Was NBTC sec-gen culled for allowing wiretapping?

13 May 2015

On 8 May armed soldiers stormed Police headquarters and took nine Israeli businessmen into custody (without charge quoting a Junta order) for possession and trying to sell telephone eavesdropping equipment. Officially this was brushed off as a misunderstanding.

The Israelis were demonstrating a device to intercept phone calls, track the location of phone users, and analyze calling data. Some reports say that they were ex-Israeli military which, considering that nearly everyone there was in the army, is probably true and probably beside the point.

However, further details have since emerged in Thai media as usual quoting reliable, unnamed sources.

Phone interceptors are only supposed to be used in the deep south where Thailand faces a separatist insurgency. However, reports say that the police had illegally moved some of these interceptors to Bangkok to target certain individuals and one of those got wind of the deal and, in retaliation, tipped off the army that led to the raid.

No names have appeared, only vague references to a spat between members of 35th and 36th class of the police academy. However this is not surprising given that the Junta has ordered media not to refer to third parties and not to talk about the past as part of its post-Thaksin reconciliation plan.

Other reports say that it was a matter of police fighting over kickbacks - each unit is allegedly $7.4 million (250 million Baht). The need for new equipment was reportedly to snoop on current 4G protocols.

It has also emerged that the telecoms regulator had previously issued import licences for phone interception equipment despite not having any authority. Such gear is a matter of national security and must be approved by the Defence Minister not the NBTC.

On 10 May, NBTC secretary-general Takorn Tantasit dropped a bombshell announcing his resignation saying only that he had been in this job for too long and wanted someone else to have the opportunity.

With all change at the NBTC (a new NBTC act will soon be passed with a new, smaller board) Takorn would have been the only face still present when the 4G auction finally comes around.

Was he pushed to resign because of the intercept equipment? Or was it the unfolding auction disaster on the broadcasting side?

Broadcasting licences had gone for sky-high values with the broadcasting commissioners all but laughing at their telecoms counterparts for the 3G auction that went at reserve price. Now the TV stations cannot afford to pay the licences fees and the NBTC is trying to arrange a deal to delay payment to avoid half the industry going out of business.

Or was it totally unrelated and that the elites wanted their person at the helm of the auction? Perhaps we will never know.

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