DEA Targets Thailand Nightlife

DEA Bar campaign in Thailand

DEA Targets Thailand Nightlife

In a new measure to stem criminal drug activity in South East Asia the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, in conjunction with Thailand authorities, have enlisted the help of Bangkok’s notorious nightlife to help in bringing criminals to justice. No, there won’t be undercover Thai female agents with guns hanging out of their g-strings but the Go Go’s and beer bars of Bangkok will definitely play a part in the search for criminal fugitives.

The DEA’s new campaign in Thailand will be using beer cozy’s, coaster’s,  matchbooks and more to track down their most wanted fugitives in South East Asia. Thailand’s nightlife has long been associated with a criminal element and the DEA is hoping that plastering wanted posters on bar paraphernalia throughout Thailand night spots that there is a good chance someone will not only see and recognize the criminals but also turn them in. The DEA and Thai authorities believe there very well may be wanted fugitives hiding in and around the Bangkok nightlife and Thailand in general so they think there is a good chance this initiative will work.

Color me skeptical but I think this is just another waste of time and money on an already over bloated war on drugs. Let’s face it the average punter sitting in a Go Go bar enjoying a drink may notice the wanted posters for a second but I guarantee they will be fighting an uphill battle for that attention from young, exotic, brown skinned beauties dancing in g-strings or less.

Then lets consider the fact that the pictures posted on these wanted posters are often outdated and the punters drinking may have a less than accurate perspective, IE beer goggles. I can imagine there may be a few drunken phone calls to the DEA proclaiming that a fugitive has been spotted only to find out that the fugitive in question is just another random drunk.

Can You Catch a Drug Lord in Thailand?

Wei Hsueh KangNow lets consider the more serious implications. We aren’t talking about the run of the mill yabba dealer here, we are talking about criminal king pins such as Wei Hsueh Kang, a high-ranking official of the United Wa State Army, a drug-dealing rebel group that controls a large part of northeastern Burma.

The United Wa State Army has been responsible for producing and trafficking tons of heroin and methamphetamine’s throughout South East Asia. Wei Hsueh Kang isn’t just another criminal, he is the CEO of a criminal organization. Highly unlikely he would be rubbing elbows with the average punter in one of Bangkok’s Go Go bars, and even if he did, do you think it wise to rely on information from loved up drunken tourists and expats?

Another complication is the reward money on offer for information leading to a fugitives arrest. In the case of Wei Hsueh Kang the reward is 2 million dollars, more than enough incentive for a down and out expat or the like to go looking for trouble where they would most assuredly find it. You might think no one would be stupid enough to take on such a task  and I would submit you haven’t met many Thailand expats. I could go on about the stories I have heard while sitting in such bars from supposed ex CIA, FBI and elusive Navy Seals who have run countless black ops in their minds.

And then there are the Thailand expats with a grudge who might find immense joy in cluing in the DEA to a wanted fugitive who turns out to be just another expat who they would love to see twist for a little while.

For it’s part the DEA and Thai authorities will tell you that the program has thus far been a success in Thailand, since it’s implementation in August of last year the DEA web Thailand site has had over 70,000 hits which they claim has generated over 120 leads they are investigating. I’ll bet more than a few of those leads have led to one or more of the scenarios I have described above.

Even though the program has yet to net a wanted fugitive, Thomas Pasquarello, the DEA’s director for East Asia already claims the program as a success:

We have received reports right from the very top of these organizations-they’re not happy with the program. They’re not happy with the publicity. And, again, for any criminal elements, they want to work underneath the radar of law enforcements. And, what this does is it exposes their operations, it exposes their network. So, it has had an impact on their operations

Now, I might be a tad slow today but if the DEA and major South East Asian authorities already know about these organizations and criminals wouldn’t you think they are already not flying below the radar? I doubt very seriously a few drunken tourists and expats seeing their outdated pictures are making them lose any sleep at night.

Although the DEA hasn’t stated the monetary amount dumped into this program I would bet it is in the millions and quite honestly I think those resources could have been used in a much better way, like setting up a hotline to warn punters in Thailand which Go Go bars are padding their bills or who has the best happy hour specials going on any given day. It won’t help to capture any fugitives hiding in Thailand but then again the DEA’s current program won’t either.

Pictures and Video Courtesy VOA

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22 Comment(s)

  1. Hi Talen, are you seriously suggesting that some of those guys in the bars of Thailand, who claim to be Special Forces, are lying? Surely not :-) One of our teachers last year was contacted by an expat who was claiming to be the head of ground forces in Iraq; for some reason he was using a Hotmail account and looking to date a lowly Thai teacher. I also met a photographer who claimed to have taken that famous Vietnamese picture of the girl running from the napalm. He later admitted that he could have been mistaken as he was only fifteen at the time.

