The big issue: Web of intrigue
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The big issue: Web of intrigue

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak had a Horton the Elephant moment about hatching the single-gateway internet egg. He said he didn’t want to talk about it. And when the egg hatched, it was the media who found the yolk was on them.

Mr Somkid was truthful. But then, the junta and its government had never talked about this issue before last month, anyhow. Let’s review.

Here are, roughly, the nine stages in the project to ensure that Thailand has an internet that could possibly be built to become the equal of North Korea’s. (China, contrary to the internet-forum meme, has a multi-gateway internet. Same result, but different means.)

Sept 4: A probably careless clerk posted to the government’s Public Relations Department website a summary of a cabinet meeting where Prime Minister Prayut asked what the heck was taking so darned long to get the single-gateway project installed. (The memo was still there at press time at goo.gl/oGMZXW. At least the crack military cyber warriors have not yet learned of the Memory Hole.)

Sept 15: Frequent tweeter @sikachu, aka Prem Sichanugrist, discovered this accidental memo and told the world.

Sept 15-Oct 14: In a phrase, the country goes nuts. The Hit-F5 squadron takes down pathetically secured government websites including the prime minister’s main propaganda outlet. Editorials are written. Outrage is expressed.

Sept 24: One Thai citizen is found who strongly favours cutting off those nine troublesome companies carrying the internet, and moving all information tubing to the excellent, well-organised, dependable CAT Telecom. Take a bow Uttama Savanayana, academic and education-business expert who has long championed both CAT and its cousin, the TOT, which enjoys the respect of the nation equal to CAT. Mr Uttama is the Minister of Internet Censorship in Thailand, and provides a wincing media every reason for a single-gateway internet except the real one.

Oct 15: At the Post Forum 2015, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid announces, entirely truthfully and honestly: “We will not talk about this any more”. For reasons they know all too well, the media take Mr Somkid’s small snowball and make an avalanche with it. Every member, domestic and foreign, popular and online, decides it knows what Mr Somkid meant, but the poor man just couldn’t speak properly.

What he meant, the media version: Plans for a single-gateway system have been dropped. Here’s what Mr Somkid actually meant, the Somkid version: We will not talk about this any more. (But we’re darned sure going to build it.) Sneaky? Sure. But politicians and phuyai always are.

Last week was the busiest week of them all, so far. While the government followed Mr Somkid’s example …

Oct 20: Col Sanpachai Huvanandana, acting CEO of CAT Telecom, reveals the company’s project to expand its current operations in order to become the single gateway for all internet traffic, to and from Thailand. He explains the Asean region will rush to anoint Thailand as the forward-looking, technological paragon Asean is seeking, to become the internet hub of Southeast Asia.

Oct 20, same day: The armed forces’ Supreme Commander Gen Sommai Kaodeera lays out what has actually been known for several years. The army is spearheading groups of “cyber warriors” to ensure no one breaks any cyber laws, including lese majeste and those darned international hackers.

Oct 22: The international hacking collective Anonymous “declares war” on Thai authorities over the single-gateway issue. It crashes some websites for a while, but far more significantly (and trivially, thanks to CAT’s almost non-existent security measures) penetrates CAT Telecom’s online operations and steals, then displays, thousands of CAT customer-billing details, right down to their Thai ID card and passport numbers.

Oct 23: General Prime Minister Prayut breaks Mr Somkid’s omerta instruction. He wants to show how infuriated he is at all that darned hacking and cyberwar. He is so infuriated, in fact, that he orders authorities to start monitoring Anonymous, which should be interesting to observe, since no one else in the world has succeeded in doing that.

Trivia sidelight: On Nov 5, Anonymous is sponsoring the worldwide Second Million Mask March, aka World’s Greatest Protest (official slogan: Bring Two Megaphones), to protest against government surveillance and corrupt politicians. You probably recall how successful the 2014 march was, especially right here in Thailand at the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration City Hall.

Or maybe you don’t.

And that’s the point, really. Anonymous and local Hit-F5 folks can grab a day of headlines and upset a company or ministry (or prime minister), but hacktivism is really high on adrenaline-charged self-esteem and really, really low on achievement.

For now, with a junta in place to control policy for years to come (two at least), the chance of rejecting a Thai internet, with all the dignity, efficiency and usefulness of North Korea’s, is out of citizens’ hands. It is all down to a fight between the authorities, investors and big business.

Alan Dawson

Online Reporter / Sub-Editor

A Canadian by birth. Former Saigon's UPI bureau chief. Drafted into the American Armed Forces. He has survived eleven wars and innumerable coups. A walking encyclopedia of knowledge.

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