Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Jason Buttrill, Head Writer/Researcher for ‘The Glenn Beck Program’, recounting the human trafficking horrors he witnessed in Bangkok.
I recently traveled to Thailand with Glenn Beck to see firsthand the work Operation Underground Railroad is doing to combat human trafficking. More specifically, to see the children who are being bought and sold on a black market that can only be described as pure, unadulterated evil.
I’ve been to most of the corners of the world during my life. I’ve seen pretty much the worst the world has to offer — from my time as a military intelligence agent in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to my time as a researcher covering the atrocities ISIS has left behind in Iraq. None of it compares to what I saw one Sunday night in Thailand.
The following is an account of what happened, as best I can remember it. But I have to warn you — this isn’t for the faint of heart. You’re going to be disgusted and angry. God knows I was — and still am. But there is good news: Heroes are out there on the front lines.
Sunday 8:00 PM • A Remote Village in Thailand
I link up with one of agents from Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) — let’s just call him Bob — and make the long drive out to a remote village. Bob is an impressive dude. At around six feet and 220 pounds of muscle, I pity the fool who tangles with him.
But Bob is more than just a tough guy. Bob is a highly competent professional and a true believer in the cause. He cares for children with conviction, and that’s a trait common with every operator in OUR. They’re willing to trade their lives, if needed, to save a child from slavery and bondage. That is exactly Bob’s demeanor as we pull into the “rally point.”
The Rally Point and Plan
The rally point is a safe location just outside the village where we gather information and gear, as well as get briefed on what we are about to do. The target is a small strip of road within the village rumored to be trafficked with children in multiple brothels. I listen as Bob bluntly lays out the scenario. This is not a safe environment. There are some very bad dudes taking advantage of some very innocent kids. Westerners don’t frequent this part of Thailand, so we’ll stick out. Our height alone will make us suspect.
Our cover is as two lost tourists looking for a good time. If we manage to talk our way into one of the brothels and confirm that underage kids are inside, we can take evidence to the Thai police. The problem is locals turn away anyone not from the village — Thai and foreign alike. If you don’t live there, it’s a no-go. Bob explains how we’ll first do a drive-by of the entire street. If he estimates the danger as manageable, we’ll park and approach the brothels.
It’s roughly 8:30 p.m. and the single-lane streets in the village are pitch black. Tiny lights from within shanty houses provide the only illumination. Bob turns down the target street and lowers both our sun visors so they provide some cover for our faces. Pretty soon, the brothels come into view, as well as the prostitutes hanging out on porches and in doorways. There are eight or so visible brothels, but probably more hidden away. Halfway down the street is an outdoor market and bar where a group of men drink heavily, blitzed out of their minds. We mentally make note of their numbers, estimating about 10 to 15 men — a potential problem — but one we ultimately decide is manageable. Bob gives the okay and parks down the street.
We begin our walk toward the string of brothels and immediately get into character, beginning to joke around and act like typical, naive tourists out for a good time. We’re smiling and laughing, but simultaneously calculating everything we see.
Two Curious White Guys
At the first brothel, we approach four prostitutes hanging out on the front porch — all barely look 18. It’s difficult to gauge how old they are, but the goal is to charm our way inside. Intel collected by OUR indicates these brothels house extremely young children on display in the back. These kids are typically kidnapped and sold into slavery. We need eyes inside to verify this. As Bob begins talking to the girls, I’m now less worried about our safety and more concerned about our success. It hits me like a Mack truck that kids’ lives are at stake here, and we can’t screw this up.
The girls are very friendly. We try to converse with them, but the language barrier is holding us back. It becomes pretty clear they’re speaking with us — two white guys — out of curiosity rather than seeing us as potential clients. An older woman inside whispers something to girl number four and she relays that to girls one, two and three. All conversation stops. They bury their eyes into their phones and refuse to look up. Failure number one.
Heading down the road, Bob surveys the surroundings. Pretty soon we hear a commotion coming from the drinking men. White people don’t come out here, so this must be an odd change in their nightly routine. Some look hostile, but the majority seem more amused than anything else. We keep tabs on them as best we can, and they for sure keep an eye on us.
