Archive | Hun Sen RSS feed for this section

Korean Sex And Cambodian Govt Corruption: Why You People Read My Blog And What You Are Fiddling Around With On The Internet

8 Feb

Korean Sex And Cambodian Govt Corruption: Why You People Read My Blog And What You Are Fiddling Around With On The Internet

By Nate Thayer

It is, together, alarming, confusing, depressing, and downright fascinating sometimes when reviewing the analytics of who you people are that come and read my blog–and exactly how you get here.

The top search terms that drove people to my blog today are as follows:

1.”choeung sopheap”
3.korean sex
4.air koryo business class korean
6.westboro baptist church number
7.khmer police big cock korian
9.korea sex

You will note there is a theme that emerges here: Sex Continue reading

A letter to a young Cambodian-2013: Reflections on a toxic political culture

26 Jun

Cambodia-2013: Reflections on a toxic political culture

A letter to a young Cambodian

If Cambodia is not careful, they will be relegated to selling roadside trinkets along the highway as the rest of properly organized Asia zooms through without stopping  between Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City

By Nate Thayer

June 26, 2013

Alright I just expelled my first FB friend.

Cambodia is having a so called election in coming weeks. Hun Sen, the ex Pol Pot military officer who has been running the show in the collapsed, sad nation since he lost the $3 billion UN funded free elections in 1993 and went on a murderous rampage, is still in sole and complete power, 30 years later.

Hun Sen achieved that distinction by systematically murdering, torturing, or otherwise dispatching anyone who didn’t demonstrate absolute obsequiousness, gouging their eyes out while alive, cutting off their penis’s  and stuffing them in their mouths while laughing before killing them, pulling out there tongues with pliers when they failed to utter the right words, yanking their fingernails out before putting a bullet between their eyes, and otherwise humiliating, torturing and murdering the duly elected government that would not submit in supine, abject, mute, loyalty.

He did this, this violent, bloody coup d’etat, in order to solely seize power in 1997. He fled the Khmer Rouge in 1977, well after hundreds of thousands of people were killed by his government, not out of any objection to their policies of mass murder of politically suspect citizens, but rather because he was next on their target list. He was installed in power a few years later by the invading Vietnamese army and served as their puppet leader until the UN arrived in 1991. He lost the 1993 UN election, used violence and threats to compel a power sharing arrangement, and then dispatched of the veneer formalities 4 years later in his bloody putsch.

And now he is running another transparently farcical insult to the concept of free elections , a campaign to get the absurd stamp of legitimacy on his dictatorship once again.

He has once again expelled all elected parliamentary opposition members in recent weeks, which strips them of legal immunity, so he can threaten and jail anyone who says anything he doesn’t like using the entirely controlled judiciary.

Frankly, Cambodia is such a pathetic, myopic political culture, with virtually no sense of common good or nation, that, with the exception of a very few very brave people, almost no one stands up to these thugs.

The dictator Hun Sen’s latest embarrassing rhetoric has him targeting his main opposition figure, Khem Sokkha, accussing him of sleeping with underage virgin prostitutes, and he has threatened to throw him in jail.

For Cambodian’s, they don’t find it sufficient to just murder or destroy the reputation through slander of their opponents. They enjoy publicly humiliating them first. The dirty little secret is that these tactics are prevalent in virtually all Cambodian leaders of all ideologies.

What does it say about the Cambodian political culture that after Pol Pot killed nearly a quarter of the population in 3 years eight months and 20 days in power, his political opposition was so unimpressive that the freshly minted mass murderers was able to rebuild his political organization through genuine popular support and remained the dominating political power broker for two decades after he did what he did?

It doesn’t say anything very complimentary or reassuring.

So when the following message just appeared on my FB page, it pushed my buttons.

“Both Putin & Berlusconi were divorced, no wife, they are enjoying life as bachelors, but now ex-PM of Italian is facing charge for buying sex with many under age girls = Kem Sokha.”

Khem Sokha, the opposition candidate who Hun Sen is gleefully publicly humiliating, after stripping him of his position as an elected parliamentarian, is a decent man. I remember him as a courageous human rights campaigner in a country where such activity would likely make you a statistic, and quickly.

So I wrote the following reply to his pathetic status message:
I am not sure who you are. But I do know this: Life is too important to be sputtering foolish and dangerous untruths. And life is never worth blindly repeating the absurd and false propaganda of any political leader without using your mind to think for yourself and figure out whether it is true.

The allegations against Khem Sokha are so obviously bald political slander created by Hun Sen that not a person on earth outside of Cambodia believes them to be true.

Until people like you stop getting pleasure from viciously attacking without merit political leaders and start demanding your leaders stop stealing the country blind, filling their bank accounts with the proceeds that belong to the nation, selling off Cambodia’s heritage to the foreigner with the most money, and murdering and oppressing through violence and a constant state of fear anyone who doesn’t get on their knees when they enter the room, Cambodia will remain the sad, failed country that is unable to survive without the charity of the properly organized world.

You should be ashamed of yourself.

And you should certainly be ashamed of your country.

Only then, perhaps, will you fight to create a national dignity that is such an historical relic in Cambodian political culture that it is beyond the ability of historians to empirically reconstruct.

Why should the rest of the world care about a country that cares so little about itself that it allows the same incompetent, corrupt, rapacious thugs to run the asylum years and years on end?

It is one thing to not say anything at all because you rightly know if you speak the truth they will do whatever it takes, up to and including murdering you, to make you stop. It is entirely another to take perverted pleasure in destroying the reputation of good people who are trying to change the country.

It is embarrassing and despicable.

OK. I have said what I feel because I am a free man and can. Good luck achieving the same political conditions in your neck of the woods with your pathetic attitude.

And, congratulations. You have the distinction of being the first person I have ever formally blocked and kicked off my FB page. Because you simply are not worth the bother.

Good luck in your upcoming “election.”

And good luck with the future you and your country are rapidly hurtling towards: A sad, pathetic failed nation state that will find itself selling trinkets on the highway between Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City, as the rest of the region and planet, zooms through without stopping,  as they get on with the program of making life better for their people.


