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The Minh Quang Pham Precedent to the Julian Assange Extradition

WikiLeaks supporters say that extradition of Julian Assange to the United States threatens journalism. That is true.

They also say that his extradition would be unprecedented. I believe that’s true too, with respect to the Espionage Act.

But it’s not entirely without precedent. I believe the case of Minh Quang Pham, who was extradited to the US in 2015 for activities related to AQAP — the most substantive of which involve providing his graphic design expertise for two releases of AQAP’s magazine, Inspire — provides a precedent that might crystalize some of the legal issues at play.

The Minh Quang Pham case

Minh Quang Pham was born in 1983 in Vietnam. He and his parents emigrated to the UK in 1989 and got asylum. In 1995, he got UK citizenship. He partied a lot, at a young age, until his conversion to Islam in 2004, after which he was drawn to further Islamic study and ultimately to Anwar al-Awlaki’s propaganda. Pham was married in 2010 but then, at the end of that year, traveled to Yemen. After some delays, he connected with AQAP and swore bayat in early 2011. While he claimed not to engage in serious training, testimony from high level AQAP/al-Shabaab operative Ahmed Warsame, who — after a two month interrogation by non-law enforcement personnel on a ship — got witness protection for himself and his family in exchange for cooperation, described seeing Pham holding a gun, forming one basis for his firearms and terrorist training charges (though the government also relied on a photo taken with Pham’s own camera).

On my arrival, Amin had a Kalashnikov with him and a pouch of ammunition. I am not certain if he had purchased the gun himself but he did say he had been trained by Abu Anais TAIS on how to use it, I can say from my knowledge of firearms that this weapon was capable of automatic and single fire.

Warsame’s role as informant not only raised questions about the proportionality of US treatment (he was a leader of al-Shabaab, and yet may get witness protection), but also whether his 2-month floating interrogation met European human rights standards for interrogation.

Pham reportedly sucked at anything military, and by all descriptions, the bulk of what Pham did in Yemen involved helping Samir Khan produce Inspire. After some time and a falling out with Khan — and after telling Anwar al-Awlaki he would accept a mission to bomb Heathrow — he returned to the UK. He was interrogated in Bahrain and at the airport on return, and again on arrival back home, then lived in London for six months before his arrest. At first, then-Home Secretary Theresa May tried to strip him of his UK citizenship in a secret proceeding so he could be deported (and possibly drone killed like other UK immigrants), but since — as a refugee — he no longer had Vietnamese citizenship, her first attempt failed.

The moment it became clear the British effort to strip him of citizenship would fail, the US indicted Pham in SDNY on Material Support (covering the graphic design work), training with a foreign terrorist organization, and carrying a firearm. Even before he ultimately did get stripped of his citizenship, he was flown to the US, in February 2015. The FBI questioned him, with no lawyer, during four days of interviews that were not recorded (in spite of a recently instituted FBI requirement that all custodial interviews be recorded). On day four, he admitted that Anwar al-Awlaki had ordered him to conduct an attack on Heathrow (which made the 302), but claimed he had made it clear he only did so as an excuse to be able to leave and return to the UK (a claim that didn’t make the 302; here’s Pham’s own statement which claims he didn’t want to carry out an attack). While Pham willingly pled guilty to the training and arms charges, at sentencing, the government and defense disputed whether Pham really planned to conduct a terrorist attack in the UK, or whether he had — as he claimed — renounced AQAP and resumed normal life with his wife. He failed to convince the judge and got a 40 year sentence.

The question of whether Pham really did plan to attack Heathrow may all be aired publicly given that — after Pham tried to get a recent SCOTUS case on weapon possession enhancements applied to his case — the government has stated that it wants to try Pham on the original charges along with one for the terrorist attack they claim Pham planned based on subsequently collected evidence.

The parallels between the Assange and Pham cases

Let me be clear: I’m not saying that Assange is a terrorist (though if the US government tries him, they will write at length describing about the damage he did, and it’ll amount to more than Pham did). I’m arguing, however, that the US has already gotten extradition of someone who, at the time of his extradition, claimed to have injured the US primarily through his media skills (and claimed to have subsequently recanted his commitment to AQAP).

