BANGKOK — A previously-vocal supporter of fake bomb detectors has been re-appointed as the head of the Central Institute of Forensic Science in Thailand.
Porntip Rojanasunan confirmed to Khaosod English today that the military junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) approved her reinstatement on Tuesday, but the official order was only relayed to the Ministry of Justice yesterday.
“I am a bureaucrat. I am ready to work to my best ability,” Ms. Porntip replied when asked how she felt about the reinstatement. “I would also like to thank the NCPO for giving me this opportunity.”
Ms. Porntip’s return to the helm of the forensic science institute did not come as a surprise to many. Ms. Porntip was a staunch supporter of the political faction that protested against the previous government and widely celebrated the military’s coup d’etat on 22 May.
After seizing control of the country’s government, the NCPO has removed many top officials known for their affiliation with former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and replaced them with those who are sympathetic to the coup.
Ms. Porntip’s reinstatement has also raised concerns that she may decide to resume the uses of GT200, a version of the fake bomb-detecting device sold by a British businessman to Thailand several years ago. British businessman James McCormick sold thousands of the phony detectors were at extortionate prices to countries such as Iraq, Pakistan, and Thailand.
Thai security officers used them for several years to look for potential explosives in the southern border provinces, where separatist violence has claimed over 6,000 lives since 2002.
Mr. McCormick, who was convicted of fraud and sentenced to 10 years in jail, claimed the devices could detect a wide range of substances, such as explosives or narcotics, by analysing molecular components from a distance. Mr. McCormick’s company told customers that the long dials attached to the detectors would swing and point to any suspicious materials.
In reality, the devices were completely ineffectual and modeled after $20 golf-ball finders Mr. McCormick had purchased in the United States.
After a number of scientists challenged the validity of the devices, the Thai authorities staged a scientific test of GT200 in 2010. The result established the GT200’s accuracy to be as good as random chance.
But Ms. Porntip, who was the head of the CIFS at the time, defended the effectiveness of the device. She admitted that the GT200 has failed scientific tests, but insisted that it did not matter because the devices themselves not operate on any scientific principle.
“GT200 is not scientific either, it depends on the operators. The officials of the CIFS have used it with great efficiency,” Ms. Porntip was quoted as saying in February 2010.
However, in the phone interview with Khaosod English today, Ms. Porntip claimed that the media misunderstood her position.
“I was only criticising people who criticised scientists and the military and called them stupid for having faith in the devices,” Ms. Porntip said.
She explained that she sympathised with security officers in the Deep South who trusted the devices, despite their inaccuracy, because they had no other tools to rely on.
Asked whether that means GT200 will be brought back, Ms. Porntip replied that security officers stopped using the devices a long time ago and refused to comment further on the question.
“This question is like asking for trouble,” Ms. Porntip said.
Meanwhile, former CIFS director Anek Yomchinda said he did not dispute the NCPO’s decision to replace him with Ms. Porntip.
“I am ready to follow any orders in strict manner. I do not dispute them. I have no feelings about them,” Mr. Anek said.