The vagaries of messaging

Fears linger over the security of chat apps such as Line, popular with Thai leaders?/?Conjecture is rife over who will become the next metropolitan police chief?/?Fortune telling and symbolism are at the forefront of the coup leader’s future

With 24 million registered users in Thailand, the chat application Line is on virtually every Thai’s smartphone.

Line app: Hugely popular

Despite being popular for some time, the influence of the smartphone-based instant messaging service was not really understood until last year when police claimed the app firm was helping them to gain access to users’ chat logs for the sake of national security and public safety and order.

In August last year, the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) proposed "looking" in on Line messages.

Based on news reports at the time, the then TCSD chief, Pol Maj Gen Pisit Pao-in, claimed to have approached several chat service providers such as Facebook and WhatsApp for their cooperation, but they refused, citing US laws. He also said a TCSD team had visited Japan to seek cooperation from the Line developer.

The idea of keeping track of Line messages, which coincided with growing rumours on social media of a military coup d’etat, drew a public backlash and prompted the then national police chief Adul Saengsinkaew to go public and allay fears of user privacy being violated.

The outrage fizzled out as Line executives denied the claim. Some news reports claimed that chat logs would be released only when presented with a Japanese court order.

Since then, Line use has not been short of controversy.

The chat app recently created an internet storm when a screenshot of a group chat involving Channel 3 star Prin “Mark” Suparat and actress Chalida “Mint” Vijitwongtong was released. The screenshot showed Mark’s outburst at his friend’s mother.

A more recent incident cast the coup-makers under a harsh spotlight. The chat app has been mentioned as a communications tool between the People’s Democratic Reform Committee secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban and army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha prior to the May 22 coup.

According to sources, several key individuals make use of the chat app to coordinate work. These include strongmen of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

Assistant army chief Phaiboon Khumchaya, a close aide of Gen Prayuth, is said to communicate with academics and legal experts about an interim charter and political reforms through the Line app.

Lt Gen Kampanat Ruddit, the army’s assistant chief-of-staff who chairs the national reconciliation committee, is known to use the Line application in his job of eradicating colour-coded politics.

The opposition Democrat Party is also known to use Line for much of its internal communications.

However, sources in the IT industry believe these individuals might be sharing sensitive information or having confidential correspondence via Line.

The chat app has come under heavy criticism for having a security flaw at a time when there are concerns about mass surveillance. Last week, the developer of the chat app, which hit 400 million registered users worldwide in April, urged people to change their passwords after an investigation into a hacking attack suggested that a massive number of accounts could be affected.

Changes come thick and fast

Amnuay: Favoured as city police chief

The post of Metropolitan Police Bureau chief is viewed by people familiar with the police force as second in importance only to that of the national chief. 

Most previous national police chiefs were once MPB bosses before being promoted to the top job, given that the MPB is a major unit tasked with wide-ranging responsibilities.

In some cases, the role of MPB chief is more of a focal point of public attention than the national police chief.

But there is also a jinx element to the post of MPB chief as several over the past decade were unable to keep their jobs after a change of government.

MPB chief Wiroj Chantarangsri was shifted to the post of commander of Provincial Police Region 6 after the Sept 19, 2006 coup that toppled the Thaksin Shinawatra government.

Pol Lt Gen Chakthip Chaijinda, another MPB chief, was shunted to Provincial Police Region 9 after the Pheu Thai Party rose to power and led the government in 2011.

Pol Lt Gen Winai Thongsong was moved to Provincial Police Region 2 after the Pheu Thai-led government became displeased with the way he dealt with anti-government protests.

After the May 22 coup, the fate of controversial MPB chief Kamronwit Thoopkrachang was sealed like his predecessors — he was booted aside into an inactive post at the Royal Thai Police Office (RTPO). Pol Lt Gen Chakthip was appointed acting MPB chief.

The post of MPB chief will become vacant when the 2015 fiscal year begins in October.

