Maj-Gen Kyaw Win—Renaissance Spy
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Maj-Gen Kyaw Win—Renaissance Spy

By Bruce Hawke OCTOBER, 2004 - VOLUME 12 NO.9


OCMI’s wild card is actually a frustrated artist.


As The Irrawaddy was going to press the fate of Maj-Gen Kyaw Win, the Deputy Chief of the Office of the Chief of Military Intelligence, or OCMI, was unclear. He wasn’t under arrest, but he wasn’t going to the office either. It’s seems likely that the mild-mannered spook, a prot?g? of Sr-Gen Than Shwe, was complicit in the coup that unseated PM Gen Khin Nyunt.


The spymaster was born in a village near Pegu and brought up by his mother (who had been abandoned by her husband) and his grandmother. He was a good student, and went on to graduate in psychology from Rangoon University where he was a student activist in July 1962 (and was shot at by Burma Army troops at the Rangoon University Student Union building).


On graduation Kyaw Win worked first as school teacher. Then, seeking social mobility, he joined the army, passing through the OTS officer training course at Hmawbi.


Kyaw Win served on the frontline in Shan State where his battalion commander was Than Shwe. When the latter became Prime Minister and chairman of the State Law & Order Restoration Council in 1992, Kyaw Win was a major in the Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence’s, or DDSI’s, MI-1 unit in Mandalay, according to a friend, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The PM moved him to Rangoon and put him on a promotional fast-track.


In 1993 Kyaw Win, by then a lieutenant-colonel, was named deputy chief of the DDSI. He also was appointed deputy chief of the Office of Strategic Studies (a hybrid spook/policy think tank organization) when it was established in 1994 (In early 2002 the DDSI and OSS and other intel organs were consolidated into the OCMI).


When spymaster Gen Khin Nyunt was appointed PM he left the day-to-day business of Burma’s intelligence apparatus with Kyaw Win, making him defacto head spook. But there’s another side to the man who until October 18 was tasked with maintaining Burma’s climate of fear and ensuring regime preservation.


In his spare time, the polite, softly-spoken spook is an artist. His interests include drawing, painting and—first love—photography. Kyaw Win has published at least three books featuring his camera work. The photos in this spread originally appeared in his self-published picture book Photosynthesis.



“I can assure you that [Kyaw Win’s positions] as an artist and a military officer are completely different roles,” said the friend of the spy chief. “[I]t always makes me amazed to see it,” 


Given his talent with the viewfinder, if his superiors decide to retire Kyaw Win, he can take comfort in the fact that he could work as a professional photographer.

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