Thoughts on the Death of Mass Murderer Ieng Sary:Cambodian Political Culture and North Korea

14 Mar

Thoughts on the Death of Mass Murderer Ieng Sary: The Khmer Rouge and North Korea

It is the Cambodian Political Culture which Should be Indicted

By Nate Thayer

(c)Nate Thayer. All rights reserved. No republication in whole or part without express written permission from the author

Pol Pot’s brother in law, Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary, one of only five people allowed to be charged and put on trial by this modern day version of a Stalinist style political show trial funded and given credibility by the UN, for killing 1.8 million  Cambodians, has died at 87, Cambodia’s UN-backed court announced today.

I am the only one to have interviewed all five of the defendants, all of whom are guilty as sin, so I have a few thoughts on the passing of Mr. Ieng Sary.

That leaves two more octogenarians the Cambodian government and world community are hoping will die soon so this charade of bringing justice to those responsible will never happen.

That should be soon, and the Cambodian government can finally dispense with this political nuisance of having the harsh glare of public scrutiny focused on their ugly and very much alive political culture.

Thirty years after the Khmer Rouge did what they did during their unspeakable three years, eight months and 30 days in power–committed crimes against humanity, war crimes, mass murder, torture and slave labor as official state policy, and, arguably genocide–this is the current state of justice for those millions dead and those, in many ways, who have suffered a worse fate and were unfortunate enough to survive, shattered and traumatized, their entire culture brought to its knees where the ex Khmer Rouge who control the country today demand they remain.

Of the five predetermined and given political permission to be charged as culpable of these crimes, this is the current status ofjustice dispensed: One mid level party technician who carried  out the political orders to execute 16,000 men women and children, after being tortured and interrogated, has been found guilty. One octogenarian woman had charges dismissed as she was determined  to be senile. Two senior officials, both in their 80’s and will die of old age before being found guilty remain on trial after ten years and $300 million dollars paid by the properly organized world to fund this  monument to a mockery of justice run by the United Nations but controlled by ex Khmer Rouge now running the current government.

And Ieng Sary died today. Continue reading

Happy Chinese New Year in Cambodia: Corrupt Govt Officials Hand Cash to Hundreds of Soldiers

11 Feb

Happy Chinese New Year in Cambodia

What a pathetic embarrassment the Cambodian government is, a B grade rip-off of the Lord of the Flies.

Happy Chinese New Year in Cambodia means hundreds of police, military police and Cambodian army soldiers gathering to receive cash envelopes outside the house of one of Cambodia’s biggest crime syndicate bosses tied to the murder, jailing, and beatings of poor Cambodians in the service of innumerable corrupt patronage contracts between Hun Sen’s ruling political party and selling off state assets and land concessions to China.

The house where the security services gathered in hordes to beg for corruption payoffs is owned by Cheung Sopeap, the wife of ruling Cambodian people’s party senior official Lao Meng Khun, who together own the Phiopemex company–a major financier of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany.

Hundreds of Soldiers and Police gather Outside Home of Corrupt Cambodian Crime Syndicate Seeking Chinese New Years Cash

Hundreds of Soldiers and Police gather Outside Home of Corrupt Cambodian Crime Syndicate Seeking Chinese New Years Cash

A corrupt elite who finance the Cambodian dictator, Hun Sen, and a small cabal of his corrupt cronies in power and their wives, have stripped the country of state assets, forests, oil and mineral rights, and forced thousands of villagers from their homes, in a rapacious orgy of selling the country to foreign investors—most notably China—in exchange for cash payoffs.

Phiopemex and similar front companies are given the protection and use of the army and security services to carry out what is essentially an organized criminal syndicate using the protections and benefits of a nation state–in exchange for cash to Hun Sen and a small group of former Khmer Rouge officials who have lined their pockets with hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years

More than 80% of the population lives in rural areas and 36% lives in extreme poverty, earning less than 50 US cents per day.

Pheapimex is one of Cambodia’s most powerful companies, led by a couple with extremely close ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany. The company director, Lao Meng Khin, is a senator with the ruling Cambodia People’s Party. His wife, Choeung Sopheap (known as Yeay Phu) regularly appears publicly alongside the prime minister’s wife. Both Choeung Sopheap and Lao Meng Khin have  previously accompanied Prime Minister Hun Sen on his  diplomatic trips to China.

Pheapimex Owners Yeay Phu & Lao Meng Khin: The “Power Couple" Financing Hun Sen Who Control 7% of Cambodian Land Mass

Pheapimex Owners Yeay Phu & Lao Meng Khin: The “Power Couple” Financing Hun Sen Who Control 7% of Cambodian Land Mass

Pheopimex controls 7.4 per cent of Cambodia’s total land area through its logging and economic land concessions, having diversified since Hun Sen seized control in a bloody 1997 coup from a business portfolio to encompass concessions for pharmaceutical imports, hotel construction and special economic zones.

Since, Pheopimex has included hydropower dams and a notorious land grab in the middle of the capital Phnom Penh. The business empire has expanded to include mining across the country.

Pheopimex first came to prominence as a logging concessionaire in the 1990s in a forest industry dominated by illegal logging, murders, and land evictions, and enjoyed a long relationship with the Cambodian armed forces, using the military to provide security and exert control over its forest concessions.

Over the last few years, thousands of poor residents were thrown out of their homes in central Phnom Penh in a corrupt land deal which gave a valuable chunk of the city to Phiopemex.

In February 2007, the Municipality of Phnom Penh granted a 99-year lease to the private developer Shukaku Inc. over a 133-hectare area of prime real estate covering the lake and the nine surrounding villages, illegally stripping residents of their land rights, including Boeung Kak lake development and the surrounding land affecting 4,225 families.

On 26 October 2008, Shukaku Inc began filling the lake with sand causing flooding and the collapse of some houses. Water and electricity was cut. In September 2010, over 1500 affected families were forced to accept compensation for their homes and land well below the market value, with Shukaku Inc. offering a reimbursement of US$4000 for property despite property values assessed at over US$40,000.