The Pheu Thai-led government reportedly had planned to appoint Provincial Police Region 5 commander Suthep Dejraksa as the next MPB chief after the 2015 fiscal year begins, only to be thwarted by the May 22 military putsch.

As expected, Pol Lt Gen Suthep was transferred to an inactive post at the RTPO.

The current favourite for MPB chief is Pol Maj Gen Amnuay Nimmano, who was moved from the RTPO to deputy MPB chief after the coup.

Observers noted that the coup makers wanted a tough law enforcement officer like Pol Maj Gen Amnuay to take legal action against anti-coup elements.

Pol Maj Gen Amnuay was a friend of deputy police chief Somyos Phumphanmuang at the Royal Police Cadet Academy. The pair came from Class 31.

Pol Gen Somyos is also a candidate for national police chief, and if he is chosen for the top police job at a meeting of the Board of the Royal Thai Police in August, Pol Maj Gen Amnuay is expected to be promoted to MPB chief.

Pol Maj Gen Amnuay appears to be able to maintain a neutral image. He drew the ire of both the red shirts and the yellow shirts when he was in charge of handling cases against both protest groups.

When Pheu Thai led the government, he was shunted to an inactive post, and missed an opportunity to be promoted to lieutenant-general — a rank which he would have gained if the Democrat Party-led government had managed to continue running the country in 2011.

However, barring any accidents, the MPB will soon have a new leader in Pol Maj Gen Amnuay.

Prayuth wields ring of power

Warin: Prayuth did not call him

Speculation continues unabated over whether coup leader and National Council for Peace and Order chief Prayuth Chan-ocha will — or is willing to — become prime minister.

People in his inner circle are especially eager to know whether the military top brass had gone to the trouble of checking the general’s astrological situation prior to the coup on May 22.

All eyes were fixed on a famous seer in Chiang Mai, Warin Buawiratlert, whom many senior military figures are known to follow regularly.

Mr Warin has denied that Gen Prayuth consulted him before engineering the coup that removed Yingluck Shinawatra from power in the midst of the intense political conflict.

A source close to Gen Prayuth said the army chief had anticipated an upsurge in street violence with possible serious bloodshed from the conflict by the end of last month if nothing was done to avert it.

Despite Mr Warin’s insistence that Gen Prayuth had not approached him to inquire about the “right time” to take over national administration, the NCPO chief chose to declare martial law in the wee hours of the morning of May 20, which was only a few hours over the threshold of May 19, the date which Mr Warin had predicted would be auspicious for bringing about a major change to the country.

The imposition of martial law, which remains in effect, came two days before the coup was staged.

Mr Warin had said earlier that a military leader with the initial “P” would be the nation’s saviour.

The source said Gen Prayuth could have been tempted to believe the reference was made about him as, according to Mr Warin, the army chief was the trusted lieutenant of King Naresuan the Great of the Ayutthaya era in his previous life.

That may have explained the NCPO’s efforts behind the heavy promotional campaign of the fifth installment of the King Naresuan film epic recently released.

The film pays homage to the warrior king who has been revered for his heroic acts after helping free Ayutthaya from Burmese dominance several centuries ago.

If cosmic shine has anything to do with it, Gen Prayuth’s popularity appears to be swinging upward. A recent opinion survey revealed overwhelming levels of support — enough to make him the next prime minister.

However, some pundits caution the NCPO not to get carried away with the favourable public sentiment during the coup “honeymoon period”.

Gen Prayuth has not made any comment that might commit him to being a choice for prime minister. All he has said — on record — of any prospect of his assuming the premiership is: “Let us see about that”.

The source said it was noted that before the coup, Gen Prayuth was seen wearing a ring studded with nine coloured gemstones, which are believed to shore up his luck.

After the coup, however, he slipped on to the middle finger of his right hand another ring bearing a garuda, which signifies power and prestige.

Those in the know are beginning to wonder if the garuda ring could spell out what the future holds for Gen Prayuth as it is speculated he might decide to extend his term as army chief instead of going into mandatory retirement at the end of September. Or, he might opt to become the next prime minister.