Consider the similarities:

  • Both legal accusations involve suspect informants (Ahmad Warsame in Pham’s case, and Siggi and Sabu in Assange’s)
  • Both Pham and Assange were charged for speech — publishing Inspire and publishing the names of US and Coalition informants — that is more explicitly prohibited in the UK than the US
  • Both got charged with a substantive crime — terrorism training and possession of a gun in the case of Pham, and hacking in the case of Assange — in addition to speech-based crimes, charges that would (and did, in Pham’s case) greatly enhance any sentence on the speech-related charges
  • Pham got sentenced and Assange faces a sentence and imprisonment in SuperMax in the US that is far more draconian than a sentence for the same crimes would be in the UK, which is probably a big part of the shared Anglo-American interest in extraditing them from the UK
  • Whatever you think about the irregularity and undue secrecy of the Assange extradition, Pham’s extradition was far worse, particularly considering the way Theresa May was treating his UK citizenship

Unlike the Pham charges — all premised on Pham’s willing ties to a Foreign Terrorist Organization, AQAP — the US government has not included allegations that it believes Julian Assange conspired with Russia, though prosecutors involved in his case trying unsuccessfully to coerce Jeremy Hammond’s testimony reportedly told Hammond they believe him to be a Russian spy, and multiple other reports describe that the government changed its understanding of WikiLeaks as it investigated the 2016 election interference (and, probably, the Vault 7 release). Even if it’s true and even if they plan to air the basis for their belief, that’s a claimed intelligence tie, not a terrorism one.

This distinction is important. Holder v. Humanitarian Law clearly criminalizes First Amendment protected activity if done in service of a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, so Pham’s graphic design by itself made him fair game for charges under US precedent.

The government may be moving to make a similar exception for foreign intelligence assets. As the Congressional Research Service notes, if the government believes Assange to be a Foreign Agent of Russia, it may mean the Attorney General (Jeff Sessions for the original charge, and Bill Barr for all the indictments) deemed guidelines prohibiting the arrest of members of the media not to apply.

The news media policy also provides that it does not apply when there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person is a foreign power, agent of a foreign power, or is aiding, abetting, or conspiring in illegal activities with a foreign power or its agent. The U.S. Intelligence Community’s assessment that Russian state-controlled actors coordinated with Wikileaks in 2016 may have implicated this exclusion and other portions of the news media policy, although that conduct occurred years after the events for which Assange was indicted. The fact that Ecuador conferred diplomatic status on Assange, and that this diplomatic status was in place at the time DOJ filed its criminal complaint, may also have been relevant. Finally, even if the Attorney General concluded that the news media policy applied to Assange, the Attorney General may have decided that intervening events since the end of the Obama Administration shifted the balance of interests to favor prosecution. Whether the Attorney General or DOJ will publicly describe the impact of the news media policy is unclear.

There’s a filing from the prosecutor in the case, Gordon Kromberg, that seems to address the First Amendment in more aggressive terms than Mike Pompeo’s previous statement on the topic.But it may rely, as the terrorism precedent does, on a national security exception (one even more dangerous given the absence of any State Department FTO list, but that hardly makes a difference for a foreigner like Pham).

Ultimately, though, the Assange extradition, like the Pham prosecution, is an instance where the UK is willing to let the US serve as its willing life imprisoner to take immigrants to the UK off its hands. Assange’s extradition builds off past practice, and Pham’s case is a directly relevant precedent.

The human rights case for Julian Assange comes at an awkward time

While human rights lawyers fought hard, at times under a strict gag, on Pham’s immigration case, Assange’s extradition has focused more public attention to UK’s willingness to serve up people to America’s draconian judicial system.

Last Thursday, Paul Arnell wrote a thoughtful piece about the challenge Assange will face to beat this extradition request, concluding that Assange’s extradition might (or might have, in different times) demonstrate that UK extradition law has traded subverted cooperation to a defendant’s protection too far.

We need to reappraise the balance between the conflicting functions of UK extradition law.

