Thailand's top spymaster joins CAT

19 Oct 2015

It is funny how the Single Gateway hullabaloo ended in Thailand, not with a bang, nor an apology, rather the Prime Minister said the project was never signed off and in the end blamed a clerical error, saying the person taking down the cabinet meetings had got the notes wrong.

In other words, he used the dog-ate-my-homework clause and everyone fell into line because everyone knows the real reason and nobody dares question it.

The Bangkok Post suggested that the error was made by the Secretary to the Prime Minister’s office Ampon Kittiampon, whose signature was on the Prime Minister’s orders expediting the single gateway project.

One wonders how Ampon managed to misunderstand the Prime Minister on at least four occasions over the summer and that it took so long to identify the culprit after weeks of denial (Junta and most ministers) interspersed with defiance (telecom regulator NBTC and Foreign Affairs Minister).

Nary a week later, mainstream media are now reporting that the head of the National Security Council, General Thaweep Netrniyom is tipped to be the new chair of CAT Telecom. The head of the Thailand’s CIA becoming chairman of a state telco that is hosting the single gateway project? Obviously just a coincidence.

Meanwhile, the other day I may or may not have sat down with a group of people who were bidding on the non-existent single gateway project. Or maybe I was experiencing a chocolate-induced high and it was all in my head.

The conversation was something out of a sketch of Alice in Wonderland.

“I’ve been told by someone that the single gateway is necessary, but I can’t tell you why as it’s a secret.”

“Uh-uh,” I went not even interested in the slightest and much rather concentrating on the lovely lady across the table.

“I met with ******* and he said that I can’t tell anyone what he said, but it’s important.”

“Uh-uh,” I said, barely lifting an eyebrow, rather concentrating on the eyebrow-raising allegations about UK Prime Minister David Cameron and a pig's head.

“Please, drop everything and join us. We’re having a secret meeting tomorrow in *********. I’ll send a car to pick you up.”

“Uh-uh,” I said, seriously not interested in repeating myself for the umpteenth time that a single gateway, or whatever you call is, is a bad idea. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely and all that jazz.

Away from that meeting which perhaps was but a figment of my imagination, various other sources have fleshed out the Single Gateway project, and the picture is far from pleasant.

The budget is rumoured to be around the 500 million-dollar mark, neither here nor there in the big scheme of things. It is a lot of money, but considering the task in front of them, is it even remotely enough?

There are at least three vendors I know of bidding for the project with CAT Telecom. CAT’s involvement was confirmed by NBTC telecoms chairman Setthapong Malisuwan with the BBC and now with the chairman of Thailand’s National Security Council tipped to be its new chairman, the pieces of the jigsaw are falling into place.

At least two of the bidders (which may or may not exist) seem to be talking to network security companies more used to corporate or perhaps at a stretch ISP level security deployments. Can they stretch to encompass an entire country?

What I felt was lacking in all three bids was how they were all approaching it from a network security perspective. Mass surveillance is not quite what that gear was created to do. Sure, it might work - probably will work given the money involved.

If I were the one advising General Happiness on this project, I would have approached it from a totally different angle. Rather than network security vendors and local systems integrators, I’d call in the pros. Edward Snowden’s former employer has already done a lot of work in Thailand and I am sure they would be happy to install an NSA-lite system for the right price.

And therein lies the rub. The single gateway is only a means to an end. The end, as was very clearly stated in the cabinet secretariat’s erroneous orders (which I must stress for the record were made in a clerical error), was for a mechanism to censor websites and control the flow of information from overseas.

It is all about control. It is not even about national security as every half-bit techno-noob these days uses strong encryption.

It is all about extending MiniTrue’s reach to surveil the Proles.

It is as if they took the Edward Snowden revelations and used it as to-do list.

As Snowden himself said recently, "Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say."

The scariest thing is that many intelligent people of good conscience are helping the Good People who run the country with this project as they believe it is the only thing that will save them from the return of the big bad Thaksin Shinawatra.

And that is wrong on so many levels.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Think about it.

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