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10BANGKOK478 THAILAND: GT200 BOMB DETECTOR FAILURE IGNITES DISCUSSION ON CIVIL-MIL RELATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS, PROCUREMENT

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GT200 BOMB DETECTOR FAILURE IGNITES DISCUSSION

ON CIVIL-MIL RELATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS, PROCUREMENT

“250934”,”2/26/2010 8:22″,”10BANGKOK478″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,”VZCZCXRO3970

PP RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM

DE RUEHBK #0478/01 0570822

ZNY CCCCC ZZH

P 260822Z FEB 10

FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0103

INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS PRIORITY

RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 2427

RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 8107

RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 6263

RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 0502

RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI PRIORITY 7763

RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY”,

 

“C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 000478

 

SIPDIS

 

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, NSC FOR WALTON

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/24/2020

TAGS: PREL, PGOV, TH

SUBJECT: THAILAND: GT200 BOMB DETECTOR FAILURE IGNITES

DISCUSSION ON CIVIL-MIL RELATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS, PROCUREMENT

 

BANGKOK 00000478 001.2 OF 003

 

Classified By: DCM JAMES F. ENTWISTLE, REASON 1.4 (B, D)

 

1. (SBU) Summary: Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva ordered a

halt to RTG procurement of the GT200 explosive detection

device on February 16, after tests conducted by the Ministry

of Science and Technology determined the device was

ineffective. The GT200 is used throughout Thailand by many

agencies, most notably in the conflict-ridden Deep South.

Shortly after the PM\’s announcement, Royal Thai Army (RTA)

Commander-in-Chief Anupong Paojinda and chief forensic

investigator Khunying Pornthip Rojanasunant jumped to the

device\’s defense, while human rights groups used the PM\’s

announcement to highlight the questionable use of the device

to detain alleged insurgents. PM Abhisit subsequently stated

the GT200 should not be used against people and ordered a

probe into the acquisition of the GT200 by various government

agencies, a decision seen by many as being designed to help

stamp out corruption in the procurement process.

Commentators immediately picked up on the potential for

conflict with those who might have vested interests in the

continued procurement of the device.

 

2. (C) Comment: Abhisit\’s willingness to confront the

military — to which many commentators assume he is beholden

— on a procurement issue with operational implications, two

areas traditionally seen as military prerogatives, serves as

the latest indication of his growing confidence as Prime

Minister. The military brass\’ reluctance to abandon use of

the GT200 may be a combination of concern for and by

personnel faced with countering an insurgency making

extensive use of IEDs that have led to dozens of soldier

deaths/injuries, as well as irritation at being challenged on

oversight of procurement matters. Khunying Pornthip\’s

defense of the GT200 is more inexplicable, the latest example

of her increasingly erratic judgment in recent years. The

discussion of the GT200 controversy also highlighted how

financing of expanded operations in the restive South has

become a cash cow for a wide range of security forces and RTG

agencies; many commentators also noted a parallel controversy

involving the RTA\’s persistence in acquiring a still

inoperable blimp — officially intended for surveillance

operations, but widely viewed as unsuitable for the terrain

and threat in the Deep South — at a cost of 350 million baht

(approximately $11 million). End Summary and Comment.

 

PM CALLS OUT MILITARY ON USE OF GT200

————————————-

 

3. (SBU) PM Abhisit announced the government would not

purchase any more of the British-made GT200 substance

detection devices on February 16 after testing by the

Ministry of Science and Technology found the equipment

correctly identified explosives in just four of twenty

attempts — far worse than a random 50-50 flip of a coin

would. Criticism of the GT200 came to a crescendo in

Thailand in January when the British government banned export

of the device after arresting an executive from the

manufacturer of another bomb detection device on fraud

charges. Abhisit also ordered an investigation into the

purchase of the GT200 by various state agencies, following

Thai press reports that some agencies had paid more than

twice as much for the units as others (note: the first Thai

purchases of the GT200 occurred by the Thai Air Force in

2004, when Thaksin Shinawatra was PM).

 

4. (SBU) RTA commander General Anupong and Khunying Pornthip,

the director of the Institute of Forensic Science at the

Ministry of Justice, led the chorus urging continued use of

the GT200 in the immediate wake of Abhisit\’s decision.

Anupong and Pornthip both insisted the GT200 was effective

when used by properly trained personnel, and stated flatly

that security forces — in the Deep South in particular —

would continue to use it. Despite such unequivocal support,

a bomb exploded in a market in Pattani on February 22,

injuring two soldiers, immediately after troops using the

GT200 had swept the area and failed to detect any explosives.

