Opposition councillor implicated in CAT blackout

06 Dec 2013

If there is one thing that Bangkok hates more than politicians passing laws to help their relatives escape justice, it is being cut off from Facebook and LINE. The wrath that Thai netizens have poured on the opposition party-led protest at CAT Telecom is as intense as the chaos on the streets of central Bangkok in the real world in recent days.

More details have emerged including graphic pictures of the power control rack that was stripped. It was not just a power cut, but the automatic transfer switch unit was yanked out while power was being fed through them. The surge damaged over $10 million of equipment at CAT. Many clients’ servers did not survive the incident either.

A timeline of events have been compiled. Democrat (opposition) city councillor Jitti Pilian led a group of protesters to CAT Tower in central Bangkok (while another group went to CAT’s new HQ on the outskirts of town, hence early confusion). The protesters arrived at about 4:30pm, staged a protest in front of the building and then the web for CAT, TOT and True users went down or slowed down immediately after. Early reports were that the protesters had cut the fiber link to CAT’s data center, but this was not to be the case.

A group of protesters had entered the building and went to the ATS control panel and removed the gear. After the protesters left, power could not be restored for hours because of the missing control unit

The pictures show three racks of power control equipment stripped bear and doors left open with magnetic locks connected to fingerprint scanners.

Many Netizens put the blame squarely on Jitti as he claims to be a “skilled engineer” and runs a construction company that specialises in tearing down buildings. But being an engineer is one thing, getting past a fingerprint scan is quite another.

By that logic because I use Linux, am I a member of Anonymous? I wish.

Jitti has gone into hiding and has deactivated his Facebook profile. I tried to contact him via Thailand's shadow ICT Minister, Democrat MP Sirichok Sopha, and asked him for his side of the story. Jitti was not taking any questions, but Sirichok said that the city councillor did lead the protest to CAT and was open about his peaceful and unarmed protest, even posting pictures to Facebook. He blames the sabotage on a third party who wanted to discredit the protesters.

Sirichok said that CCTV showed masked men in the building who headed straight to the control room and obviously knew what they were doing.

Many have suggested it was a CAT inside job as only they would have known where the controls were and how to bypass the security systems and door locks in the tower without leaving a trace, but the question that may never be answered is whose side they were on.

Was it a pro-government faction bent on making the protesters look bad given the humiliation the government received a few days earlier when they said that protesters had cut power to a hospital and that corpses were rotting in a morgue only for the hospital director to later say nothing of the sort happened? Or was it the CAT labour union protesters who miscalculated and turned what was to be a power cut protest into a widespread, expensive, systems meltdown?

Many have since forgotten about the incident, what with the shootings and deaths of anti-government student protesters in subsequent days, but after the dust settles, it seems that the Democrat party city councillor will have a lot to answer to.

The NBTC is also looking into fining CAT telecom for the outage.

All this brings into question the role of CAT and TOT. Only two months ago, CAT argued to a parliamentary committee that it should be given a monopoly on the country’s fiber infrastructure for national security reasons. The way their systems could be taken down so easily makes one wonder if the company still has the technical competence to do it.

What is the role of CAT and TOT as state enterprises-cum-commercial operators, asking government to force others to use them for their core networks and yet on the other hand competing directly with them?

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