Approaching the next brothel, we hope for better results. Bob is like a machine, perfectly in character while I try to keep up. Like the last brothel, there are about four girls sitting on the porch. I can see through the front door a bit, and there’s a blue light illuminating the interior with hardly any furniture inside. Again, there’s an older woman inside sitting at a small table. She looks to be conducting business on a cell phone and doesn’t seem to notice us at first. These girls are also very friendly and giggling nonstop, making fun of us and having fun at our expense. The older woman inside hears the commotion and walks out.
She’s FaceTiming with someone on her phone and holds the camera up to show the person on the other line our faces. While Bob is trying to communicate and gather information, I glance over at the group of men getting trashed and notice they’re watching us intently. This isn’t looking good.
Eventually, the girls decide they’ve had enough “fun” and the older woman gives a similar whisper to one of the girls, everything stops. One of the girls gives me a cold stare and then buries her face in her phone. Failure number two.
Bob and I agree the safety situation is getting worse, and we’ve clearly outstayed our welcome. The playful banter has ceased. The drunken men on the street are eyeing us and yelling, and someone has seen us on the older woman’s phone. Time to leave.
I feel extremely deflated, knowing kids are inside living a nightmare, powerless to stop it. Bob on the other hand is business as usual. This is how surveillance and investigations are done, day in and day out. It’s not always sexy. You’re not kicking in doors and rescuing innocents every day. It takes time and OUR is on the job 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I have no doubt their operatives will bring down that street of horror.
9:30 PM • Somewhere Two Hours From Bangkok
Bob drives while I struggle to stay awake. It’s been a brutal two days, with only a bit of sleep. I get a text from Tim Ballard, head of OUR, who informs me two of his deep undercover operatives are working on several big leads. He invites me to tag along. I get another text with an address. Two hours later, I say goodbye to Bob and book it on foot through the streets of Bangkok. I’m heading into the seedy underground of the city and the freaks are out to play. Most of the people in this area are prostitutes and Western men looking to pick them up. It’s disgusting.
James and Bond
Now 11:45 p.m. or so, I think I’ve arrived at the location to link up with OUR’s undercover operatives. Let’s call them Agent James and Agent Bond — and let me tell you, their namesake would be very proud. These guys are legit. I’ve worked with human intelligence teams in the Middle East, and these two guys could easily lead any of them.
James greets me and gives a quick briefing on the night. Fifty meters up the street is a group of African prostitutes who promise to deliver a 15-year-old within a minute. I get into my assigned character, playing a role that perfectly fits the story they’re running. Thinking I would only be observing from a distance and getting camera footage, this was a bit of a surprise to me, but I was excited for the opportunity to help. I was also aching to have some success after the earlier “failures” with Bob.
I follow James to the group of prostitutes, immediately surprised that many of them speak English, making negotiating much easier than before. James transforms right in front of my eyes, becoming a jerky American looking for underage girls. As promised, the leader of the group motions a little girl over to us. She is also of African descent. The innocence in her face shows she’s not like the others. She wears skimpy clothing and a ton of makeup — just like the others — but keeps her head lowered the entire time, cowering. She stares at her high heels, clearly inexperienced, and hobbles off balance as she walks. Not once did she look the other prostitutes, or us, in the eye.
James keeps the story running, gathering all the information he can and leaving with everything needed to continue the investigation and move on to the next phase. I’m blown away by his skill.
We turn and walk back about 50 meters to our original meeting point. I think we’re done, but he immediately begins briefing me on the next operation. His partner Bond is working another group around the corner, down a seedy back alley. They had worked a source earlier in the day and arranged for the trafficker to bring proof that he had underage kids for sale. He agreed, claiming to have a 12-year-old and a couple of 14-year-olds.
Under the Influence
The plan is the same. I am to play my role, but this time James tells me to sit next to the 12-year-old girl and talk to her while he gets intel from the trafficker. My first thought is, Oh, hell no. There is no way I can pretend to be one of these monsters preying on little kids. It must be the feeling any undercover investigator or operator goes through initially. I had never experienced it before. All of my experience has been in the military, catching enemy combatants and terrorists. This is completely different.
As we walk closer I begin to see the little girl and immediately get a sick feeling in my stomach. She is clearly on some drug, resting her head on a table. James taps her shoulder to wake up, sliding a chair next to her and motioning me to sit down. I want to throw up. She speaks a few words of English, similar to how I speak Spanish: yes, no, hello, thank you. I try to stay in character while, at the same time, say things that might make her feel better.