Among the UK’s most powerful weapons are its adherence to the rule of law, democracy and human rights. Assange’s extradition arguably challenges those fundamental principles. His case could well add to the evidence that the co-operative versus protective pendulum has swung too far.

He describes how legal challenges probably won’t work, but an appeal to human rights might.

British extradition law presumptively favours rendition. Extradition treaties are concluded to address transnational criminality. They provide that transfer will occur unless certain requirements are met. The co-operative purpose of extradition more often than not trumps the protection of the requested person.

The protective purpose of extradition is served by grounds that bar a request if they are satisfied. Those particularly applicable in Assange’s case are double criminality, human rights and oppression.

There are several offenses within the Official Secrets Acts 1911/1989 and the Computer Misuse Act 1990 that seemingly correspond to those in the US request. However, human rights arguments offer Assange hope.

Three are relevant: to be free from inhuman and degrading punishment, fair trial rights and freedom of expression. Previous decisions have held that life-terms in supermaximum-security prisons do not contravene the “punishment” provision, while the right to freedom of expression as a bar to extradition is untested.

Assange’s best prospect is possibly the oppression bar. Under it, a request can be refused on grounds of mental or physical health and the passage of time. To be satisfied, however, grievous ill health or an extraordinary delay are required.

It’s a good point, and maybe should have been raised after some of the terrorism extraditions, like Pham’s. But it may be outdated.

As I noted, Arnell’s column, titled, “Assange’s extradition would undermine the rule of law,” came out on Thursday. Throughout the same week that he made those very thoughtful points, of course, the UK publicly disavowed the rule of law generally and international law specifically in Boris Johnson’s latest effort to find a way to implement Brexit with no limits on how the UK deals with Northern Ireland.

The highlight – something so extraordinary and constitutionally spectacular that its implications are still sinking in – was a cabinet minister telling the House of Commons that the government of the United Kingdom was deliberately intending to break the law.

This was not a slip of the tongue.

Nor was it a rattle of a sabre, some insincere appeal to some political or media constituency.

No: law-breaking was now a considered government policy.

[snip]

[T]he government published a Bill which explicitly provides for a power for ministers to make regulations that would breach international and domestic law.

[snip]

Draft legislation also does not appear from nowhere, and a published Bill is itself the result of a detailed and lengthy internal process, before it is ever presented to Parliament.

This proposal has been a long time in the making.

We all only got to know about it this week.

[snip]

No other country will take the United Kingdom seriously in any international agreements again.

No other country will care if the United Kingdom ever avers that international laws are breached.

One of the new disclosures in a bunch of Roger Stone warrants released earlier this year is that, in one of the first Dms between the persona Guccifer 2.0, the WikiLeaks Twitter account explained, “we’ve been busy celebrating Brexit.” That same Brexit makes any bid for a human rights argument agains extradition outdated.

Billy Barr’s DOJ Throws the Book at Someone Not Named Mike Flynn for Reneging on a Plea Agreement

Last week, the government moved to vacate the guilty plea of Minh Quang Pham because, in violation of his plea agreement, Pham tried to get one of the counts against him thrown out based on an intervening Supreme Court precedent. On top of a new development in a controversial counterterrorism case (one that, because Pham’s admitted actions for AQAP were primarily contributing his graphic design skills, could have interesting implications for Julian Assange’s extradition), the development is an example of what Bill Barr’s DOJ does when defendants not named Mike Flynn renege on the terms of their plea agreement.

Pham is a Vietnamese-Brit who, for a brief period, helped Samir Khan produce Inspire Magazine. Theresa May, while Home Secretary, tried to strip him of his British citizenship, presumably so he could be expelled and drone killed like some other immigrants to the UK with ties to terrorism. When it became clear that effort might fail, the US indicted Pham on Material Support, obtaining military training from a terrorist organization, and possessing a weapon.