    Paul Garrigan | Jan 6, 2011 | Reply

  2. Talen, this is the first I’ve heard of the bizarre action. Seems they are getting pretty frustrated, so are willing to use most anything. Looking at how bad crime is getting around the world, can’t say that I’d like to be in their shoes.

    Catherine | Jan 6, 2011 | Reply

  3. Maybe you are lucky to never have never lost a friend or family member to ‘illegal’ drugs and seen the depth to which it can effect those around them but sadly I have.

    I pay taxes in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and the UK and I for one am happy for the governments of each country involved in the campaign you have so easily denegrated, and the war on drugs in Asia, to spend the money they are, as they feel is appropriate, even if only one single persons life is saved.

    A pretty poor blog post!

    Lloyd | Jan 7, 2011 | Reply

  4. Seen the D.E.A on the streets of Pattaya, xxxx amount Baht for information leading to arrest of drug dealers, it’s a cheap and maybe effective way of catching pushers, and just maybe a good deterrent as well. I don’t think many Thais will be grassed though, to much authority involved.

    Bodlagz | Jan 7, 2011 | Reply

  5. Lloyd, I have lost friends to drugs that’s exactly how I know the war on drugs is a joke and does nothing to stop drug trafficking. I’ve denigrated the DEA’s newest campaign because as well it is a joke. The average tourist or expat will never see the likes of the drug kingpins they are featuring on the wanted posters. It is a a complete waste of resources and time that could be better spent elsewhere such as education to children in the schools about drugs.

    Talen | Jan 7, 2011 | Reply

  6. Cat, they are definitely frustrated because the war on drugs has been an immense failure since it’s inception but the DEA plods on. Wanted posters are a good idea for regional criminals that have a chance of being spotted but the likelihood of any tourist or expat spotting any of the featured criminals was highly unlikely from the onset. Some of these criminals have vast fortunes and aren’t going to be drinking a beer in soi Cowboy.

    What makes this even more bizzare is the fact that America is turning a blind eye to Afghanistan as they ramp their heroin production back up.

    Talen | Jan 7, 2011 | Reply

  7. Paul, It’s amazing how many heads of organizations pass through or live in Thailand isn’t it?

    Talen | Jan 7, 2011 | Reply

  8. Bodlagz, It’s certainly not a cheap or effective way of catching drug dealers. The DEA dumps millions of American taxpayers money into such campaigns world wide every year and the net result is always the same. No one is arrested but the head of the regional DEA task force declares the program a complete success because the drug traffickers know they are on the radar and are scared.

    The DEA’s Asian head actually believes the United State Wa Army, who is responsible for the majority of heroin and methamphetamine in South East Asia, is upset and nervous because the DEA has wanted posters of their leader on beer cozy’s in Bangkok….

    Talen | Jan 7, 2011 | Reply

  9. “In the case of Wei Hsueh Kang the reward is 2 million dollars”

    So basically, this is what’s known in the design industry as a spec job (working on the speculation of getting something in return, usually monetary and sometimes fame).

    Dunno Talen. That’s a lot of money, even for those not so down and out.

    It looks like the DEA is going fishing. They are trying to see if they can snag someone who knows someone who knows someone special.

    So while the big boys might not be running around Soi Cowboy, someone who knows someone who know him or of him, just might.

    If someone thought they had a chance, that’s a lot of money to walk away from.

    But like you said, throw in inebriated guys with past force experience and there just might be collateral damage. Or they’ll just make fools of themselves. Dunno…

    Catherine | Jan 7, 2011 | Reply

  10. Cat, While there is the remote possibility that the money may encourage someone associated in the criminal empire to turn in the criminal it hasn’t happened to date.

    Likewise we are talking about a billion dollar a year industry for Wei Hsueh Kang…2 million is a drop in the bucket.

    I’d be all for this type of campaign if it actually worked but time and again this has been tried in various forms and it never works unless the criminals targeted are just run of the mill criminals.

    Talen | Jan 7, 2011 | Reply

  11. How will this affect the man in the street, I mean your small time yaba dealer, or even the farang who smokes a joint occasionally. Is this campaign only targeting the big fish or could it have effect at street level ?.

    Bodlagz | Jan 7, 2011 | Reply

  12. Bodlagz, the campaign is targeting the South East Asia’s most wanted list which is mainly high profile criminals involved with major drug syndicates. The official name of the campaign from the DEA is….wait for it …”Spot the Drug Lord Project”. They initially started in august in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Udon Thani, Bangkok and supposedly Pattaya although I have yet to see any of the paraphernalia around Pattaya.

