Opinion: CIA Agents in Thailand, Please Raise Your Hand

A protester holds up a sign that reads,
A protester holds up a sign that reads, "The U.S. must stop instigating conflicts in Thailand," during a rally in front of the U.S. embassy in Bangkok on Apr. 20, 2021. Photo: @monkey_acting / Twitter

It’s CIA-spotting season in Thailand. The latest conspiracy theory has it that one was spotted, or exposed, in Khon Kaen province.

David Streckfuss, 61, who lives in Thailand for 35 years, has been accused by ultraroyalist conspiracy theorists which includes both Thais and foreigners of being a CIA operative, or at least a former CIA agent, according to people including the former Yellowshirt leader Sondhi Limthongkul.

I asked Streckfuss, whose work permit was abruptly cancelled by Khon Kaen University last Friday if he was on a clandestine operation, and he denied.

“There’s no way to prove that I’m not a unicorn either, right? I mean, you can only deny it. You can look at my bank account. No, I mean, you can’t deny something that’s not true right? I don’t know what’s a CIA thing but I’m not a CIA person,” Streckfuss said.


Well, Streckfuss in a way could be perceived as fitting the profile of a sub rosa agent. A former peace corp volunteer way back in 1981, Streckfuss is fluent in Thai, has a Thai wife editing a regional news organization, The Isaan Record, and a wide network of contacts.

He is a part of a larger pro-democracy movement in the kingdom and authored an academic book on the lese majeste law. Streckfuss’ work permit was abruptly cancelled by Khon Kaen University after police paid a visit to the university last week, said Streckfuss.

But then many other Americans would fit the profile of a CIA agent as well. A CIA operative could be an American businessman, a foreign correspondent, a local English-language teacher, a diplomat, you named it. An old farang spending too much evening drinking at a bar at Soi Cowboy could be qualified as well.

Even Americans and foreigners condemning U.S. imperialism and alleged of meddling in Thai domestic affairs or expressed themselves as staunch royalists might very well fit the profile of a CIA agent infiltrating and embedded with the Thai conservative royalist circles. It makes no sense that spies would be sent to infiltrate just one camp of the Thai political divide.

Henry A. Crumpton, author of New York Times Bestseller “The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service” wrote that those recruited to become CIA agents are drawn from many professions.

“My CIA trainee class comprised more than thirty U.S. citizens who had recently been students, soldiers, businessmen, policemen, lawyers and bureaucrats.”

Another author, John Hughes-Wilson, noted in his book “On Intelligence: The History of Espionage and The Secret World” that, “in intelligence there is no substitute for linguists, country experts and experienced analysts … You cannot grow an army of linguists overnight.”

Well, not a few Thais could fit the bill as a CIA informant as well. It’s hard to tell. Someone even once asked me if I am working for the CIA. The last thing anyone working for the CIA would do is to admit that he or she is a CIA agent.

History taught us that the CIA most likely operates in Thailand, just like in any other foreign states.

WikilLeaks claims that a rendition operation took place in Thailand during Thaksin Shinawatra’s administration.

This is the ‘nature’ of superpowers, that likely includes today’s China.

Southeast Asia is a major contested region between the U.S. and China. It’s most likely that both nations actively operate in Thailand. Funny how very few ask who might be spies or informants working for China in Thailand.

In the end, this is about the lack of trust among conspiracy theorists. Those accusing Streckfuss of being a CIA operative alleged that the man is behind young northeastern political activists, chiefly Jatupat ‘Pai Dao Din’ Boonpattararaksa who graduated from Khon Kaen University while serving his two-year lese majeste conviction in prison for sharing a critical biography of the King produced by the BBC Thai-language service.

Pai is facing multiple lese majeste charges and was just released on bail on Friday after spending 47 days in prison.

This rendered the current struggle for democracy, and particularly monarchy reform, of a foreign-instigated, if not manipulated, movement.

It speaks volume how these conspiracy theorists do not believe that Thais could think for themselves and want to achieve a more equitable society and invalidate them. (The irony is that it was the U.S. which supported Thai military dictators and the revival of the status of Thai monarchy during the Cold War.)


Those subscribing to such views do not believe some Thais can think and aspire by themselves and any political struggle must be a result of foreign powers meddling in domestic politics.

The implication is that the monarchy-reform movement is a sinister movement engineered by a superpower, so there’s no need to earnestly consider the demands.

Activists like Pai Dao Din and others are reduced to mere puppets of U.S. imperialism and people like Streckfuss, who consider northeast Thailand his home, are rendered as a spy, on a long-term overseas clandestine assignment, despite the lack of any solid evidence.