The ASP in Thailand and base-level fraud 1962-1972 (Part 1)

  • Published
  • By Dr. Deborah Kidwell
  • OSI Command Historian

The Area Source Program (ASP) in Thailand was the heart of OSI’s mission there during the Vietnam War, as Air Force facilities in the country were continually subjected to attack by rockets, mortars and sappers (combat engineers trained as infantry personnel in defensive and offensive operations).

OSI in Thailand began with the establishment of Don Muang Airfield in March 1962. Eventually, OSI established District 51 to protect Air Force operations in Thailand and to investigate widespread fraud and other criminal activity. 

The first District Commander noted that in the beginning there seemed to be opposition from both the Thais and other American agencies, but after working through the ambassador, these objections ceased, and agents became a valuable part of the team there sharing intelligence gleaned from the often hostile environs.

OSI opened an investigation into the NCO clubs in late 1968 after a number of allegations indicated that suppliers were bribing club custodians. The custodians had unusually broad authority to procure services and supplies. Many club custodians met monthly in Bangkok and drew full per diem rates despite the availability of government quarters. They often stayed at a hotel owned by an entertainment booking agent, and were seen in the company of numerous liquor sales men, entertainment agents and other vendors advertising their wares.

Agents continued to investigate until several sources provided substantial information of suspected fraudulent activity on the part of AF contractors and personnel. A local businessman provided NCO club custodians with many gratuities and perks, operated a bogus company he represented as being American, and sold highly inferior products for inflated prices. Two strong sources finally admitted their complicity in the various schemes and agreed to cooperate to obtain additional evidence. The operation became known as Project Trojan Horse.

During Project Trojan Horse, seven agents ran down hundreds of separate lines of inquiry.  While many civilian vendors refused to cooperate, largely because OSI did not have subpoena power, they generally used the threat of debarment to corroborate existing evidence.

OSI decided that if companies came forward as a gesture of goodwill and behavior, prosecutors would not use their disclosure of prior fraudulent activities to prevent the companies from continuing to do business with the Air Force, as long as the companies agreed to conduct all future business in a strictly legal manner. Agents interviewed a number of entertainment agents, equipment salesmen, liquor purveyors and others that corroborated existing evidence and developed additional sources. 

All the while, the OSI Commander coordinated the investigation with Headquarters Air Force and the U.S. Senate, which authorized the investigation to proceed without Congressional interference. Eventually, agents arrested a custodian from U-Tapao as he rotated home.

The custodian carried $6,500 in new $100 bills, three diamond rings, a gold medallion and pearl necklace, and a $5,000 deposit slip. Although agents protested, a decision was made to bring all the suspects in for questioning, charge them with crimes already in evidence and house them together at Clark Air Base, the Philippines. OSI believed the cases were not ready for trial, but the decision had been made, and the custodians retained the famous defense attorney F. Lee Bailey as counsel of record. Several custodians were tried by court martial, others retired or separated without action, and some received reprimands and Article 15s. Although the problem persisted, and despite OSI’s efforts, the Air Force did enact new policies and procedures designed to curb abuses in club operations.  

OSI’s operations in Southeast Asia started with the buildup of military forces in Vietnam and the growth of supporting air bases in Thailand. Major mission areas included increased criminal and fraudulent activity, along with counterintelligence operations to support air base security. By 1973, as the war ended, District 50 at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam, was inactivated, along with the last detachment at DaNang. Vietnam became an on-call region for District 51 until July 1, 1974, when it was reduced to the level of an operating location until March 31, 1975. 

Thereafter, all OSI activity ceased except for the destruction of remaining records and evacuation of personnel from Vietnam known as Operation Blackbird. Soon after, military bases in Thailand began to close. 

Editor’s Note: In Part 2, Air Base Protection in Thailand.