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US International Law Enforcement Cooperation:
A Case Study in Thailand

J. W. Leeds*

Introduction:   The United States government places a high priority on international law enforcement, and plays a leading role in the International Police Organization (Interpol). Each year the United States enacts new laws, and amends old laws in an effort to expand its international law enforcement powers, particularly in the areas of drug trafficking, high tech smuggling, and terrorist activity.(1) This expanding US interest in international law enforcement has resulted in a great number of US agencies, resources, and projects being carried out in foreign countries. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has been at the forefront of this activity, with its agents and representatives performing a plethora of activities in foreign nations.(2)

The DEA maintains the largest overseas law enforcement presence of any US civilian agency. Their agents represent the United States interest in international drug control both within the United States embassies and in diplomatic interactions with host state officials. They maintain communication with local law enforcement officials, provide training for local police, undertake joint drug enforcement operations with local police, conduct unilateral actions such as surveillance and the recruitment of informants, provide intelligence to local officials, and lobby for changes in their host countries laws.(3)

Thailand has been an area of particular interest to the United States government, and the DEA, primarily because of the belief that it serves as the primary conduit for heroin from the Golden Triangle transported to The United States.(4) Working in conjunction with Thai officials, the DEA has been successful at infiltrating heroin trafficking organizations within Thailand at the highest levels, ensnaring prominent Thai government and military officials, and extraditing them to stand trial in the United States.

Thailand, with its unique legal system and cultural heritage, presents special problems and issues when confronted by the interdiction of the United States government agencies such as the DEA. These issues include the principles of Sovereignty, Conflict of Laws, and the practical implementation of binational law enforcement cooperation and extradition agreements. This article analyzes the legal processes used by the United States, and the problems it encounters, in both expanding and enforcing its law enforcement jurisdiction internationally, and particularly within Thailand. It also examines the effects of such extraterritorial imposition of law enforcement power by US agencies upon foreign legal systems, and in particular, the Thai legal system.

Thailand's Legal Heritage: The origins of Thai law have been traced to three general sources: Thai Customary Law, Buddhist Law, and Chinese/Maritime Law.(5) During the Lanna Kingdom period of Thailand's history, which began in the year 1296 AD, the influence of Buddhism on the secular(6) law was particularly strong. Royal Decrees and judgments frequently made direct comparisons between state law and religious texts. Similarly, the Buddhist influence also manifested itself through the use of monks as the official scribes and chief scholars for the Kingdom. Aspects of the Vinaya, a religious text which originally was a code of conduct for the guidance of the Sangha (monk) community, were also the source of much secular law.