From my right ear, I can hear James negotiating with the trafficker, who explains he has many more kids as young or younger than the 12-year-old sitting next to me. Apparently, he could have brought more — but they have school. I almost lose it right then and there.
Win the Battle and Lose the War?
Plans of action shoot through my mind. This guy was tiny, as were his bodyguards. I could snap their necks in a heartbeat, and we could rescue this girl and she’d be safe. My adrenaline is pumping . . . fists are clenched . . . leg muscles are ready to shoot out of the chair.
My attention is diverted as Bond starts hooting and hollering across the table with two more girls this trafficker has brought in. My nerve is breaking, but his is strong. Did he notice me folding? I never ask him, but I’m glad he got vocal at that moment. It makes me realize there are two more kids here. Not only that, but MANY more back at a secret location James is learning about. I feel helpless, so I continue small talk with this poor girl.
James finishes and motions for Bond to get up. We begin to walk away and the trafficker grabs me by the arm: I got you covered. Many, many more kids. I take one last look at that girl, turn around and walk away.
Walking away was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’m not speaking in hyperbole. Walking away changed something inside me that I don’t think I’ll ever get back. It’s gone for good.
James and Bond explain how this was a crucial meeting, an opening salvo in a long process of gathering information and intelligence to build a case. They held their nerve, as I almost didn’t, and the lives of countless children are at stake. James had received a treasure trove of information, one more crucial battle in this long-fought war.
The night goes on as I follow James and Bond through the darkest, seediest alleys in Bangkok. I watch and listen as they approach potential traffickers. They are clinical. The way they get information from people seems almost effortless, they’re that good. They get at least one more lead from a madam that brought a 14-year-old-girl to show to us. She is dressed like a veteran prostitute while simultaneously clutching a teddy bear.
Our night ends around 2:30 a.m. James and Bond hop in a cab, but I decide to walk back to my hotel. I need time to process.
I thought I had seen and known evil throughout my many travels. Turns out, I knew nothing. This was evil in its purest form. This was the worst humanity has to offer. As I write, I’m still struggling to get the image of that little girl out of my head. She remains in a remote, secret location among many more child slaves. But I know something her captors don’t: OUR and their Thai partners are on their trail. The goal? The liberation of every single child involved in this depravity and the evil men responsible to be thrown in jail. I’m counting the seconds.
If you would like to join Jason and the team at Operation Underground Railroad in the fight to save children from sex trafficking, learn more and get involved through prayer or financial contributions. Just five dollars a month makes a massive impact in OUR‘s capability to save a child and provide recovery services.
LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images
GLENN: Jason Buttrill is a guy who has worked with me for a very long time. And is our head researcher. And former military intelligence. Has helped us delve into what’s happening in Russia, et cetera, et cetera. And he came with me to Bangkok, Thailand. And our mission there was two-fold: I was going to look for the virtue. Jason went to look for the vice.
And I saw the horrible things of human trafficking and slavery through Operation Underground Railroad. I saw the after rescue.
Jason’s job was to go take the cameras and go see the beginning of the slave trade. And I haven’t had a chance to talk to him. But every time we have seen each other, I can tell that he’s on the verge of tears and says that his whole life has changed.
GLENN: What did you experience?
JASON: Wow, I’ve been kind of dreading this conversation actually. When you asked me to come on, I didn’t really want to do it. I wrote out a story, the first parts going out on Glenn Beck today so you can see this or read this in full detail.
Wow. Yeah. I — my whole life has changed. That’s not hyperbole. That’s — that’s straight-up. There’s no way to describe it. I had no idea. No one has any idea — I knew about Operation Underground Railroad. I’ve seen the results, you know. You know, I’ve seen the commercials, you know.
GLENN: We’ve worked with them for a long time. You know the guys personally.
JASON: But I never had a grasp until I went with them. I was with you the entire time. We had got split up, and I got a text from Tim Ballard, the head, and he’s like, “I’ve got two guys deep undercover.” He goes, “We invite you to come out and see them work.” So I’m like, “Okay. Great. You know, I’ll take a cameraman. Watch you from a distance.” And he’s like, “Oh, you can’t bring a camera. This is — you’re going to have to get real up and close and personal with these guys.” I’m like, “Okay.”
So I made to where I could use a phone. So you’ll be able to see all this when we air your special because I did covertly use a phone camera.
