Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Secret Power in Thailand

Secret Power in Thailand Literature on Chinese secret society "triads" is abundant, but contains little about their activity in Thailand. Eight very different groups of Chinese are important in Thailand: Hainanese, Hokkien, Hakka, TehChew (Teochiu), Cantonese, Haw (Hui or Ho) and Wu; they speak differently, have religious and other cultural distinctions, and often belong to social organizations with certain similarities to Italian or Irish social clubs in New York City. These socail clubs have sometimes become adjuncts to gambling, then the sale of stimulants to accompany the gambling, and on to forged documents and other criminal activities.
Tens of millions of overseas Chinese are from the Kwangtung (Canton) and HongKong area, which has over eight distinct dialects. One of these, TehChew, is that of the richest ethnic overseas Chinese group, and the majority of Chinese population in Thailand (second largest in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia); the TehChew dialect is used by many members of the Thai Parliament. TehChews have been involved in many borderline businesses, including rice smuggling, black marketing and money laundering. It's estimated that four or five TehChew syndicates dominate heroin traffic out of the Golden Triangle, said to have been worth over $200 billion in 1990 (not all heroin from the Golden Triangle is moved by TehChew, but the majority seems to be; there are well over 10 million heroin addicts in the world, but over half the supply comes from Afghanistan, with some that purportedly comes from there perhaps having been grown in Pakistan).
Each of the Chinese sub-groups has within it smaller groups, including syndicates which have become called Triads. TehChew triads are thought to be the most dangerous (for kidnapping, murder, extortion, drugs, counterfeiting, prostitution, etc.). Membership requires roots from the appropriate ancestral village, and ability to speak the dialect. This alone doesn't suffice: an essential requirement is "shinyung" or trust, proven over time. Loans, business and crime depend entirely on trust, as written contracts are regarded as foolish.
The largest concentration of TehChew is in Bangkok. From there, they control secret armies and much of the international heroin trade, especially that from the Golden Triangle area. One of most important TehChew leaders was Chin Sophonpanich, founder of Bangkok Bank - originally something set up under the aegis of the Thai royal family, then with Field Marshall Pin Choonhaven (son of a Chinese physician) and Police Chief Phao Siriyanon, "The Butcher of Bangkok" as major shareholders; the government was soon the biggest shareholder. Bangkok Bank quickly became the largest bank in Southeast Asia). Chin lived right next door to the US ambassador's residence on Bangkok's Wireless Road, and had frequent meetings with US ambassadors. He died in 1988. His eldest son Robin Chan (Rabin Sophonpanich) took over the Commercial Bank of Hong Kong and the Asia Financial Group, and younger son Chatri Sophonpanich took over Bangkok Bank. Chin Sophonpanich had connections with remnants of Chiang Kai Chek's Koumintang (KMT, based on the pre-WWII Green Gang of Shanghai as much as on Sun Yat Sen), and various other Burmese highland drug armise. It has been argued that, through the heroin trade, Bangkok Bank and Siam Cement, the TehChew run the economy of Thailand. Chin Sophonpanich's funeral pyre was lit by the King himself.

Thailand experiences the full range of organized crime activities that accompany the narcotics-trafficking networks. Thai cities often have Chinese-owned red-light districts and brothels, casinos, and entertainment facilities that function both as sources of income and as operations centers for extortion and trafficking in humans and narcotics. Bangkok is a major source of the fake documents and passports that support human trafficking operations. Thailand is recognized as a center for trafficking in humans, money laundering, arms smuggling, weapons trafficking and document forgery. The country’s infrastructure is advanced enough to provide communications and transportation key to the activities of Chinese organized crime groups, and long- established, widespread corruption among Thai government officials and police greatly eases the operating conditions for the crime syndicates.