The Boeung Kak settlement consisted of nine villages surrounding the iconic lake in central Phnom Penh and home to 4000 families.

By April 2012, 3500 families were coerced into accepting compensation for a fraction of the market value for their homes and land, driving many families into destitution.

The Boeung Kak evictions constitute the largest forced relocation of Cambodians since the Khmer Rouge evacuated Phnom Penh in 1975.

Displaced Villager In Phnom Penh from Corrupt Government Concession to Cronies

Displaced Villager In Phnom Penh from Corrupt Government Concession to Cronies

Shukaku Inc is a front company for Peophemex and is owned by Lao Meng Khin and his wife, both close associates of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, and major financial backers of the Cambodian People’s Party. The Chinese firm Erdos Hong Jun Investment Co., Ltd. formed a joint venture company with Shukaku Inc to develop Boeung Kak into a high-end residential, commercial and tourism complex.  The Cambodian Government granted permission to re-register the lease agreement in the name of the joint venture, called Shukaku Erdos Hongjun Property Development Co. Ltd.

Boeung Kak residents were denied title en masse, and residents denied the protection of a fair process for resettlement and compensation of people found to be residing on State land, in accordance with World Bank safeguards. The World Bank ruled on the side of the villagers, but the Cambodian government refused to cooperate with the Bank and turn, the World Bank informed the Cambodian government that it would stop providing loans to Cambodia and would not resume lending until there was a satisfactory resolution of the Boeung Kak case.

cam bkk-two cam2 cam3 cam4

Cambodia cracked down harder on the displaced villagers. In May, 2012, female residents of Boeung Kak staged a peaceful demonstration and were surrounded by a mixed force of military police, anti-riot police and district guards, who used violence to break up the demonstration and then arrested 13 women, including a 72-year old. Their trial began two days later on May 24th, and just one hour after charges against them had been filed. Requests by lawyers for a trial delay to allow them to prepare their defense, review the case file and evidence, and bring in witnesses were all denied. They stood trial at 2pm – without a lawyer – after court prosecutors spent the morning interviewing them. They were charged with “cursing public authority” and “encroaching upon the land of a public figure” – Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin, the owner of Shukaku.

By 5:30 pm that afternoon, all 13 women had been sentenced to 2.5 years in prison. During the trial, the police arrested two more community representatives who were waiting outside the court prepared to testify as witnesses for the 13 women who were on trial.

In June 20th, 2012, the government reacted to local and international outrage by cracking down harder calling the 4000 villagers “prostitutes and terrorists”.

“Because there was an uncontrollable mixed renting by all kinds of people, this area turned to be an insecure place, shelter for criminals, gangsters, drug dealers, prostitutes and terrorists,” the Phnom Penh municipality said. Boeng Kak had, as a result, suffered from a “disappearance of national customs, traditions and Khmer culture.”

The extent of government corruption in Cambodia is so stark that revenue from illegal logging is several times that derived from legitimate enterprises. A USAID report titled “Cambodian Corruption Assessment” stated that “grand corruption involving illegal grants of logging concessions coexist with the nearly universal practice of small facilitation payments to speed or simply secure service delivery”.

“Forestry and mining concessions are signed behind closed doors … no one outside the system knows what proportion of earnings go to pay taxes, what proportion go to international businesses as excessive profits, and what proportion are transferred to foreign bank accounts.”

The tentacles of graft reach up to the highest levels, where officials maintain their position thanks to control of patronage systems that substitute for a system of government in Cambodia.

Cambodia could have earned enough revenues from its oil, gas and minerals to become independent of foreign development aid according to Global Witness, but high-level corruption, nepotism and patronage have siphoned the countries resources into the pockets of a few and left the country dependent on foreign aid and starving for access to health care, education, and basic rights.

The small number of powerbrokers surrounding the prime minister–members of the ruling elite or their family members– are the beneficiaries of these deals where millions of dollars are paid by Chinese oil and mining companies to secure access to these resources, never reaching state accounts.

“The same political elite that pillaged the country’s timber resources has now gained control of its mineral and petroleum wealth. Unless this is changed, there is a real risk that the opportunity to lift a whole generation out of poverty will be squandered,” said Gavin Hayman of Global Witness.

In 2012, the killing of journalists and environmental activists, thousands of forced evictions, the murder and beating and imprisonment of those protesting land grabs, allegedly including torture and in at least two cases murder, have dominated the mundane reality of Cambodian politics. A 15-year-old girl in Kratie province was shot dead as security forces tried to wrestle control of a plot of land away from local villagers to make way for a Russian rubber plantation that had been promised to a private firm in a land grant by the Cambodian government, and a well-known environmental activist was gunned down in April while investigating illegal logging and government corruption.

In a U.S. embassy cable released by WikiLeaks in 2011, the US embassy Phnom Penh outlined the symbiotic relationship between the Hun Sen government and corrupt cronies. “These business leaders contribute money to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and Hun Sen” and which these “symbiotic relationships illustrate the networks of business tycoons, political figures, and government officials that have formed in Cambodia, which reinforce the culture of impunity and limit progress on reforms such as Hun Sen’s self-declared “war on corruption.”

cam Choeung Sopheap (aka Yeay Phu) with Hun Sen

The US embassy cable titled the owners of Pheapimex “Yeay Phu & Lao Meng Khin: “Power Couple” said the business owners were “One of the most politically and economically connected couples in the country (after Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife and Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh and his wife)” and said they “are the co-owners of Pheapimex Fu Chan Co. Ltd, a controversial logging company that has expanded to cover salt iodization, iron ore extraction, bamboo cultivation, pharmaceutical imports and hotel construction….(and) now has access to at least 315,028 hectares of land for agribusiness.

