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07BANGKOK1754 THAILAND\’S NEW SECURITY STRUCTURE: BETTER LIVING THROUGH ISOC

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“101667”,”3/23/2007 10:22″,”07BANGKOK1754″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,”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)

 

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 XXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX at

Supreme Command to discuss ISOC. XXXXXX 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 XXXXX 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; XXX

complained that even government officials have trouble

understanding it. As XXXXX 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) XXXXX 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. XXXX 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.

XXXXX admitted that the Army effectively dominates the

current ISOC structure.

 

HOW ISOC WORKS

————–

 

10. (C) XXXXX 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. XXXX 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, XXXXX

appeared somewhat surprised by this concept, and denied any

such plan.

 

11. (C) In explaining ISOC\’s structure, XXXX 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.

XXXXX 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– XXXXX 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 XXXX 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. XXXX 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?\”

XXXX 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.\” XXXX 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, XXXXX admitted none, saying that ISOC was only

in its \”beginning stages.\” According to XXXX, 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. XXXXX

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. XXXX replied

in the affirmative, but added that some senior officials

\”talked too much.\” Such information is \”difficult to

filter,\” according to XXXXX.

 

NEW SECURITY LAW

—————-

 

14. (C) XXXX 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,

XXXX 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. XXXX emphasized that

even under the new system, soldiers would not have powers of

arrest. \”That is not our job.\” Instead, XXXXX repeatedly

cited the need for adequate legal \”protection\” for military

officers serving on the border.

 

COMMENT

——-

 

15. (C) XXX 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

 

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Written by thaicables

June 24, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Posted in Confidential, ISA

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