Chinese organized crime activities are generally conducted in conjunction with money laundering and arms trafficking. Besides heroin, Thailand’s most popular domestic drug is the cheap methamphetamine known as “yaa baa”. Despite continued government pressures, narcotics have continued to flow in large quantities via obscure routes, usually across Myanmar, but also through Laos and Cambodia, into Bangkok. Although yaabaa is manufactured mainly at factories protected by the Wa armies of Shan State, Chinese organized crime syndicates are involved in its transport and distribution. Chinese organized crime groups engaging in human trafficking, called “Piglet Gangs” by Thai police, utilize the easy availability of false and stolen passports in Thailand to transport immigrants from their home countries to Western countries. Since document forgery and human trafficking are areas of expertise of Bangkok-based Chinese groups, Bangkok has become a significant transit center for human trafficking.
The Wang Kao Niu gang, which formerly dominated the trafficking of women from locations in China to Bangkok to work as prostitutes, was usurped by the Chinese criminal leader Lao Chai, an associate of the 14K triad. The Sun Yee On triad, also well established in Thailand, has utilized the easy passport market to assist in transport of prostitutes to Japan in cooperation with the Yakuza. The continued influx of Chinese gangs and syndicates into Thailand has produced a series of turf wars between the dominating Wong Koon Wah, leader of the 14K, and smaller groups fighting over territory in Thailand and sections of neighboring Cambodia.
Thailand has recieved unauthorized arms by sea from Chinese plants including Norinco and Poly Technology. The bribery of border officials is standard procedure. Bangkok has seen increased armed violence in recent years.

US secret services in the very early 1950s produced fake communist pamphlets in Thai, pamphlets which attacked the Thai monarchy. When enough anti-communist hysteria had been created, William Donovan and Allen Dulles helped develop and support a Thai guerrilla force, PARU (Police Arial Reinforcement Unit, part of the royal-sponsored Border Patrol Police). PARU, far less publicized than the KMT and some of the other drug armies, did as much or more to influence history, working in effect for Wall Street (where Donovan had made millions) against the "communist menace". PARU’s successes encouraged the US to, in the 1960s, use PARU for covert, then overt, operations in Laos and Vietnam. PARU, like the KMT, was early on partially financed by drugs.
The USA's secret services have had an almost continuous habit of turning to drug traffic for funding. This began as a curious exception to US policy of seeking political resolution of international conflicts through the United Nations. It also pitted the regular US diplomats of the State Department against Cold Warriors of the secret Office of Policy Coordination (OPC, a US covert psychological operations and paramilitary action organization created in 1948 which merged with the CIA in 1951). The OPC, having limited Congressional funding but ample drug assets at its disposal, decided to fund many of its activities itself (much as happened in Afghanistan in 1979 and with Iran-Contra).
To understand the CIA’s involvement in the Southeast Asian drug traffic after World War II, one must go back to 19th-century opium policies of the British. Siamese government efforts to prohibit opium smoking ended in 1852, when King Mongkut (Rama IV), bowing to British pressures, established a Royal Opium Franchise, which was then farmed out to Siamese Chinese. Three years later, under the terms of the Bowring Treaty, Siam had to accept British opium free of duty, with the proviso that it was to be sold only to the Royal Franchise. A year later, in 1856, a similar agreement was negotiated with the US. The opium farm became a source of wealth and power to the royal government, but also to Chinese secret societies. Opium dependency also had the effect of easing Siam into the ways of Western capitalism by bringing sustenance farmers and fishermen into the cash economy. Until it was finally abolished in 1959, proceeds from the Opium Franchise (as in other parts of Southeast Asia) provided up to 20% of Siamese government revenue. This is one reason why the opium franchise ceased to be farmed out to Chinese businessmen in 1907 and became (as again in other parts of Southeast Asia) a government monopoly.