The cable said “ Phu, who is of Chinese origin, uses her contacts in China to attract foreign investment from Chinese companies such as Wuzhishan LS and Jiangsu Taihu International. Her husband, Lao Meng Khin, is a Vice President of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, and he serves as a CPP senator and advisor to Hun Sen. Together, they have a joint venture with Sy Kong Triv through Wuzhishan LS for a pine tree plantation in Mondulkiri Province. This dynamic duo has a rather strong relationship to Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany. Lao Meng Khin has accompanied the Prime Minister on more than one trip to China, while Yeay Phu, who is a board member of the Cambodian Red Cross, is reportedly a close friend and business associate of Bun Rany. Yeay Phu is also a business associate of Tep Bopha Prasidh, the wife of the Minister of Commerce; and Ngyn Sun Sopheap, the wife of the Director of the National Department of Customs and Excise. The Pheapimex couple’s son is married to the daughter of Lim Chhiv Ho, the Managing Director of Attwood Import Export Co., Ltd. In addition to Khmer, Lao Meng Khin speaks Mandarin Chinese and Yeay Phu speaks several Chinese dialects.”

Websites Hacked of Cambodian Secret Political Police and Supreme Court Charged with both Protecting the Assassins of Political Opponents and Jailing Opposition

10 Jan

Websites Hacked of Cambodian Secret Political Police and Supreme Court Charged with Both Protecting the Assassins of Political Opponents and Jailing Opposition

Two Cambodian government ministries web sites were hacked this week and defaced in the latest in series of cyber attacks against the authorities.

The National Military Police and Supreme Court Web sites were breached and defaced by separate hacker and hacker group on Tuesday, with visitors to the Web site of  the National Military Police on Tuesday greeted by a picture of a masked man wearing a red cape. Above his head, there was a word printed in capitals: “Hacked”.

If you logged on to the Supreme Court site you would have been met by a message in the top left hand corner, “hacked by Hmei7”, the signature of an Indonesian hacker, who claimed to have attacked 70,000 Web sites worldwide.

This means in the last year since 2012, hackers have breached the Web sites of at least 7 major government ministries, including the National Police, Ministry of Agriculture,  Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy,  the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Hacktivist group Anonymous breached Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and stole 5,000 documents which included people’s passport information and visa requests from the hard drives as revenge for the arrest and deportation of Swede Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, co-founder of file sharing Web site, The Pirate Bay, who had taken refuge in the country after fleeing Sweden after being convicted  of illegally sharing proprietary information from the internet.

The National Military Police are the Cambodian Government’s specially trained political police, tasked with cracking down on political opponents to dictator Hun Sen, and are documented to be involved in widespread organized crime, including kidnapping and murder for ransom, prostitution, and torture and killing of political opponents.

The Supreme Court stands accused as being entirely politically controlled by Hun Sen and his small cabal of corrupt elite, who have sentenced numerous journalists, elected parliamentarians, social, land, and environmental activists to prison sentences while protecting those guilty of  murdering other activists and journalists from facing legal sanction.

Phu Leewood, former secretary-general of the government’s National Information Communications Technology Development Authority, noted the government does not have the skills and education and the security of government Web sites will “take time”, he told the Cambodian Daily.

After the government’s first recorded cyberattack in 2002, all Web sites were hosted from the same server with a frequently updated firewall, but since 2010, each ministry has been responsible for its own online security and every Web site has its own server, most with no firewalls, because government employees do not know how to use it, Leewood explained.

Spies and Journalists: Excerpts From Sympathy for the Devil by Nate Thayer

26 Dec

Spies and Journalists: Excerpts From Sympathy for the Devil: A Journalist’s Memoir From Inside Pol Pot’s Cambodia

By Nate Thayer

(c) Nate Thayer. Copyright strictly held by Nate Thayer. No republication or transmission in whole or in part under any circumstances without the express written permission of the author. Excerpts from the unpublished manuscript of Sympathy for the Devil: A Journalists Memoir from Inside Pol Pot’s Cambodia

Singaporean military intelligence Colonel Eng and I were very close personal friends for many years. I would socialize with him often. I am quite sure we never once spoke of what he did exactly or who, precisely, he worked for. It was always very compartmentalized to the issue at hand, and after a couple years it was obvious and certain we both knew exactly who he worked for, what his job was, and  that it wasn’t what it was purported to be–but that was still all left unsaid and really not necessary.

Colonel Eng’s colleagues were, shall we say, rather frustrated with him. He was very good and the Thais and Cambodian guerrillas loved him. He spoke perfect Thai and the Thais gave him an honorary military rank as General courtesy of the Lopburi  Royal Thai Army Special Forces command headquarters.

It was an official rank, so Colonel Eng had reason to think he was somewhat immune. But Eng was not a desk officer sort of fellow, and he was, to be charitable, very fond of drinking and had caused many near public incidents.  A combination of Colonel Eng’s personality, job description and conduct made his colleagues, superiors, and foreign intelligence counterparts very, very nervous.

Colonel Eng was in charge of being the actual covert liaison between the Singapore government and the Cambodian non-communist guerrilla groups which Singapore directly armed, albeit very covertly, to this day having never acknowledged their significant role.

While an undercover operative, the good Colonel was also the only person in Thailand who drove a blue Volvo station wagon with Singaporean diplomatic license plates routinely up and down the remote roads and dirt byways that snaked into Cambodia from the Thai border. And he certainly was the only one with a Volvo station wagon that never was without a case of Johnny Walker Whiskey in the back. Eng was generous with sharing gifts and insisted the recipients use them, regardless of what hour of the morning it was.

When the Paris Peace Agreements was signed in 1991, Eng was so close personally to virtually the entire military and civilian leadership of the Cambodian non communist resistance groups, the Thai government, and a potpourri of foreign intelligence agencies, that the Singaporean government rightly put him in charge of the portfolio of gathering intelligence on Cambodian military and political developments from Phnom Penh where the former enemy armed factions all moved and set up shop in a very uneasy alliance preparing for UN conducted elections.

But Eng was still formally attached to the Bangkok embassy and was forced to commute every few weeks to gather information for his regular intelligence updates.