But he takes me up — I meet him up in a little remote location in Bangkok, real seedy, nasty area. And I meet up with his guys. And one of his guys comes up, and he’s in full-on character. He breaks character for just a couple seconds. He goes, we’re going to go around a corner. We’ve been working a source, and there’s a man that has promised to show us three little girls.
And the next steps are crucial because if we can pull this off, we can get enough information where we can find out where their main housing location is, so we can go in and get the rest of the girls, which is rumored to be ten to 20 more of them.
And I was like, “Okay.”
And he goes, “What I’m going to do now is — he gave me a role. I’m not going to go too much into it because I don’t want to tip off how we did it.
But you’re going to have a role and you’re going to play a part. And I’m like, “Whoa, whoa, I’m going to play a part? I thought I was just going to be out in the distance.”
He’s like, “No, you’re going to play a part.” And he goes, “What — what I really need you to do is I need you to sit next to this one girl. She’s the youngest girl there, 12 years old.”
I’m like, no, I’m not doing that.
He’s like, I need you to do it. It’s part of the operation. I need you to go in there, act like — well, I won’t go too far into that. Act like you’re interested in her. But you need to talk to her. But not only that, I need you to see how innocent she is.
This is her right here.
I need you to see how innocent she is. And I’m not wanting to do this. And I follow them up there, and I can see her as we go down this dark alley. And she’s younger than my daughter. And we go up to her and she’s passed out on the table.
And she’s drugged out.
GLENN: And they — they — the — the guys who are the slave traders, because she was new, drug her. They drug them early on, just so they can get through what they have to do.
JASON: So the main agent, operative taps her on the shoulder and she’s still spaced out, so they give her ice cream. So she wakes up because she’s eating ice cream. And I sit next to her. And I try to talk to her. And she has no idea what’s going on. Just trying anything I can think of, Glenn, to not blow the operation, but say some words of encouragement so that she would hopefully forget about what’s going on.
But I talk to her for a while. I could hear the agent out of my right ear talking to this evil, evil person who is negotiating with this agent on her life and the lives of two other people.
And I can hear this guy — this OUR agent is so good. So good. So competent. And I’ve worked with some of the best intelligence agents in the world. And this guy, bar none, would lead every single team I’ve ever been a part of.
GLENN: These guys are amazing.
JASON: He was amazing. And in a matter of minutes — it felt like an hour, but in a matter of minutes, he got all the information out of this guy. He’s got the next operation setup. Really is only a matter of time. They could be knocking the doors down right now.
But I hear this guy. And he’s like, yeah, no problem. Tons of kids. You know, we’ve got ten to 20. He keeps going.
And at that moment, I dang near lost it. Almost did. I was just about to stand up — you’re thinking — you see this guy. He’s got two body guards. We could have taken those guys out in a second. Could have easily done it. All I wanted to do was grab her and rush her to safety.
I don’t know if the other agent that was there noticed that. I have no idea. But he got very loud and boisterous at one moment. And I looked up, and I saw the other two girls. And then I remembered the 20-plus more that could be — that are out there still. And it was in that moment that I realized how important this is.
GLENN: I will tell you —
GLENN: — that I had the same experience that Jason had. I lost it. I sat through this meeting, and I was fine. You were with me, Jason. And I was fine. And we only saw the rated G stuff.
And I wanted to kill these people. I’ve never been — I’ve never felt that way before. I — if those people would have been around me, I would have killed them.
And what they are doing to these children is so obscene. And that is why operation OUR, the underground railroad, that’s why this team is so amazing. Because they don’t — I talked to Tim. I said, “Tim, how do you do it?” And he said, “Glenn, we have the best operatives in the world, I believe.” And he said, “I’ve come close too.” He said — and he told me a story of when he almost lost it. And I won’t repeat it.
He said, “Glenn, I — I could have had his throat in my hands, and I could have snapped his neck easily.” And he said, “Everything in me wanted to.” He said, “But then I thought of all of the girls that would be lost if we blow it. All of the boys that will be lost. All of these 6-year-old, 10-year-old, 12-year-olds that will be lost.”
JASON: I’ve — I’ve we’ve been on a mission to find the good guys in the world. It’s taken us all over the world. It’s taken us to Iraq. It’s taken us to — both of us have been there. All over the country.