The KMT's Northern Army (93rd Division) connection had enormous consequences. For three decades, Shan opium was the main source of revenue and power for the KMT in Burma and both the KMT and the Northern Army in Thailand. All of Thailand’s military leaders between 1947 and 1975 - Pin Choonhaven, his son-in-law Phao Sriyanon, Sarit Thanarat, Thanom Kittikachorn, Prapat Charusathien, and Kriangsak Chomanand - were officers from the Northern Army. Successively their regimes dominated and profited from the opium supplied by the KMT 93rd Division, grown mostly in Shan State. So, from the military coup of November 1947 until Kriangsak’s resignation in 1980, many Thai governmental matters - including the coups d’état of 1947, 1951, 1957, and 1975 - can be seen as in part resultant from conflicts over control of the drug trade, in which various uniformed services had become rivals. As in Indonesia and other Asian countries, the generals’ business affairs were handled by local Chinese with intimate international contacts. The Chinese banker of Pin Choonhaven and Phao Sriyanon was Chin Sophonpanich (who enabled Phao to die as one of the richest men in the world). When Sarit displaced Phao in 1957, and took over both the government and the drug trade, both Phao and Chin had to flee the country.
The origins of U.S. involvement with Thai politico/drug traffickers appears to have involved principally four men: William Donovan; his British ally Sir William Stephenson, who with Donovan organized the World Commerce Corporation (WCC); Paul Helliwell; and Willis Bird (both veterans of OSS China). After World War II, Sir William Stephenson’s WCC became very active in Bangkok, and Stephenson established a strong personal relationship with the Thai King Rama IX.
Stephenson recruited James Thompson, the last OSS commander in Bangkok, to stay on in Bangkok as the local WCC representative. This led to the WCC’s financing of Thompson’s Thai Silk Company, a successful commercial enterprise that sponsored Thompson’s repeated trips to the northeast of Thailand (Isaan) and the Thai border with Laos, where communist insurrection was feared, and where future CIA operations would be concentrated.
Paul Helliwell, who'd been OSS chief of Special Intelligence in Kunming, Yunnan, served as Far East Division chief of the Strategic Service Unit, the successor organization to OSS. In this capacity he allegedly controlled the pipe-line of covert funds for secret operations throughout East Asia after the war. Eventually, Helliwell would be responsible for the incorporation in America of the CIA proprietaries, Sea Supply Inc. and Civil Air Transport (CAT) Inc. (later Air America), which would provide support to both Phao Sriyanon of the Northern Army in Thailand and the KMT drug camps in Burma. It is unclear what he did before the creation of OPC in 1948. Speculation abounds as to the original source of funds available to Helliwell in this earlier period, ranging from the following: 1. The deep pockets of the overworld figures in the WCC. Citing Daniel Harkins, a former USG investigator, John Loftus and Mark Aarons claimed that Nazi money, laundered and manipulated by Allen Dulles and Sir William Stephenson through the WCC, reached Thailand after the war. When Harkins informed Congress, he was suddenly fired and sent back to the United States. 2. The looted gold and other resources collected by Admiral Yamashita and others in Japan or of the SS in Germany. 3. The drug trade itself - local funding for local projects, which makes much more sense.
Willis Bird ran a trading company supplying arms and materiel to Phin Chunhawan and Phin’s son-in-law, Phao Sriyanon, who in 1950 became director-general of the Thai Police Department. By 1951 OPC funds for Bird were being handled by a CIA proprietary firm, Sea Supply Inc., which had been incorporated by Paul Helliwell in his civilian capacity as a lawyer in Miami. As noted earlier, Helliwell also became general counsel for the Miami bank that infamous Mafia accountant Meyer Lansky allegedly used to launder proceeds from the Asian drug traffic.
In the later 1940s, Donovan, whose link to the WCC was by 1946 his only known intelligence connection, visited throughout Southeast Asia but especially Bangkok. Because General MacArthur cut Donovan out of the Pacific during World War II, Donovan used Thailand as a base from which to run secret operations against a purported Soviet threat to Asia. By 1947 the US increasingly defined Thailand as an important place in cold war strategy.