The Cambodians use of him had peaked by then, since they weren’t relying on his weapons deliveries any longer, and, the truth is, in Cambodia a foreigner can only aspire to be a temporary tactical ally never other than to be discarded as a strategic enemy when the time arrives.

Plus Eng didn’t like the leg work of all the new faces and complicated politics of Phnom Penh. He was a field guy and didn’t do well with supervision or rules.

He use to come over to my office/house each time he landed in Phnom Penh and basically ask me for all the details—a sitrep of the political, military, and spookery shenanigans of the various players and factions, and then write it up for his report which he delivered back to his bosses. He was by that time drinking very, very much. I had no issue of course with sharing information with him, because the Singaporeans are very good–like the French or Germans–with sharing information in return, unlike very much the Americans, who think they can just get and not give.

He use to come straight over to my office/house each time he landed in Phnom Penh and basically ask me for all the details to fill his obligatory scheduled intelligence report. Colonel Eng would always arrive at my place with a half empty large bottle of Johnny Walker Black (never Red) and it was always still morning. Most days we would finish it together  well before dusk, both taking notes from each other. He was by that time drinking increasingly heavily, which did not go unnoticed.

As an example of the consternation Eng created amongst his own team, one day he arrived in Phnom Penh, quite tired and emotional as the Brits say, and proposed to me in quite extensive and dramatic detail that he “had talked to the Ambassador and it is all approved. We want to hire you to write the report.” He offered a specific quite generous dollar figure for my troubles. Eng just didn’t want to bothered with the pesky commute from Bangkok to Cambodia, and I didn’t blame him.

”I am tired of this bullshit,” he said in his lilting Singaporean accent, gesturing animatedly, chain smoking.. “I am thinking of retiring.”  Eng’s offer was serious and he was persistent. I declined then and more than once afterwards. Eng’s response was invariably a confused “Lah! What is wrong with you, my friend?! It is easy money! You already are doing it. Just write it up for our style! It is much more efficient for both of us!”

Colonel Eng was a genuine character.

In the months prior, on several of the good Colonel’s visits to my home, the topic was dominated by some cockamamie get rich retirement scheme Eng had concocted where he claimed to be privy to some magic Chinese ointment about to dominate the world market that one spread over ones bald head and it “cured” baldness.

He wanted me to be the photo model and photograph me for before and after shots for his planned global get rich quick marketing scheme. He would, he assured me, cut me a generous percentage of the inevitable millions waiting to be made. It was the brainchild of some “very good friend I have in Hong Kong.”  Colonel Eng, again, was dead serious.

But it was his plan to pay me to do his work to gather and write intelligence reports by recruiting me, an American citizen and journalist, as a paid agent of the Singapore SID which was not received kindly by Washington or his Singaporean  superiors. The SID and Washington are very close allies. Their relationship of sharing intelligence is of the top rank. I was told by an un-amused representative of my government and his equally unimpressed Singaporean bosses, that it was strictly against the rules to hire one another’s citizens as covert operatives behind the back of the other. So that is the sort of consternation Colonel Eng evoked from his peers.

I had no issue of course, except for the cash part, because the Singaporeans are very good–like the French or Germans–with sharing information unlike, very much, the Americans who think they can just get one to hand over sought after information in a one way monologue and offer no information or cooperation in exchange.

However, my job is not to provide intelligence information I have gathered to governments. My job is to provide information of interest to my readers. While the job descriptions of journalists and spooks are similar, our audiences and bosses are very, very different. Plus, they have much better toys and a considerably larger budget.

My deal was always that if I acquired or was given the information with the understanding and agreement it could be published, it was my choice who to share it with, even if it never saw print.

Any sources or methods or information given or acquired  in various categories of confidence I strictly applied rules uncompromisingly protecting the agreement, and have never been accused, I am rather proud to say, of violating an agreement. I can say until this day I have never burned a source, and this reputation proved to be a foundation of access to many people with many different jobs from many countries over the years.

An experience with Singaporean Colonel Eng a few years later serves as an example. I was doing a story that I had worked on for a couple years on Cambodia’s richest businessman who was the biggest source of corrupt payoffs and funds for the Cambodian government and its leaders.

He was also a major heroin trafficker and very bad man, in general. And was worth several billion dollars. I knew that he would sue me and my magazine, and do whatever he could to protect his reputation and hopefully destroy me and mine to boot.

I managed to get copies of his 3 Cambodian passports’ (one diplomatic as ‘economic advisor’ to the Cambodian head of state) and two others under different names. I also had copies of his Thai passport under a third name and his Hong Kong ID card, all with different birthdays etc. I needed as much documentation on this guy as I could to deter and discourage his appetite for revenge.

Towards the end of my several years of research and nearing publication, I called Colonel Eng in Bangkok from the offices of the Far Eastern Economic Review in Hong Kong. I had been summoned there by my bosses who wanted to be sure every i was dotted and t crossed, as they knew they would be sued in court once the story was published.

I told my good friend the Colonel that “I needed a background check and as much documentation of any illegal or suspicious activities” this man had engaged in, was associated with or was connected to. That this was a special case and I needed a favour. I gave Colonel Eng stellar personal data—passports, birth certificates, addresses, company names etc.

Eng was happy to help, but in his inimitable way. “Oh, lah! I hope you have changed and are being a good boy. You know you cause many people many headaches,” he admonished in a friendly, co-conspiritorial tone. “But you are my friend and so I am forced to help you,” he sighed. Eng tended to side on the dramatic.

Soon after, he calls me from Bangkok in Hong Kong, where I was working with our editors and lawyers for the cover story. “Oh, my friend, please never do that to me again!” he feigned being upset in a low, hushed voice. I waited for the second act. “My good friend, this man will kill you. You must not write anything. Please warn me the next time when you want to know about someone like this!  My computers and departments almost short circuited wanting to know who wanted to know and for what reason about this man! He is very powerful! You will go too far this time. You are my friend. I am suggesting to you it is a very bad idea to talk about this man. He will kill you.” I could almost see the Colonel grinning on the other end of the phone as he provided me a treasure trove of court admissible documents proving beyond a scintilla of doubt this man’s multi-billion dollar international criminal enterprise and his payoffs to the Cambodian government, including the serving prime Ministers of Cambodia.

