversial. End Note.)

SO, HOW'S IT WORKING?
--------------


13. (C) When asked what, if any issues, ISOC has achieved
success on, Surapong admitted none, saying that ISOC was only
in its "beginning stages." According to Surapong, initial
ISOC meetings are improving the coordination of information
flows--he also hopes to develop a central database for
sharing reports--but has not led to much action. Surapong
admitted that most of the RTG still depends on hard copy
reports, and that sharing information--even at the ground
level in the South--remains difficult. Alluding to the New
Year's Eve bombings and subsequent threat rumint leaked to
the press, PolCouns asked if ISOC was playing a role in
vetting and circulating threat information. Surapong replied
in the affirmative, but added that some senior officials
"talked too much." Such information is "difficult to
filter," according to Surapong.

NEW SECURITY LAW
--------------


14. (C) Surapong confirmed that ISOC operates under a Prime
Minister's order and that officials are currently discussing
whether Thailand needs a law establishing ISOC and its

BANGKOK 00001754 004 OF 004


authorities (see ref for PM Surayud's comment to the
Ambassador that just such a law is in the works.) When
pressed for hypothetical examples of these new authorities,
Surapong described a scenario where military personnel
discovered some illegal immigrants. The ISOC structure would
facilitate coordination with the police and immigration
authorities to ensure their arrest. Surapong emphasized that
even under the new system, soldiers would not have powers of
arrest. "That is not our job." Instead, Surapong repeatedly
cited the need for adequate legal "protection" for military
officers serving on the border.

COMMENT
--------------


15. (C) Surapong certainly did his best in trying to portray
ISOC as a much needed effort to improve RTG policy
coordination and implementation. Everyone agrees that
breaking down stovepiping, particularly in the South, is long
overdue. Much of the more sinister rumint surrounding the
new organization--secretive special operations groups and the
like--appears to be false. But there is no doubt that the
PM's order re-engineering ISOC gives the Army greater
authority over internal security enforcement than it has had
in the recent past, and that will be cause for concern for
many Thai. How ISOC's expansion is codified in law, and
whether these new powers are used in a responsible manner,
will remain key issues for debate in the coming months.
This, as in so many other initiatives undertaken by the
interim government, may prove impossible to implement.
BOYCE