Willis H. Bird, who'd worked with the OSS in China and was still a reserve colonel in military intelligence, ran an import-export house in Bangkok. Following the November, 1947 coup, Bird implored Donovan: “Should there be any agency that is trying to take the place of O.S.S., . . . please have them get in touch with us as soon as possible." By the time Phibun returned as Prime Minister, Donovan was telling the Pentagon and the State Department that Bird was a reliable source whose information about growing Soviet activities in Thailand were credible. Bird’s wishes were soon answered by NSC 10/2 of June 18, 1948, which created the OPC. Washington swiftly agreed that Thailand would play an important role as a frontline ally in the Cold War. In 1948, U.S. intelligence units began arming and training a separate army under General Phao, which became known as the Thai Border Police (BPP). The relationship was cemented in 1949 as the communists captured power in China. The generals demonstrated their anticommunist credentials by echoing US propaganda and killing alleged leftists. At midyear an OPC (CIA) team arrived in Bangkok to train the BPP for covert support for continuing KMT fighting against Chinese communists, along the Burma-China border. Later in the year the US began to arm and train the Thai army and to provide the kingdom general economic aid. Walker noted how the collapse of the KMT forces in China led Washington to subordinate its antinarcotics policies to the containment of communism: by the fall of 1949, the State Department accepted that communism was making inroads within the Chinese community in Thailand. The State Department also knew of Thai uniformed services involvement with opium, but since the army controlled Thailand’s security relationship with the West, opium interdiction had to take a back seat to other policy priorities.

Chin Sophonpanich created the largest bank in south-east Asia, one that was extremely profitable. A report by the International Monetary Fund in 1973 claimed that Bangkok Bank’s privileged position allowed it to make returns on its capital in excess of 100% a year (a claim denounced by Chin’s lieutenants). What was not in dispute was that the bank’s bulging deposit base could not be lent out at optimum rates in Thailand alone. Chin revolutionised the Southeast Asian banking scene, personally traveling amongst Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, identifying and courting a new generation of putative post-colonial tycoons. Chin banked the key godfathers outside Hong Kong - Robert Kuok in Malaysia, Liem Sioe Liong [Sudono Salim] in Indonesia, the Chearavanonts in Thailand - as well as other players in Singapore and Hong Kong. Chin was closely linked to the Thai heroin trade through his role as personal financier to the narcotics kingpin Phao Sriyanon, and to other politicians involved in running the drug business . br> Donovan, almost a stranger to his shy, sensitive wife, Ruth (from a wealthy Protestant family contrasting with his poor Irish-Catholic background; they had two children, but he spent little time with his family), was reckless in his private life, with extramarital affairs were so common that agents were aware of his desire for female companionship during his foreign stops. "Wild Bill" Donovan, former Wall Street lawyer with close ties to I.G. Farben, worked mostly to keep things smooth for a financial elite.

Thailand risked a great deal in its association with the United States. Helping the USA to defend Thailand from invasion or insurgency was one thing, but assisting in wars elsewhere was quite another. First and foremost, the Thais risked antagonizing their neighbors, with whom they had difficult, violent histories. If for any reason the United States did not succeed in Southeast Asia, Thailand would be left alone, surrounded by communist states. Secondly, joining the USA in wars against communism necessitated American intervention in Thailand, which would unduly expose Thai society to powerful Western influences, which could have serious political implications. Thais guard their independence jealously, and are proud of being the only country in Southeast Asia to have avoided European colonization. Although Thais have entered into diplomatic pacts with foreign powers, they remain careful to avoid anything more than temporary arrangements. Formal alliances have been infrequent in Thai history, and Western influence, accepted in many, mostly materialistic, ways, has often shuned to the point of giving the appearance of xenophobia.
However, as the Cold War dawned Thai fears about communist expansion outweighed any nationalistic sentiment. From Bangkok's point of view it appeared that China was bent on expansion. Intervention in Korea seemed only the most glaring illustration of Chinese aggression. Most Thais believed it was the Chinese, and not so much the Soviets, who were behind supposedly indigenous communist movements throughout Southeast Asia. American hostility toward Beijing brought the region sharply into focus for Washington, and the US sought to extend the Military Defense Assistance Program (MDAP, and later MAP) to its Asian clientele.