And, despite Eng’s acrobatics, Eng provided a boxful of documents from files the Singaporeans had on his trans-Asian narcotics and criminal syndicates and his largesse to major political figures in several countries. I am guessing Eng actually liked the idea we were writing about him. He was a very good judge of character, a quite important trait for both spies and journalists.

My deal was always that if I was given the information with the understanding of publishing, it was my choice with whom to share it, whether it merited getting into print or not.

Any sources or methods or information I was given in various categories of confidence I applied the equally non negotiable strict rules on, and most of the good stuff never saw print or was ever mentioned to anyone for any reason..

And being a journalist obviously I don’t have the same layered complexities as their job. So, really depending on whether I trusted that person, I had good relationships with professional intelligence officers from many countries. Some I had none.

With the U.S., it depended strictly on the person. One station chief in Cambodia was amongst my closest friends. We would hang out together most every day, see each other at the gym most every day, and visit at my house and me at his house. There were several others there from what I call “the dark side” that were very, very good at their jobs.

When my friend left Cambodia, I asked him what he thought of his replacement, and he said: “I wouldn’t trust him.” And he was right. I met him once, where he waxed drunkenly on how all he needed was one company of U.S. marines and he could take out the entire Khmer Rouge phenomena once and for all. We did not become close friends.

Another one of the excellent U.S. guys was very, very much still not declared and operating under the radar, and the fact is one can only keep that status going for so long and then something will happen, and the other team will catch wind of the nature of their employers and their career trajectory will take a sharp turn differently. I was close to him too. When he left, he told me “I am going to be out of touch for a couple years” and he was. He and some of his people would periodically get in touch with me just to pass on  a message of sayings hi but it was clear that he off somewhere, doing something, that couldn’t simply be known. There were others.

There is one guy who was in country who spoke 32 languages, was a citizen of another country, and held a very good professional cover who simply did not trust journalists under any circumstances. I hung out with him a number of times but he had a lifetime in various places and he wasn’t going to jeopardize that. One journo in a medium sized paper had made reference to him not even by name, 15 years before, which really pissed him off, and he remained spooked, as it were, ever since.

Anyways, there was a very sophisticated dance in a good relationship between a journalist and a spy.

You both knew the rules of your own organization and both respected those of the other. There are ways to ask for information and give it and still protect your rules, ethics, and responsibilities, and most importantly the confidentiality of the people who are your sources.

When Cambodian deputy Prime Minister and son the King, Prince Chakrapong, tried his 1994 coup, I was with him in the hotel. It is a long and dramatic story, much of which never saw print, and a lot of which never will.

The night before the coup, I had heard rumors that a coup was going to happen. In fact several Funcinpec Party people in government had called me out of personal concern and said “don’t go out tonight, it is not safe.” And I checked and found that all of them had ordered their own kids to stay home. It was a Saturday night. But that was all I had. I took my motorcycle on a tour of the usual places and it seemed relatively quiet, though a few military reinforcements were at key senior official’s residences, and new checkpoints were indeed erected, as well as an armored personnel carrier placed in front of Prime Minister Ranariddh’s home and the street in front of Hun Sen’s home blocked off and reinforcements of heavily armed troops were in place there, too.

I sought out the American CIA station chief, who I found having dinner with his wife and kids at a Phnom Penh hotel, and asked him (his wife was there and used to this) if he had heard anything unusual was up, outlining intriguing rumors of an impending coup. He said no,  he was unaware of any chatter or more, after I told him what I had heard. But he thanked me and said “I will check it out and get back to you.”

He called a while later and said “You are on to something. Don’t relax or think you are chasing a bad rumor. Be careful. And thanks for the tip.”

So, this is a perfect example of how each of us could still say precisely enough to keep the rules and integrity of the home team, and keep a conversation going, exchanging information useful to each other.

As it happened, these guys from the American dark side really hated their Ambassador, Charles Twining. And they didn’t tell him anything they weren’t required to, as they had a separate communication channel to Washington which did not require passing through the State Department or the ambassador. And they had heard nothing concrete but clearly something was big on for that night.

At 0600 Sunday morning, asleep for a very few hours naked in my bed on the roof of the Phnom Penh Post with my girlfriend, my mobile phone rang.

The call was from Beijing. And it was the Queen. And she said in totality: “Call this number” and read the digits. And hung up.

I recognized immediately the phone number as belonging to Prince Chakrapong. I called him.

In fact, in the preceding hours Chakrapong had fled his home to a hotel with nothing, including his address book, but his 22 year old mistress. And he had called his mother, the Queen, for help, asking her to call me because he was surrounded by hundreds of heavily armed troops with instructions to capture and kill him after his attempted coup fizzled, and he was about to be executed.

He begged me to come right away. A very smart move. Because any government would have had all kinds of time consuming hoops to go through before they could dispatch anyone to the location of the impending confrontation—time not helpful to put something effective between him and the bullets of some people very angry at him.

A jittery voice answered after I dialed the mobile phone. “This is Prince Chakrapong. Please, please help me,” he said in a frightened broken whisper, “Come right away to the Regent hotel. They have surrounded me. They are trying to kill me.”

In the 20 minutes it took for me to arrive, the Prince called me seven times begging for me to come quickly. “I am alone. Please, before they kill me, come now. Call the American Embassy and tell them my life is in danger.”

I drove to his hotel thru the several hundred troops that had surrounded it and walked into the hotel. Chakrapong was hiding in the false paneled ceiling of his 2 star hotel room with his mistress, with no bodyguards and no guns. His choice of rooms, frankly, was quite ill thought out given his conduct over the previous few days . There were no windows and no view of the street. A very poor vantage point to keep tabs on the full resources of the military and secret police of the very pissed off Prime Minister of the government he just tried to topple.