There have always been some unexplained aspects of Pham’s story. He claims that he willingly left AQAP, returned to the UK with help from the government, where he lived peaceably until he was arrested. Nevertheless, in four FBI interviews he had while in custody but not recorded (the FBI claimed that because he was still in transit, he was not covered by an FBI rule requiring custodial interviews be recorded), he admitted to getting a bomb-making lesson from Anwar al-Awlaki. He later contested those interviews, but the government used testimony from Ahmed Warsame (another AQAP affiliate was also interrogated in custody while “in transit”) against him. In 2016, Pham pled guilty to three of the charges against him: conspiring to provide material support, conspiring to receive military training, and possessing a weapon. He was sentenced to forty years in prison, of which 30 were tied to the weapons charge, and sent to Florence SuperMax.

Last year in US v Davis, the Supreme Court held that the law used to impose the possessing a weapons charge and with it the long prison sentence against Pham was constitutionally vague.

Over the course of months, Pham worked to get representation to have his case reconsidered under US v Davis, an effort that was badly delayed both by his incarceration in SuperMax and COVID.

Which, after some negotiations between Pham and the government, led to last week’s action. Because US v Davis means Pham’s conviction for the weapons charge must be dismissed, the government argues they are entitled to throw out Pham’s plea deal, and move towards a trial, including new charges.

As set forth in more detail below, the Government respectfully submits that the Court should reinstate the charges contained in the Indictment. The Government dismissed those charges at sentencing pursuant to the Plea Agreement, and only as consideration for the defendant’s guilty plea to the subset of offenses set forth in the Plea Agreement. Neither the terms of the Plea Agreement nor controlling law in this Circuit prevent the Government from reinstating the previous charges against Pham under these circumstances. To the contrary, the defendant’s Plea Agreement expressly preserved the Government’s right to do so should the defendant’s “convictions” be “vacated for any reason.” (Ex. A. at 8). Accordingly, the Government seeks to vacate Pham’s convictions, reinstate the charges in the Indictment, and proceed to trial.

[snip]

Although it is axiomatic that “when a defendant breaches his plea agreement, the Government has the option to . . . treat it as unenforceable,” United States v. Cimino, 381 F.3d 124, 128 (2d Cir. 2004), the Court need not decide whether Pham’s filing of a Section 2255 motion constituted a breach of the plea agreement to grant the Government’s motion. “Whether [Pham] breached his contract or acted properly in negating it is largely irrelevant to this issue. Despite the change in law, [Pham] remained free to comply with the plea bargain. By taking advantage of the opportunity to vacate his conviction under [Davis], [Pham] chose to void his agreement with the government. That choice relieved the government from its contractual obligations, and explains why double jeopardy does not apply.” Podde, 105 F.3d at 821 n.6 (internal citations omitted).

In addition to moving to try Pham on the five existing charges (presumably, on the four that remain after Davis), the government plans to charge Pham with an attempted terrorist attack, in part to make sure they can charge Pham with something if the existing plea deal is upheld.

Separate from the application for reinstatement of charges, the Government respectfully informs the Court and defense counsel that the Government intends to file additional charges against Pham based on additional evidence secured following his conviction and sentencing.

The evidence at issue includes (1) video recordings showing the defendant constructing and detonating a test explosive device virtually identical to the one Pham told law enforcement was to be used in his planned suicide attack on Americans and Israelis at Heathrow International Airport; (2) video recordings of Pham associating with high-ranking members of AQAP; (3) a video recording of Pham describing his goal of waging jihad and his desire to martyr himself; and (4) a document containing instructions for executing the attack upon Pham’s return to London. The Government reviewed this evidence with defense counsel during a meeting on December 5, 2019, and produced a copy of the evidence to the defense on or about March 24, 2020.

Based on this evidence, the Government expects to seek additional charges related to the defendant’s attempted attack at Heathrow, including a violation of Section 924(c) predicated on the use and possession of a destructive device in furtherance of one or more additional crimes of violence committed in connection with the plot. This conduct, and the anticipated charges based upon it (which are subject both to approval by other components of the Department of Justice and presentation to the grand jury), are not covered by the provisions of the Plea Agreement defining the conduct for which “the defendant will not be further prosecuted criminally by this Office.” (Ex. A at 2). Accordingly, while the Government will not proceed with a superseding Indictment until after the Court rules on the reinstatement of the original charges of the Indictment, the Government expects to seek those additional charges whether or not it is also able to proceed on the previously dismissed counts.