The appointment of ambassadors in mid-century reflected the Eisenhower administration's focus on counter-insurgency and covert operations. In 1954, William Donovan, the former OSS chief, was sent to Bangkok to oversee the development of counter-insurgency capabilities. In addition to a joint US-Thai Psychological Warfare Board, Donovan helped to establish new police programs, guerrilla training, and the ubiquitous "intelligence agency" (krom pramuan ratchakan phaen-din).
When the US took on the role of "protector" in South Vietnam in 1954, Donovan was instrumental in drawing Thailand into a multi-lateral defence pact, which allowed the Americans access to Thai air bases in Isaan. In 1954, Thailand signed the Southeast Asian Collective Defense Treaty, which gave rise to the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO). For the Eisenhower administration, the treaty created a common front in the region with other allies, aimed against communist expansion. It established provisions for multilateral military forces, thus avoiding a direct and unilateral US commitment. Bangkok was chosen as the headquarters for the new organization, and as American military and economic aid continued to increase, so did the scope of clandestine activities - above and beyond the auspices of SEATO. Other organizations, including JUSMAG (United States Military Advisory Group Thailand), USIA (United States Information Agency), AUA (American University Alumni, and the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) were soon active in Thailand. Each of these organizations still exists, and each has helped in the accomplishment of activity kept hidden from public notice.
Donovan, seeing no reason that policies considered suitable in wartime - covert military action, bribery, and disinformation - weren't equally appropriate in the postwar world, stirred up as much trouble in Southeast Asia as he could manage, among other things promoting the career of Ngo Dinh Diem, the man who, with American sponsorship, became the disastrous first President of South Vietnam. Donovan returned to the United States in 1954. Almost broke and in debt to the IRS, he registered as a lobbyist for the Thai government. His health began to deteriorate, especially his mental health, perhaps an effect of his prodigious wartime travels &/or his time in Thailand. He suffered for several years from arteriosclerotic atrophy of the brain, then died in 1959.
In October 1954, Donovan was replaced as ambassador by another former CIA man, John Peurifoy, who was widely regarded as the "premier anti-communist" in the State Department. A private researcher hired to evaluate US aid programs commented that "the American official establishment in Bangkok had climbed into bed" with the Minister of the Interior, General Phao Siyanon; Prime Minister Phibun Songkhram was convinced that Washington had sent Peurifoy to overthrow him in favor of Phao. Thailand's relationship with the United States deepened even more after 1958, when Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat overthrew Phibun Songkhram and came to power. By consolidating the Thai military's hold and the moral authority of the monarchy, while co-opting key political rivals into his fold, Sarit ushered in a new era of harsh but stable rule which allowed for the expansion of US covert operations in Thailand.
OSS officers had written foreign policy towards Thailand during the war. At that time, Thailand’s Minister of Defense had been Pibun Songkhram, Prime Minister both before and after the war, and a ardent admirer of both Mussolini and Hitler. His main opposition in the Thailand cabinet was Phanomyoung Pridi, an admirer of FDR's New Deal. As pre-war Premier, Pibun purchased large quantities of arms from Italy and Japan, and created a political and social model based on fascism. When the Japanese invaded, he ordered the military to offer no resistance (indeed, Japanese troops were greeted with flowers strewn before them). The US State Department remained indifferent towards Thailand, but only OSS backing of Phibun's rival Pridi and his underground army allowed creation of a free and independent state of Thailand following the war.
The Thai national police under ruthless and brutal General Phao Sriyanon became "the largest opium-trafficking syndicate in Thailand,” in Alfred McCoy's words. He added: CIA support for Phao and the KMT seems to have sparked . . . a ‘takeoff’ in the Burma-Thailand opium trade during the 1950s: modern aircraft replaced mules, naval vessels replaced sampans, and well-trained military organizations expropriated the traffic from bands of illiterate mountain traders. Never before had [Burma’s] Shan States encountered smugglers with the discipline, technology, and ruthlessness of the KMT. Under General Phao’s leadership Thailand had changed from an opium-consuming nation to the world’s most important opium distribution center. The Golden Triangle’s opium production approached its present scale, and was the world’s largest exporter of opiates, far more significant than Turkey, until supplanted in the 1980s by a new set of CIA allies, the Afghan mujahedeen and Pakistani military intelligence.