Government troops and security forces armed with machine guns, rocket launchers, and carrying walkie talkies were positioned on the street corners and entrance ways around the hotel when I arrived on the otherwise quiet early Sunday morning. But no one tried to stop me, probably thinking I was a hotel guest.

Inside, hotel workers, white with fear, stared blankly in response to my inquiry of where the alleged coup leader was staying. The desk clerk sat frozen and silent with fear, staring at me as if I was insane.

I stayed on the phone with Chakrapong, who guided me to the fourth floor, refusing to mention his room number on the unsecure line. But maids were hovering in an upstairs hallway and they opened Room 401.

A disheveled, barefoot, and petrified son of King Sihanouk emerged in his underwear and a t-shirt from a crawl space above the ceiling of his hotel room, begging for help.

“Please, they are trying to arrest me. They will kill me. I am innocent. Please tell the American Ambassador to come right away. I need protection,” the wide-eyed Prince said, near tears, and jittery from lack of sleep. He was alone, except for his 22 year old mistress.

The bed was still made, and the curtains were drawn. A ceiling panel was removed revealing a small dark crawl space. A chair was under it to allow one to climb up. He said troops had been surrounding him since 3:00 am.

I was not incognizant of the fact that no press or diplomats were aware of the developments, and I was alone with a hunted, hated alleged coup plotter, and surrounded by troops clearly prepared to invade.

I told Chakrapong to hold tight for a minute. I went and surveyed the hallway for the best room that would have a view of the street and troops below, and went downstairs to the lobby and approached the desk clerk.

“I would like to rent room 406,” I said to the now near catatonic poor boy. I waved a wad of U.S dollars and had to insist on a registration form, which I filled in completely with my full name and contacts and employer, the Far Eastern Economic Review.  The desk clerk stared with a furrowed brow look of fear and alarm, said nothing, and handed me the key. He had no interest in the cash, a sure sign that something abnormal is underway in Cambodia , so I it left on the counter.

I thought that it might diminish the incentive of the troops outside to act precipitously if I was in a room rented under my own name, and buy time to interview the Prince.

Returning upstairs, the Prince thought it was a grand idea and, with his lovely young mistress, came over, as my guest, to my room, Regent Hotel room #406. I still have the room key.

I first called my American spook friend. I called three people. My friend, the American station chief and told him there was a coup underway and it would be great if he and some of his people could come down because I thought an American citizen’s life might be at risk—specifically mine.

I then called Prime Minister Ranarriddh’s top aides and told thim I was in the hotel room with his hated brother and please shoot carefully if or when attempting to enter.

And I called my editor in Hong Kong to tell him I thought I had a very good  story.

The US ambassador, Twining, wasn’t informed until the station chief and his colleague were on the street below. I waved, very happy to see a friendly face, who, not incidentally, was well trained in these matters and had access to lots of toys.

At this point the streets were empty save for the several hundred heavily armed troops and two very conspicuous white guys, who I was very happy to see as I peaked with Chakrapong through thee curtains to view the scene on the street.

No journalists. No embassies.

It was Sunday early morning and dead quiet. From there the stage was set.

The three mobile phones in my room rang constantly. More than 40 calls came in within the first two hours, as Chakrapong desperately tried to delay the troops from arresting him, and attempted to convince US Ambassador Charles Twining to give him political asylum.

The ambassador was very, very pissed off. As were the Prime Ministers. In contrast, I was tickled pink. This was  a great fucking story.

The Ambassador, the Prime Minister, and the Interior Minister all called me repeatedly and told me to leave. I said no “this is a great fucking story and you can arrest me but I am not leaving on my own accord. I rented and paid for this hotel room.” I said I wasn’t leaving on my own accord and this was my job, but it was their country  and they could, of course, arrest me.

The coup plotter Prince Chakrapong was sitting next to me on the couch of my hotel suite and was on the phone also with, among others, his parents, the King and Queen, in Beijing.

While the US ambassador and the Cambodian government called me and Chakrapong demanding I leave at once and that Chakrapong surrender, numerous other calls came and went.

I declined firmly and politely and repeatedly, and took notes of every word and described the ambience as it evolved.

Chakrapong refused to leave the hotel without me, with good  reason fearing he would taken and killed. He asked to speak with the U.S. Ambassador, who  by this point was down on the street below, his neck craning up staring at my hotel window, and asked for political asylum.

He just knew he would not have a good day if he was taken out alone, although his day by now was considerably better than hours before, when I had yet to arrive.

Fast forward to 4 hours later. The street was packed with journalists and embassy people and heavily armed troops, and, eventually, Chakrapong agreed that the interior minister You Hokry and the U.S. ambassador could come up to my room.

During this whole time I had my tape recorder on and notebook out and wrote  every word of Chakrapong’s, the conversations with the King, Queen, the negotiations at my sitting room table with a very, very angry You Hokry and U.S. Ambassador, and served them all soda when they arrived for the final negotiations of Chakrapong’s surrender.

Chakrapong repeatedly denied to me that he was involved in any coup attempt, cursed the leaders of the government, begged for my help and asked me not to leave him if the troops invaded.

He fielded phone calls constantly on his two phones, often listening silently and hanging up, speaking in English, French, and Khmer.

King Norodom Sihanouk rang from Beijing. “I am alright Papa, but the situation is bad. They have surrounded me,” he said at one point.

As more calls came in he broke down and again moist-eyed. He looked dejected as Queen Norodom Monineath Sihanouk kept him up to date from Beijing with the state of her negotiations with government leaders over allowing him exile.

“It is not the Queen, but as my parents. It is not politics, it is as a son,” he told me when asked whether King Sihanouk and Queen Monineath supported him.

For the first two hours, he was in fear of his life, convinced that if arrested he would be killed.

“If I am arrested, you must not leave me. I won’t go outside this room without you. They will kill me. Please don’t let them take me anywhere. Please don’t leave me alone,” he said to me.

