After Khalid el-Masri, Details Like Snowden’s Middle Name Matter

Anonymous (heh) DOJ officials have taken to the press to whine that Hong Kong delayed turning over Edward Joseph Snowden because the US got his true middle name, James, wrong (and once left it at “J”).

They scoffed at the middle name mixup. The initial provisional arrest warrant request only listed his name as Edward J Snowden, a senior U.S. law enforcement said.

“Is this the best they got?” the senior U.S. law enforcement official said.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said Mr. Snowden’s photo and videos were widely disseminated in the media. And when Hong Kong officials called the Justice Department to notify that he had left their territory, there was no doubt of his identity, the spokeswoman said.

“That Hong Kong would ask for more information about his identity demonstrates that it was simply trying to create a pretext for not acting on the provisional arrest request,” the spokeswoman said.

Back when my official ID read “Marcy” instead of my legal name, it caused all amounts of headache and delay getting on planes; I had to go through a tedious process to change it. And airlines now insist on my full middle name.

I’m not sure why DOJ thinks Snowden should be any different than every other American flier whose name must be correct before getting on a plane.

And in an international context, there’s an even bigger reason why any country would be crazy to hand over a person if the US couldn’t get his name right. German citizen Khalid el-Masri was kidnapped and tortured in Afghanistan for four years months [I regret this error] because the US government mistook him for a guy named Khalid al-Masri.

There was no telling who Hong Kong might have unintentionally turned over to an American black hole.

Once upon a time, sure, other countries might have been able to take us at our word on something like this. But not only do we insist on even higher accuracy from their citizens when they come to the US than the US does from me and my legal name, but the US has a history of torturing people for years based on misidentification.

We’re simply not trustworthy on that front anymore.

CIA Inspector General Reopens Khalid El-Masri Abduction

The AP reports that, in addition to the grand jury investigation of Manadel al-Janabi’s death, the CIA Inspector General has reopened its investigation of Khalid el-Masri’s abduction.

Forgive me for my cynicism, but this investigation–and its public announcement–seems like yet another attempt to stave off European pressure on this front. The EU Parliament just called for investigations into the US’ violation of human rights under the GWOT.

Calls on the EU and Member States authorities, as well as the US authorities, to ensure that full, fair, effective, independent and impartial inquiries and investigations are carried out into human rights violations and crimes under international, European and national law, and to bring to justice those responsible, including in the framework of the CIA extraordinary renditions and secret prisons programme;

And as we’ve seen in the past, the US has pretty routinely launched “investigations” so as to give its European allies an excuse not to do an investigation. That’s what this feels like.


What State Wanted Withheld from WikiLeaks Publication

There are now four versions of the cooperation between WikiLeaks and its journalistic “partners:” Vanity Fair, NYT, Guardian, and Spiegel. A comparison of them is more instructive than reading any in isolation.

For example, compare how the NYT and Spiegel describe the three things the State Department asked journalistic partners not to publish during the lead-up to publication of the diplomatic cables. The NYT says State asked them not to publish individual sources, “sensitive American programs,” and candid comments about foreign leaders.

The administration’s concerns generally fell into three categories. First was the importance of protecting individuals who had spoken candidly to American diplomats in oppressive countries. We almost always agreed on those and were grateful to the government for pointing out some we overlooked.

“We were all aware of dire stakes for some of the people named in the cables if we failed to obscure their identities,” Shane wrote to me later, recalling the nature of the meetings. Like many of us, Shane has worked in countries where dissent can mean prison or worse. “That sometimes meant not just removing the name but also references to institutions that might give a clue to an identity and sometimes even the dates of conversations, which might be compared with surveillance tapes of an American Embassy to reveal who was visiting the diplomats that day.”

The second category included sensitive American programs, usually related to intelligence. We agreed to withhold some of this information, like a cable describing an intelligence-sharing program that took years to arrange and might be lost if exposed. In other cases, we went away convinced that publication would cause some embarrassment but no real harm.

The third category consisted of cables that disclosed candid comments by and about foreign officials, including heads of state. The State Department feared publication would strain relations with those countries. We were mostly unconvinced.

Spiegel describes those three things slightly differently. It says State asked them to withhold government sources, cables with security implications, and “cables relating to counterterrorism.”

At first, less than a week before the upcoming publication of the leaked documents, Clinton’s diplomats wanted three things from the participating media organizations. First, they wanted the names of US government sources to be protected if leaks posed a danger to life and limb. This was a policy that all five media organizations involved already pursued. Second, they asked the journalists to exercise restraint when it came to cables with security implications. Third, they asked them to be aware that cables relating to counterterrorism are extremely sensitive.

Now the discrepancy may mean nothing. Both agree State had three categories of information they wanted withheld. Both agree State asked the newspapers to withhold both the names of sources and details on intelligence programs. But since the NYT notes the journalistic partners didn’t take the third category–candid comments–very seriously, perhaps Spiegel just misremembered what that third category was, or just remembered a particular focus on counterterrorism. Presumably, after all, the counterterrorism programs would be included in category two.

But whatever the cause of the discrepancy, I am intrigued that Spiegel emphasizes counterterrorism programs rather than candid comments about foreign officials, not least because the Spiegel article describes working with US Ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy directly. Consider the two most sensitive revelations pertaining to Germany and counterterrorism. First, there was the news of Philip Murphy personally bad-mouthing the Free Democratic Party’s opposition to US vacuuming up European data, particularly as it relates to the SWIFT database. Then there are negotiations about whether Germany would prosecute Americans involved in the rendition of Khalid El-Masri. As I showed, it appears that Condi was telling German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier one thing about a subpoena for those Americans, followed quickly by the American Deputy Chief of Mission “correcting” the US position on it.

That is, on both major disclosures about US counterterrorism cooperation with the Germans, the US has reason to be embarrassed about its two-faced dealing with German officials.

In other words, there may be no discrepancy. It is possible that the third category of information State wanted suppressed has to do not with the substance of our counterterrorism program (after all, both the details of SWIFT and of our rendition program have been widely publicized), but with the degree to which our private diplomacy belies all the public claims we make about counterterrorism.