All of this was top secret - so much so that the very existence of the operation to support the KMT guerrillas was kept from the CIA’s deputy director for intelligence, most or all top State Department officials, and the U.S. ambassadors to Burma and Thailand. The CIA went to especially great lengths to hush up the drug-related murder of one agent and widespread opium trafficking under its auspices. The respected London Observer accused “certain Americans” of joining Thai officials and KMT officers in “making large profits” from the “guns for opium trade.” The story pointed to the large quantities of American-made weapons and ammunition flown to General Li Mi “from a certain trading company in Bangkok in which Americans have an interest.” (This refered to the CIA’s Sea Supply Company.) Amazingly, the American embassy in Bangkok confirmed the allegation. “It cannot be denied that we are in the opium trade,” one US diplomat told a reporter. The Washington Post made it the subject of an editorial: “It is somewhat startling to read the allegation that in supporting the Chinese Nationalist effort in northeastern Burma to harass the Chinese Communists, Americans have gone into the opium business!”
After further damning press accounts, the US ambassador to Burma acknowledged in a dispatch to Washington the existence of “apparently strong” and widely available evidence “that the United States was directly involved in aiding these [KMT] troops in the Burma border.” He added that the burgeoning drug trade was becoming a public embarrassment as well: movement of opium into Thailand, and of supplies north from Thailand has proceeded with apparent tacit approval of Thai authorities, probably also with their connivance and to their profit. An Associated Press reporter who toured the Shan States of Burma in early 1953 cited widespread charges that “the Nationalist guerrillas trade narcotic poppy gum for guns and money.” Despite official U.S. denials of support, he added, “new American weapons have been found on slain or captured Chinese irregulars.” The New York Herald Tribune dismissed Washington’s denials more bluntly, reporting that “up to a year ago Bangkok was full of cloak and dagger operatives and some American citizens unquestionably shuttled back and forth on mysterious missions between Bangkok and Li Mi’s airstrip [near] Kengtung.” Thanks to the U.S.-funded expansion of his paramilitary forces, General Phao was first among equals in Thailand’s military government. But he made the mistake in 1955 of boasting that he had recently paid nearly $1,500,000 in reward money to unnamed informers and police for seizing 20 tons of opium from Chinese Nationalist guerrillas near the Burmese border. Amid widespread public speculation that Phao had simply pocketed the money - and growing concern by military rivals that he was amassing a rich political war chest - Phao was relieved of his post as deputy finance minister while traveling to the United States to seek more US aid <“Pibul Tightens Grip on Thailand,” New York Times, August 7, 1955; Darrell Berrigan, “They Smuggle Opium by the Ton,” Saturday Evening Post, May 5, 1956>.
The narcotics commissioner dispatched one of his senior agents, Wayland Speer on a 1954 mission to the Far East to gather evidence of Communist China’s involvement in the drug business. Speer uncovered no hard information of Chinese government culpability, but one of his reports implicated two senior officers in the Nationalist Chinese secret police, top Thai government leaders and military officers, American servicemen, and agents for a CIA-controlled airline, but only one smuggler who claimed to obtain his opium from Yunnan Province in southern China. Speer’s first informant in Thailand was the top pilot for Civil Air Transport (CAT), a cargo airline nominally owned by Nationalist Chinese interests but also operated (perhaps unknown to Speer) by the CIA. The pilot, who flew missions for the Thai police, provided details of attempts by one of his Taiwanese co-pilots and other Nationalist Chinese to enlist him to fly 12 tons of opium out of Burma and 50 pounds of heroin from Bangkok. He also reeled off examples of other dope-smuggling plots involving Thai police officials, Thai Air Force officers, and a US master sergeant. CAT planes in Thailand were generally clean, he said, because the Thai Air Force took steps to prevent competition with its own opium flights. Speer quickly learned that dishonest officials were the rule, not the exception in Thailand. Jim Thompson, the famous OSS officer and owner of Thai Silk Company, called his adopted country “the most corrupt place on earth” and said “everyone is in the opium traffic from the top to the bottom,” starting with the