That same day the Cabinet tasked the Ministry Science and

Technology to go to the South and discuss discontinuing use

of the GT200 with security units there, taking an additional

 

BANGKOK 00000478 002.2 OF 003

 

step beyond Abhisit\’s suspension of further procurement.

 

THE GT200\’S TROUBLED PAST – INEFFECTIVE, UNFAIR

——————————————— —

 

5. (C) Thai human rights activists and their political

allies, including Democrat Party deputy leader/MP Kraisak

Choonhavan, have been raising the alarm about the GT200 for

months, and had engaged us in mid-2009 to see if there were

any way we could share US bad experience with such equipment.

Kraisak\’s primary concern was that innocent civilians were

being detained and in some cases charged with assisting

insurgent efforts solely based on GT200 readings. Thai media

began questioning the effectiveness of the GT200 in

Thailand\’s troubled southern border provinces after the

device failed to detect bombs in two separate instances in

October 2009, an October 6 explosion that killed one person

and wounded 20 others, and an October 19 bomb that wounded 25.

 

6. (C) To most people, the GT200 appears to be a glorified

dousing rod: it claims to detect explosives at long range,

powered by static electricity from the user, without any more

complicated sample analysis conducted. The bomb detection

squad in Yala told us that they never thought it worked, but

they were ordered to use it. The squad passed the GT200 to

Emboff to hold; it looked and felt like a toy. In contrast,

the GT200\’s defenders insist the device was effective when

used by properly trained personnel. Failures of the device

have been explained away as a byproduct of user error;

operators were too tired, sick, fatigued, or otherwise

impaired to operate the device properly.

 

7. (C) XXXXXXX, a professor at XXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXX University XXXXX, director of XXXXXXXX,

and a regular Political Section contact, said that the people

in the South initially had faith in the GT200. It was used

extensively in the security sweeps in late 2007 and early

2008 that led to a significant reduction in insurgent-related

violence, he said. According to XXXXXXX, that confidence

waned as judges dismissed court cases because they considered

the GT200 evidence unreliable; public support for the GT200

bottomed out with the October 2009 Sungai Kolok and Muang

explosions. The RTA\’s current defense of the GT200 had

become a joke in the South, XXXXXX claimed, as everyone

knew now that the tool was useless. XXXXXXX

University XXXXX professor ZXXXXXXXXXX, a Thai

Muslim, told us that he had been detained at a security

checkpoint because a GT200 pointed at his car.

 

8. (SBU) Advocates for greater transparency and human rights

in the Deep South have criticized security forces for using

the GT200 to detain people in connection with the insurgency.

XXXXXXX, head of the XXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXX, and Human Right Watch have both called on the

government to compensate the people who have been wrongly

identified as insurgents and detained because of the GT200.

According to a February 17 report by Human Rights Watch,

approximately 10 percent of suspected insurgents arrested

since 2007 have been detained solely on the basis of a GT200

reading.

 

HARSH LIGHT ON PROCUREMENT

————————–

 

9. (SBU) PM Abhisit\’s insistence on a probe into the purchase

of the GT200 also raised suspicions of corruption in the

procurement process, a problem that has plagued multiple

administrations. There are currently over 800 GT200 units

being used in Thailand by the military, the police, the

Customs Department, and the Central Institute of Forensic

Science. The first purchases occurred under former PM

Thaksin and continued under the interim Surayud

administration and through to the current Abhisit

administrations. Thai news reports indicated that some

government agencies paid 550,000 thousand baht (approx.

$16,000) apiece for the machines, while others paid up to 1.6

million baht (approx. $48,000) per unit, with Khunying

Porntip\’s lab paying the highest price; agencies involved

claimed differing prices were due to different chips that are

 

BANGKOK 00000478 003.2 OF 003

 

inserted into the GT200 to detect a variety of different

substances. Both media and the political opposition have

called for investigations into the procurement deals.

 

10. (SBU) Criticism of the GT200 coincided with increasing

public calls for the RTA to justify the purchase of a

surveillance blimp which the RTA claims would be an effective

tool in locating insurgents in the Deep South, but which

critics say cannot accomplish the stated task given the

terrain in question and the technical capabilities of the

airship. The Thai media has widely reported that the blimp

cost 350 million baht (approximately $11 million); the

vice-president of Arai International, the US-based company

which sold the system to the RTA, wrote a letter to the

editor of the Bangkok Post and said the contracted price was

$9.7 million (approx. 320 million baht).

JOHN

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Written by thaicables

June 24, 2011 at 2:44 am

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