Now, I’m not suggesting, at all, that there’s an equivalence in the actions of Pham and Mike Flynn. Even assuming some of Pham’s complaints about his interrogation and the disproportionate responsibility the government attributed to him over Warsame are true, he still admits he sought to participate in a terrorist organization.

But where a comparison is apt is the plea agreement. Like Pham, the government included language in Flynn’s plea agreement that if his conviction were vacated for any reason, he can be charged for the uncharged conduct tied to his plea agreement — which in Flynn’s case are the Foreign Agent charges that carry a possible sentence of 15 years. Flynn is arguing that he has not yet been convicted, though that’s currently among the many issues under dispute.

And the comparison is apt because (the government has argued, though Flynn disagrees) Flynn reneged on the cooperation included in his plea agreement.

For other people, Bill Barr’s DOJ has thrown the book when a defendant has reneged on his plea deal. In Flynn’s case, however, Barr’s DOJ is doing back flips to try to blow up the existing conviction.

Pham’s case will be quite interesting in any case, if it goes to trial (and the government has effectively already told him they intend to keep him in prison for life anyway, so he has no incentive not to contest this aggressively). But it’s also a worthy lesson in what normally happens when a defendant blows up a plea deal like Mike Flynn has.

Minh Quang Pham: FBI Continues Creating Terror Stories Assisted by Unrecorded Interviews

Minh Quang Pham, whom I dubbed AQAP’s “graphic artist of mass destruction” because he was busted for providing graphic design skills to AQAP, got sentenced today; neither FBI nor SDNY have announced his sentence but it will be between 30 and 50 years in prison.

The government, as it tends to do, has submitted a bunch of documents as part of the sentencing process to inflate the magnitude of Pham’s acts, which largely consist of carrying a Kalashnikov he wasn’t really trained to use and helping Samir Khan make Inspire look prettier. With the documents, DOJ suggests Pham might have attacked Heathrow if he hadn’t been stopped when he was. Materials submitted as part of the sentencing process include:

The FBI 302s have the most detail, including that Awlaki gave Pham a “clean” computer that, as described, was not clean at all (a forensics report that is sealed in the docket reportedly found it had shared data with a computer that Warsame had been caught with) and the claim that Awlaki gave Pham a phone and an email account to contact him with — or to provide to new AQAP recruits (the story varies) — in the future. One 302 provides the rather incredible detail that “the email account AULAQI provided might have been a Hotmail account.”

We’re to believe that Awlaki, a guy who learned he was being wiretapped in November 2009, had been pursued using all resources of the US government for a year and a half, and who otherwise had a sophisticated understanding of US surveillance, was still using a Hotmail account in June 2011.

The final 302 (I don’t think the previous 3 include start and stop times, which is a telling omission) provides details of what Scott Shane has described as proof Anwar Awlaki was acting as a bomb making trainer close to the end of his life, based on the description of him teaching Pham, in a single day, “how to mix chemicals to make an explosive powder” that Pham used to detonate a tin can that “generated enough force to launch the tin can away from PHAM and into the air.” This was the training, the FBI implies, that AQAP gave Pham to prepare him to attack Heathrow Airport.

Here’s the thing, though: FBI didn’t record any of those interviews, in spite of an explicit policy presuming FBI will record custodial interviews that went into effect on July 11, 2014. There are exceptions FBI might, in a stretch, be claiming here (that because Pham was not yet in a formal detention center, he was not in custody, or that it was a national intelligence collecting interview that is nevertheless being used against him in sentencing; I’ve got an email in with the FBI to find out what their explanation is). But this seems like a clear-cut case, where, for their own credibility, FBI should have recorded the interviews.

Especially since Pham says they’re inaccurate.

For four days I have willfully sat with the agents to confess my association with AL-QAIDA + to make an appeal to the government for compassion. Brian said: “we are the best representatives to the government for you.”