police. Another informant told Speer that the Army held literally tons of opium and morphine at its barracks in Bangkok. Speer then learned from the U.S. embassy’s security officer that the “top KMT agent” in Bangkok “finances all of her intelligence operations with opium.” Her tentacles reached into the highest government circles, through her sister’s marriage to a Thai police colonel and top aide to General Phao, “who is called Mr. Opium.” The embassy security officer’s story got more complicated with the involvement of an American businessman and former OSS officer living in Bangkok named Willis Bird. Bird was friendly with Ambassador William Donovan (founder of the OSS) and brother-in-law to a Thai Air Force officer who served as intelligence liaison to General Phao. Bird, said to be acting “on behalf of General Phao,” allegedly got Thai authorities to drop plans to prosecute the drug-smuggling KMT intelligence agent. Speer noted as an aside, “everyone suspects Bird is in opium,” in part because Bird had the contract to fly KMT irregulars out of Burma aboard CAT aircraft (Bird was also the Bangkok agent for the CIA’s Sea Supply operation.) Speer reportedly struck up a conversation with Bird at a swank Bangkok nightclub frequented by foreigners and managed by an Austrian expatriate with a narcotics record. (Bird said he didn’t own the establishment but only “signed the checks” there.) Bird told the agent he was eager to help the FBN by furnishing information on international narcotic smuggling, though he admitted that there were limits on what he could disclose since “he must get along with the authorities locally.” No wonder - besides his strong ties to General Phao, he had seven Thai brothers-in-law, “all of whom are close to the Thai government.” Bird also confided that he took a cut of up to 10% on all business done by CAT, which was “chartered to the police” and also to the KMT. In short, the FBN could reasonably conclude that Bird was the supply agent for the two biggest dope-trafficking forces in the region. Another FBN source, reporting later on extensive opium trafficking by KMT forces in the Golden Triangle, noted that Bird “was widely alleged to have amassed a fortune in smuggling consumer goods to China via US military planes” during World War II and then went on to be employed out of Bangkok by either Chiang Kai-shek or Washington “to surreptitiously supply the Chinese groups against the wishes of the Burmese.” He added, “Nationals of both countries may be inclined, therefore, to take this as evidence that the US is willing to take a less-than-moralistic view of such matters as narcotics traffic, when it has other interests at stake.”
Thai Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat deposed Phao in 1957, but nothing really changed. Sarit was urportedly soon pocketing 4% of Thailand's GNP. The US ambassador would concede two years later that Sarit “and the military group are now more dependent than ever on the profits from opium exports.” Citing estimates that “over 300 tons of opium pass through the KMT area in Burma each year,” he added, “If the KMT problem could be liquidated there is no doubt that it would do much to reduce the opium problem. However, there seems to be no hope of this.”

Meanwhile, the strength of the Triads continued to grow.
All this may seem ancient history; much of it, indeed, is as old as I. But the drugs are still there, and still reach markets. And Thai politics remain opaque; calls for "reform" almost never contain concrete details. Protestors are paid; we are not told who pays them.
So: why so little mention of Thai triads? Because both the Thai rulers and their US sponsors work with them, and don't want that fact advertised. But they are of concern to all, as any and all rivalry amongst the various factions can involve tremendous social disruption. US government sponsored involvement in Latin American drug trade in the 1980s has been well documented, as well as CIA involvement in the Nugen Hand Bank (which hired ex CIA director William Colby as legal councel) and BCCI (the notorious "Bank of Crooks and Criminals" drug money laundry), plus other nepherious activities worldwide. There's little more reason to suppose that US secret service has totally cleaned up its act than to suppose that there is no Triad criminal involvement in Thai politics. Politics is now about economics, and the Thai economy is controlled by Chinese and heavily influenced by dark money, so it can be assumed that dark money influences important administrative decisions, and so must become more exposed. Unfortunately, it is far easier to find information on the covert activities of the CIA than it is to find significant information on Chinese secret societies.