The Prince asked me to contact the US Embassy to request political asylum. I rang US Ambassador Charles Twining, and said: “I have someone who wants to talk to you” and handed the phone to Chakrapong.

“I ask your protection, Your Excellency. It is a human right. If you don’t come to protect me I prefer not to go outside. I prefer to die here. I will stay here in the room. How can I trust them if they bring me somewhere?”, he says to Twining.

Prince Chakrapong’s face showed that the American Ambassadors response was not positive. One of my U.S. spook friends, who was down on the street staring up at my window called my phone: “Tell Chakrapong he is not a US citizen. As long as the government proceeds in a legal fashion regarding his human rights, there is nothing we can do to interfere in a sovereign government.”

At one point, crying young hotel maids burst into the room: “The soldiers are coming. They are inside now.”

A disheveled Prince – barefoot, shirt unbuttoned, sleepless, and dejected-began to put on his shoes. He handed me his wallet and mobile telephones and asked me to give them to his daughters. “Please make sure my daughters are alright. The soldiers invaded my house last night and they were there.”

But the soldiers didn’t come in and the phones continued to ring incessantly, sometimes three at the same time. At one point, Chakrapong had King Sihanouk on the line in one hand, and Twining on the other.

The military called from downstairs to say that the troops were coming to our room now and that the Prince would be allowed to leave the country.

He turned to me: “Please do not leave me. I will only leave if you go with me to the airport in the same car. They may not take me to the airport.”

There was a strong knock on the door and I went to open it. A score of heavily armed soldiers and security police waited in the hallway as U.S Ambassador Twining and Minister of Interior You Hockry entered alone. The four of us sat down.

Hockry asked me to leave. Prince Chakrapong asked that I stay. I said nothing, except I did offer them each a soda pop from the mini bar.

And I turned on the tape recorder which was I placed on the table in front of us as we all four sat down.

“We will promise your safety to the airport. I promise there will be no guns on the plane. The best thing for us it to bring you safely to the airport,” Hokry told the Prince.

A Malaysian Airlines plane was held on the tarmac as Chakrapong was assured that he would be allowed to safely leave the country.

Meanwhile my two spook friends downstairs from the CIA had an equal interest in doing their job, but were also considerately trying to help me do mine.

They went and retrieved Chakrapong’s passport and money out of hishome safe when negotiations to go to Malaysia looked good. Chakrapong’s daughter was on the street in tears and she took the agency guy home to get the money and documents. He had refused to accept political asylum in Thailand because his mistress didn’t have a visa and it would take too long to process that. When my friend and Chakrapong’s daughter got back on the street with the money and passports, they handed them in the open to some soldiers who then brought them upstairs to my room.

After negotiations were complete, a very bizarre scene emerged as several Ministry of Interior police entered the room crouched on their knees and hands clasped above their heads in deference to Royalty as they went about their business preparing to arrest the Prince and send him to exile.

At one point, while, we waited for the motorcade and luggage downstairs, Twining turned to Hockry, visibly alarmed.

“I just remembered, there will be a fireworks display this afternoon at the Fourth of July celebration,” he said, suddenly realizing that, as a jittery city emerged from an attempted coup, explosions in the city might not be timely.

“Do you have authorization?” the Minister shot back to the Ambassador, with an equally shaken look on his face.

When the mobile phone rang to say that the motorcade of troops was ready, we left the room to walk to the street. Hotel staff and soldiers clasped their hands and knelt in respect as Chakrapong was led by a bevy of sunglassed, automatic weapon-toting officials through a throng of cameras waiting on the street.

It all ended with us—Chakrapong, myself, a very upset and confused U.S. ambassador, and a very angry and scared Interior Minister You Hokry– all being whisked in a police convoy in the back of limousines to the airport where the Malaysian plane was delayed waiting for Chakrapong.  We were shoved into a sleek Toyota with black tinted windows, whisked to the airport in a convoy of a score of cars with sirens and lights blaring, streets were blocked off and hundreds of people lined them to watch the motorcade pass. The plane was waiting at the airport, full of curious passengers, as Chakrapong was whisked on board and the flight departed. He gave me a big hug and kissed me sincerely.

He called several hours later from Malaysia saying: ” I want to thank you sincerely for saving my life. They would have killed me if you had not come. I am innocent. I was not involved in anything. Tell them I am innocent.”

Meanwhile, my friend, the guy who retrieved the money and passports with the daughter of Chakrapong from his safe, was the one I mentioned earlier that  was still very much undeclared as a spook and his covert status very important to him.

And he had had his picture taken by journalists as he handed a wad of cash and documents over to the soldiers. But he was someone who never went out in public and so no one recognized him. This caused a decided quizzical reation and vague inquiries of: “Who the hell was that guy?”

I managed to get the pictures and negatives that included many very good, clear shots of him holding thousands of dollars, passports, and documents surrounded by soldiers and Chakrapong’s daughter. And I told the journalist that he had “very good pics and we (being the Far Eastern Economic Review) want to run them, but I need the negatives.”

Then I delivered those negatives and all the prints to my undercover friend, who was very, very grateful indeed.

So the moral of the story is, in life as well as journalism and spycraft, all good relationships are personal.

The CIA station was given big credit for being the first of any embassy or agency to report the coup to their home office. I got a great story. Chakrapong wasn’t dead. And, as a bonus, the agency people liked they had made the ambassador look bad, and I very much enjoyed giving a whole cast of people major angst. I just kind of like making all governments and people with guns look bad, frankly.

Chakrapong credits me to this day with saving his life. He is right, except he saved his own by smartly calling the only entity that could  bypass the bureaucracy and get foreigners between him and a bullet. And all ended well. I never once came even close to violating ethical lines. That was my job: Get to a story as close as I could witness it and report it.

Well, except my photographer friend from whom I stole his pictures. But I did pay him for it. And I wouldn’t let the agency do it, of which they offered. I explained it to my editor and he understood and paid. And I told the photographer the story later and he thought it was exactly the right thing to do.

And these are more reasons why journalism will always be better than a real job.

%d bloggers like this: