Tag Archives: Journalism and Spies

Happy The Day After Valentine’s Day Is Finally Over: Espionage, Commercialism, and the Betrayal of Love

15 Feb

Happy The Day After, Finally, Valentine’s Day Is Done And Over With: Valentines Day, Espionage, Commercialism, and the Betrayal of Love

“Love is whatever we can still betray…”–John Le Carré 

By Nate Thayer

Happy Valentines Day, everyone. Or, more honestly, Happy The Day After Valentines Day is Done And Over With.

Now that Valentines Day–that capitalist marketing trick we are pressured to prove our love via bald commercialism –is over, I waited a full day to throw in my cynical, curmudgeonly two cents.

While money can not buy love, it does facilitate the business of love, which is what Valentines Day is and what love can not be: The business of love, institutionalized, diminished and soiled.

Diminishing and soiling love by legitimizing the pressures of commercialism is an insidious betrayal. And once love is betrayed, there is nothing else left to betray in life.

Here is my contribution, with thanks to the excellent Portuguese journalist Rui Araújo: Continue reading

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 Excerpts from the unpublished manuscript of Sympathy for the Devil: A Journalists Memoir from Inside Pol Pot’s Cambodia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.

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