[snip]

The agenst [sic] had the opportunity to take recording but for some reason they did not do so. I only receive the FBI statements around couple months after my interviews. I then realize that they have omitted possibly 30 – 40% of what I’ve said, misunderstood many points + added some information I did not say. Had there been a recording, it would have shown a different picture. Had they been sincere in what they said about being “the best representatives to the government,” they would have shown me the draft of the statement for any needed correction before publishing it or have the interview recorded which would have revealed all the questions + answers.

Initially I didn’t want to tell them about the airport plot because it was something occurred in YEMEN which I never intended to do. I only want to leave YEMEN + had to accept a foreign operation. I told them that Imam ANWAR AL-AWLAQI (who was killed in a drone strike in Sept 2011) wanted me to do. The reason why I told the agents is because I felt pressured due to MATT posing the same question for 4 days, + on the 4th day he said: “Is there something they told you to do but decided not to?”

[snip]

Later at the 5th interview, the prosecutor asks me if I intended to carry out the plot, Matt intervene + said “at that point did you accept it? I made it clear that I did not intended [sic] it but I only accept it + was willing to accept any plot to go home.

The expression I got from the was that, they were trying to paint a picture oof me of intending to return to carry out the plot + had I not been arrested, I would have carried out a suicide operation at Heathrow Airport.

Obviously Pham has good reason to want to insinuate he would never have conducted the plot (but then, he was free in the UK for 5 months and didn’t take any steps to do so, not even obtaining acetone from his sister’s nail salon). Then again, obviously the FBI has good reason to want to claim that Pham was more than the graphic artist who was never really trained in fighting that the other records show him to be.

The thing is, there’s no evidence in the record that makes this Heathrow attack look credible. There are some other really funny details about this story that I hope to return to. But I’m sure the story worked to ensure Pham would spend most of the rest of his life in a US SuperMax.

Update: I guess this is why they didn’t announce Pham’s sentence: Judge Alison Nathan delayed sentencing because of conflicting stories over whether Pham really intended to attack Heathrow, or whether he used that as a way to get out of Yemen (though she reportedly is inclined to side with the government). I think this is a sound result: the government actually hasn’t proven this attack was real (again, I have questions about whether even Awlaki designed it to be real). Moreover, Pham will get 30 years in any case.

The FBI might have a more (or less — who knows!!) credible case had they taped these interviews. Now they have to make their case in court.

Minh Quang Pham Gets His Day in Supreme Court

I’ve long been tracking the case of Minh Quang Pham, whom I call the “graphic artist of mass destruction” because he is accused of helping Samir Khan on Inspire.

He was detained in the UK back in July 2011 (see the timeline). That December, the UK government tried to strip him of citizenship, but failed because that would have left him stateless (he’s originally from Vietnam but the government doesn’t treat him as a citizen). He was quickly charged here when efforts to strip him of UK citizenship failed. But since then, his citizenship case has been wending its way through the British courts.

Throughout this period, it was not officially recognized that Pham was the guy fighting for his citizenship.

Today and yesterday, his case was finally heard before UK’s Supreme Court, and his name made public. Here’s the Open Society report on his case (which also has a timeline!).

I suppose, if Pham loses, he will be sent to NY for trial. If he wins, he will force the UK to charge him there, which for a variety of reasons may get interesting. Remember: Pham should know the informant behind the UndieBomb 2.0 attack. Which may be why everyone wants to try him over here.

Was Inspire a British-Made Product?

Amid a longer story about one-time Brits stripped of their citizenship and handled according to the Administration Disposition Matrix, Ian Cobain fills out the story of Minh Quang Pham (whose identity in the UK is protected under a legal gag and so is referred to as B2). Among other things, Cobain answers the question I raised here: how Pham materially supported Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula by (we infer) helping to produce Inspire between the time he was arrested upon returning from Yemen in July 2011 and the time the British Home Secretary Theresa May tried to strip him of citizenship in December of that year (see my timelines here): he was out on bail.

On arrival back at Heathrow airport, the Vietnamese-born man was searched by police and arrested when a live bullet was found in his rucksack. A few months later, while he was free on bail, May signed an order revoking his British citizenship.