These are the good guys. Operation Underground Railroad, these are the good guys. I mean, this is really what I’ve really been looking for. I mean, these are just — some of them are veterans. Some of them —
JASON: Military, police.
GLENN: Some of them are former agents.
JASON: And they’re out there doing the job when the governments are failing to do it. And not only that, they’re training — they’re setting up departments within police all over the country so that they now have procedures to go out and do this on their own. I mean, this is amazing. The amount of skill level, I cannot stress that enough in Tim’s guys. They are the best of the best. I’ve never seen that before. They started those leads, Glenn, that day.
And the story that I just told was one of like four that night. One girl, which I didn’t bring a picture of, but one girl — a madam brought this girl out. And just to accentuate how young and innocent she was — and of course she was dressed horribly, real skimpy. But they brought her in clutching a big teddy bear, just to further show off how young she was. She was about 13.
These people are evil, evil people. Evil. There’s no other way to describe it.
And — if you think about what they were able to pull off in just an afternoon of gathering information — think of rampant, how horrible it is in that country and all over the world.
GLENN: And the guys who are doing it are from America and Germany and England and France and Switzerland.
JASON: When we first showed up to that girl with the teddy bear, there was two guys hitting on her while we walked up. Both were American.
GLENN: And they come back to America. After they have had their way with the slaves, they come back to America. And if you think your children are safe, it’s an alcoholic going to a country and saying, “Well, I’m going to drink for a week, but when I come back, I’m not going to have anything.” It doesn’t happen that way.
I have — I have put a goal of $15 million to be able to help Operation Underground Railroad. That goes to hiring more agents. That goes to — I’m sorry. $2,500 to rescue a child. But it goes further than that. Because this is not just about the rescue. This is about the aftercare. They are — if they’re 12 years old. They’re with — they’re with an OUR operative until they’re 18 years old. They’re taught how to have a job skill. And it’s happening here in America.
We don’t talk about America because we can’t really talk about America. The things that are going on here, we can’t — we can’t talk about. They’re happening in other companies that we just can’t talk about because they’re either too connected to the United States, or they are way too sensitive. But they’re happening all over the country.
These guys are traveling all over the world. And when I met — and you were there. Tell me — tell me that this isn’t true.
When we sat down with the head of the FBI in Thailand, they thanked this audience and said, “Please thank your audience for helping us stop this and catch the bad guys.” And there are bad guys. They’re coming back home. If they don’t get caught there, they come back home.
JASON: Yeah, and another — what was so amazing about that meeting. That was — I was talking to Tim after that. That took two years to come to fruition. That right there. They didn’t have — they wouldn’t have even spoken to us two years ago. But now they have all the awareness, and they have the — the —
JASON: The task force and everything that’s set up to now combat it. They didn’t have that before until OUR went in there. But now they have it. Just amazing.
GLENN: It’s the only place in Asia that has this task force now. And they’re going to be spreading it all over Asia.
Meanwhile, in Great Britain, the head of the Child Protective Services just said they have to stop busting pedophiles for kiddie porn. They’re going in the opposite direction. We, as America, can set an example. And this is something that we can all come together on.
If you would like to help us stop modern day slavery, become an abolitionist now. It’s happening in our own country. Become an abolitionist. Go to ourrescue.org. That’s ourrescue.org. Any donation, even $5 a month, price of a cup of coffee, you can sign up. And it will just take $5 a month off your credit card. And you can become an abolitionist. Be that person that we all say we would have been in the 1800s.
JASON: And if you’re a veteran, go to ourrescue.org. And you want to be involved, you want to make a difference, this is your place. Go here. They also have a volunteer section right there. I would have done this a long time ago out of the military. I would have went straight there. This is your spot, if you want to make a difference in the world and the country, this is where you can get it.
GLENN: I’m going to lose you, aren’t I?
GLENN: Yeah. You’re going to quit and go to work there.
JASON: It’s definitely worth it.
GLENN: I know. I know. I know. I — I felt the same way. I just wrote to a friend last night, I’m having a hard time justifying my life right now.
GLENN: After seeing what I saw, I’m having a hard time coming back to work and doing this, when this other makes such a huge difference. It actually truly is changing the world.
JASON: I had to stand up and walk away. That was the hardest thing to do. You want to continue to help.
GLENN: I know.
Okay. Operation Underground Railroad. Go to ourrescue.org and help out.