    Last month they had people handing out pens, beer cozy’s and other stuff around Phuket.

    If it were targeting local dealers then it would definitely have a good effect but I doubt very seriously any of us will be spotting drug lords anytime soon in our travels.

    Talen | Jan 7, 2011 | Reply

  13. Talen, changing subjects…

    I wonder if the DEA guys located on the ground are getting ribbed by their colleagues back home for having a boondoggle – for a lot of guys, hanging around the seedier spots of Thailand is downright fun.

    …just curious.

    Catherine | Jan 7, 2011 | Reply

  14. Cat, most likely not…they take this stuff very seriously and actually think they are making a difference.

    Talen | Jan 7, 2011 | Reply

  15. I completely agree with you. Waste of time and money and downright hilarious. I mean beer cozies? At least put the mug shots in the bathroom if you insist on going that route.

    But check out the photo I snapped at the Golden Triangle:

    If you don’t think your money is being wasted by that then I don’t know what else to say.

    Lani | Jan 7, 2011 | Reply

  16. Sorry but just what country are you talking about when you say I have lost friends to drugs that’s exactly how I know the war on drugs is a joke and does nothing to stop drug trafficking America or Asia?

    The ‘war’ on drugs in Asia has for the most part has achieved massive results, live here a little longer and you will actually come to realise that.

    Its like stopping any type of crime it is simply impossible, however what can be achieved through hard work and inventive thinking can make the difference.

    BTW, has sex education or no smoking campaigns to school children taught them anything? or what about the drink driving and alcohol abuse campaigns?

    Your responses are even worse than your article!

    Lloyd | Jan 8, 2011 | Reply

  17. You are so wrong, its about showing people that the Drug Enforecement Agencies world wide are alive and kicking.

    Do some research, or maybe even ring the DEA’s publicity department and you just might find out some decent information on the whole campaign!

    Lloyd | Jan 8, 2011 | Reply

  18. Lloyd, I am speaking about the war on drugs as a whole from America to Asia. Of course you know better than anyone as usual. Try reading up on the massive failure that has been the war on drugs. Other than taking out small operations throughout Asia The DEA has not made a dent. And putting drug lords on Beer cozy’s is another waste of time, effort and money. The DEA know where the poppy fields are and exactly where the United State of Wa Army is…if they wanted to stop their activity there are better ways of doing it.

    By the way, sex education and stop smoking campaigns throughout Asia, especially in Thailand, have been a huge success. Kids get it. This is a fact not some fantasy. The sex education campaigns in Thailand have not only been successful but they are being adopted by other countries to use.

    Talen | Jan 8, 2011 | Reply

  19. Lloyd, It’s about showing people the DEA is alive and kicking? Complete and utter bullshit and even the DEA disagrees with you. I have found out decent information on the whole campaign. They are putting wanted posters of drug lords on beer cozies, matchbooks and pens and handing them out to tourists and expats in drinking establishments in hopes of catching said drug lords. The head of the DEA Asia region believes it’s a huge success because as he put it ” they are not happy with the publicity”…Yes, outdated photos being shown to drunken tourists have these drug lords shaking in their boots. Why any day now there are bound to turn themselves in.

    Talen | Jan 8, 2011 | Reply

  20. Lani, I bet the DEA discussed putting wanted posters on condoms at some point. And your picture is priceless. Yes, lets put the DEA stamp everywhere so the bad guys know we are out there.

    Talen | Jan 8, 2011 | Reply

  21. Lloyd, how can one person be so naive? Drugs are highly lucrative. You can buy anything in Bangkok (or anywhere else), ergo, drugs are flowing freely, therefore the war on drugs is a complete failure. After thousands of “drug dealing” people were summarily shot under Thaksin, has the drug flow stopped. Of course not. Has the drug flow stopped in North America? Of course not. Europe? No.

    Where is the Burmese regime getting a hunk of its money? From the Golden Triangle crime syndicates that run drugs. Where are the Thai cops getting their money? Some of it from dealing drugs.

    All that aside, the DEA bar campaign is a PR exercise, nothing more, nothing less. Who the heck is going to risk their lives by ratting on an alleged drug dealer they spotted at Cowboy? No one with any desire to live. And that’s reality! Not your Polyanna world.

    SiamRick | Jan 9, 2011 | Reply

  22. So far i remember,Drug King pin Wei
    has once already been arrestet and Jailed in Chiang Mai.

    Then some Police officers let him go free.I guess they where payd very well.

    How could this happen??

    Franz Tschaler | Apr 15, 2011 | Reply

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