But that would mean Pham was materially contributing to Inspire at a time when he was in the UK. The Brits have much stronger laws against even possessing Inspire. If we (and by association they) had evidence he was producing Inspire while out on bail, it should be easy to try him there.

Which is part of Pham’s current complaint, as he tries to avoid extradition to the US: he could have and should have been charged in the UK.

Within minutes of SIAC announcing its decision and granting B2 unconditional bail, he was rearrested while sitting in the cells at the SIAC building. The warrant had been issued by magistrates five weeks earlier, at the request of the US Justice Department. Moments after that, the FBI announced that B2 had been charged with five terrorism offences and faced up to 40 years in jail. He was driven straight from SIAC to Westminster magistrates’ court, where he faced extradition proceedings.

B2 continues to resist his removal to the US, with his lawyers arguing that he could have been charged in the UK. Indeed, the allegations made by the US authorities, if true, would appear to represent multiple breaches of several UK laws: the Terrorism Act 2000, the Terrorism Act 2006 and the Firearms Act 1968. Asked why B2 was not being prosecuted in the English courts – why, in other words, the Americans were having this particular headache, and not the British – a Crown Prosecution Service spokesperson said: “As this is a live case and the issue of forum may be raised by the defence in court, it would be inappropriate for us to discuss this in advance of the extradition hearing.”

One of the charges against Pham is that he conspired to obtain military training. Which would seem to rely on Ahmed Warsame’s testimony. But it’s not clear how much of the material support charges Warsame could support, given that Pham’s material support period extends a number of months beyond Warsame’s arrest.

Note, however, that there may be overlap between the UndieBomb 2.0 mole working with AQAP (who may have arrived in AQAP 2 months before Pham left) and the tail end of the charge. In which case they may be shipping Pham to the US to better hide the mole’s role in all this.

Of course, all these charges may primarily be about protecting the mole.

Still No Answer on How Minh Quang Pham Materially Supported Terror While in Custody

The WaPo has an interesting story about US intelligence efforts to disrupt the most recent release of Inspire magazine. While the confirmation that the US was responsible for the recent disrupted release is not surprising, I find this rather interesting.

“You can make it hard for them to distribute it, or you can mess with the content. And you can mess with the content in a way that is obvious or in ways that are not obvious,” said one intelligence official, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal debates.

WaPo’s sources are now bragging that they’ve altered the content of Inspire, in addition to delaying its release.

While the article focuses on this most recent sabotage, it rather bizarrely makes no mention that the first installment of Inspire was hacked in very similar way (purportedly by the Brits).

In the case of Inspire, the debate stretches back three years. The first issue contained a recipe for making a bomb using common materials, such as nails and a pressure cooker like the ones used in Boston. The title of the article was “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”

There was also a threat to Molly Norris, a Seattle cartoonist who published a satirical cartoon about the prophet Muhammad. “She should be taken as a prime target of assassination,” wrote Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric who was killed in a U.S. drone strike.

Though it does quote Keith Alexander making the case for sabotage.

“It’s obvious if people are calling for crazies to murder a U.S. citizen, why wouldn’t you stop it?” said one former official, recalling the debate in which National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith B. Alexander argued on behalf of disruption.

In that case, the administration decided against action, in part because the CIA preferred to use the site to gather intelligence. In subsequent debates, the danger of an imminent threat “really made the difference” in terms of whether to disrupt issues of the magazine, according to a former administration official.

DOD and CIA have, according to public reports without details, had significant deconfliction issues in the past on cyber operations. Are we so convinced DOD didn’t help the Brits insert cupcake recipes in that first installment?

And this article doesn’t mention something I’ve been tracking for a while: the case of Vietnamese-English Minh Quang Pham graphic artist, whom the US charged with materially support Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula last year. Of note, when they charged him, they called for him to forfeit any means he had to influence AQAP.

As a result of planning and perpetuating Federal crimes of terrorism against the United States … defendant [] shall forfeit … all right, title, and interest in all assets, foreign and domestic, affording a source of influence over al Shabaab and AQAP.

Which is all the more interesting still considering the period for which the US charged Pham for material support includes five months — from July to December 2011 — during which a great deal of evidence suggests he was in British custody.

I suppose it might make it easier to hack Inspire if you had their graphic artist in secret custody.

Does This Explain Why Minh Quang Pham Is Languishing Away?

TBIJ has a troubling report (see also this Independent story) on a number of British citizens who have been stripped of their citizenship so they can be targeted by drones or rendered here to the US. I described the fate of one of them — Mahdi Hashi — here. Another was the Russian spy Anna Chapman, though that happened after her arrest here.

I’m particularly interested, however, in this entry in TBIJ’s report.

B2
Deprived December 2011. Successfully challenged. Government now appealing.

This is one of three known cases where notice has been served on an individual while they were still in the UK. B2 came to the UK as a child with his refugee Vietnamese parents. He became a UK citizen in 1995, and later converted to Islam. In 2010 he reportedly traveled to Yemen, where MI5 alleges he trained with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He apparently returned to the UK in July 2011 and the Home Secretary informed him he would lose his British citizenship that December. B2 appealed, saying the decision would make him stateless. The Vietnamese government agreed that he was not its citizen, and the order was overturned. However the Home Office told the Bureau it is appealing. B2 is thought still to be in the UK.

These details make B2 sound like Minh Quang Pham, whom I wrote about here and here. Though here’s the timeline DOJ offered when they conspicuously announced Pham’s arrest last May, with a few additional details from Pham’s docket included.

December 2010: Pham travels from the UK to Yemen.

March 2011: Pham’s military training in Yemen begins.

March and April 2011: Pham carries a Kalashnikov.

April 2011: Pham works with Samir Khan and meets Anwar al-Awlaki.

July 2011: End date for military training in Yemen.

September 27, 2011: AQAP releases Inspire, Issue 7.

September 30, 2011: Khan and Awlaki killed in drone strike.

December 2011: End date of material support charges.

May 24, 2012: Pham indicted in NY.

June 29, 2012: Pham “arrested,” while still being held by British authorities in immigration custody. Indictment publicly released by DOJ.

August 23, 2012: Pham’s indictment officially unsealed.

Compare that to these dates regarding the UK’s efforts to strip B2’s citizenship.

February 9, 1983: B2 born in Vietnam.

August 1989: B2 travels with parents to UK, where they are granted asylum.

1995: B2 and his family get British citizenship.

December 2010: B2 travels to Yemen.

July 25, 2011: B2 leaves Yemen.

December 20, 2011: British Secretary of State decides to strip B2 of his citizenship.

December 22, 2011: British SoS provides notice and strips B2 of citizenship.

January 13, 2012: B2 appeals decision based on claim he would be stateless if he lost British citizenship.

June 13-14, 2012: B2’s citizenship hearing.

June 29, 2012: B2’s appeal succeeds.

Much of this lines up perfectly: The December 2010 departure for Yemen, the July 2011 end to military training, and the December 2011 immigration detention.

More important still, note that the British court released its decision about B2 on the same day — June 29, 2012 — that DOJ hastily announced Pham’s arrest, though without formally unsealing his indictment (note, DOJ’s original press release, though not FBI’s version, got disappeared, though can still be accessed via Internet Archive; see also this screen cap showing the press release missing).

The only discrepancy — and it may not be one — is B2’s claim he left Yemen on July 25, 2011. While DOJ’s military training charges end in July 2011, its material support charges continue until December 2011. Though note this Telegraph article says Pham was arrested when he arrived in Heathrow on July 27, 2011.

In short, unless there are a whole lot more Vietnamese refugees to Britain wandering back and forth from Yemen on the very same days, B2 is Pham.

Not only that, but it’s clear his “arrest” appears to be nothing more than an attempt to establish a fall-back position if and when holding him in immigration detention becomes impossible because he gets his citizenship restored. Barring that, they may well leave Pham in immigration custody in the UK indefinitely.

The most curious aspect of all this, though, is that material support charge that continues while, at least according to the Telegraph, Pham was in custody. Maybe the Telegraph is wrong, but if not, it means — according to the US — Pham continued to materially support AQAP while in British custody.