Sloppiness in the Snowden extradition request to HK

When Hong Kong let Edward Snowden leave the country instead of arresting him in accord with the official US request on the grounds that the request was incomplete and invalid, many of us (myself included) assumed that there was a certain amount of nose-thumbing going on. But as it turns out, the US government's extradition request to Hong Kong was remarkably sloppy.

The request didn't include Snowden's full name or passport number. It didn't include a rationale explaining "how two of the three charges the US mentioned in its arrest request fell within the scope of a US-Hong Kong rendition of fugitive offenders agreement signed in 1996." It didn't include any evidence for the charges. And the US didn't respond to prompt requests for clarification from Hong Kong.

HK authorities requested clarification by email on Jun 17 and 21, and by "speed post" on Jun 21. They have yet to receive a response.

I confess I don't understand this. Was it that the bureaucrats pursuing Snowden were incompetent? Arrogant? Paralyzed by infighting? It's a truly astonishing degree of sloppiness.

Hong Kong minister rejects US accusations of deliberately delaying Snowden's arrest


  1. Or, does the administration really NOT want to prosecute him but wants to give the appearance that he’s hawkish towards these kind of things?  No, follow me here.. this guy on trial would embarass the current administration, and they already have in the past told similar people with insurance files to dump them.  It’d be better, for them, if he just went away.

    1. Given the unprecedented enthusiasm of the current administration for whistleblower-hunting, a desire to merely give the appearance of seriousness would be a major change(or a concession that Snowden has something really atypically clever up his sleeve).

      1. Yep.  Obama’s administration has charged more people with espionage than the previous 44 administrations.  Combined.

        1. No, this is only true if you narrowly focus on just one of the punishable offenses under the espionage act.

      2. Given the unprecedented enthusiasm of the current administration for whistleblower-hunting, a desire to merely give the appearance of seriousness would be a major change

        Very well put, thank you.

      3. Maybe it’s not the administration, maybe it’s just one guy.

        “Hey, dude, send an extradition request to Hong Kong to get this guy back where we can arrest him for treason.”
        “… you know, he just exposed massive spying on Americans that I kind of believe is unconstitutional.”
        “Doesn’t matter what you believe, I’m giving you an order.  Send a request.”
        “Yes sir.”

        Worker proceeds to slack-ass his way through it and leave plenty of opportunity for them to get around it.

        Although, chances are, even if my theory was correct, said worker probably never spoke up about agreeing with Snowden because it would look suspicious, he just kind of thought it, rolled his eyes, and did the poorest job he could get away with doing.

        And somehow, he’d still be more of a hero than the boss who ordered it.

        1.  I’m just wondering how many pairs of eyes looked it over before licking the envelope and hitting send

          1. At any rate, they’re some of the same ones who decide if anybody should look at your online purchases and calling patterns.

        2. Probably a bit of both.  Some low-level guy was tasked with doing it, with “input” from multiple high level sources.  Too many generals, not enough privates.  

          Plus the guy doing the actual writing knows he will be thrown under the bus as “rogue” the minute something goes wrong – so why bother doing a good job? 

    2. I agree with you.  The administration is stuck with this Manning trial and headaches related to drone-striking US citizens.  If they caught him, they look like assholes dragging him back from Hong Kong, and then they’re stuck with another high-profile trial that might last years.  I think the strategy of appearing to put up a fight while letting this dude slip into an Ecuadorian jungle makes a lot of political sense.  The public does not seem to be on board this one.  (Or maybe just the public that I associate with…)

      1.  I wondered that myself, but this is an individual with a high-level security clearance who fled to Hong Kong/China, taking reams of classified documents with him. The CIA and the NSA probably would love to know who all of his contacts were, what he shared, and what if anything he told the Chinese (or now the Russian) security services.

        I’m actually surprised the Chinese simply didn’t apprehend him on some sort of trumped up charges, because someone with his background would be a potential goldmine of information.

        But back to US authorities, they wish to make an example of him: Follow Snowden’s path and you will be caught, convicted, and imprisoned. I’m sure they’re terrified of what might be contained in the remaining documents Snowden hasn’t released, but I’m sure they’re equally terrified of future whistle-blowers who might be emboldened to follow suit.

        1.  Not if there is nothing left to leak after the ‘insurance file’ goes public.  He did say he had access to absurd amounts of stuff.

          1. I think it’s funny how a relatively low-level outside contractor could get access to so much information. It’s Wikileaks all over again, classified stuff shared with too many people, leaving the secrets dangerously exposed. Could even be that this isn’t particularly new information to China and Russia. After Wikileaks (if not before) they must have realized how easy it is to get access to these treasure troves if they just plant a few low level moles in promising places.

        2. m actually surprised the Chinese simply didn’t apprehend him on some
          sort of trumped up charges, because someone with his background would be
          a potential goldmine of information.

          Ever consider the possibility that China isn’t as bad like that as you’ve (we’ve) been led to believe?

          1. Well if someone like Snowden can grab all of the top secret NSA spy files, then it’s a safe bet that China and Russia already have their own moles with similar access. Snowden was just a tech-geek working for some NSA contractor, he’s not some hard-core NSA super-spy.

            They probably don’t need anything Snowden has, and certainly not enough to risk a major diplomatic insult by abducting a US citizen.

            That’s a key point in understanding why the espionage charges are ridiculous. China and Russia already know the rough details about US spy programs that Snowden has disclosed.

            Snowden’s leaks are only news for us regular people. The only enemy of the state that Snowden has assisted is the public. America has met the enemy and he is us.

          2. The only real threat to the U.S. “security” apparatus is defunding.

            So their scariest adversary is us.

    3. Right, the 11-dimensional chess theory. If that was true, he wouldn’t have been such an empty suit in the press conferences about these topics leading up to charges (and official silence).

  2. I can imagine..US:Give us dude!

    HK: Wha?  Who?

    US: Give us dude!  You know who.

    HK: uh…no?

    1.  United States of Ducky: “How long I been comin’ here?”
      Hong Kong Dice Clay: “I dunno, a few decades.”
      USD: “Okay, so we’re buddies, we’re close, right?”
      HKDC: “Oh, yeah. Very, pal.”
      USD: “Okay, so how many times have you let me in?”
      HKDC: “I never let you in, you know that.”
      USD: “You see, you see what I’m saying?”
      HKDC: “I don’t know, what are you saying?”
      USD: “What I’m saying is my political prisoner is in there, and I’m out he — well, it’s a political situation, and we want him as a prisoner, so he SHOULD be our political prisoner, but — he’s in there, and we’re out here. I mean you’re a sensitive sexually potent kind of country, ya gotta know how that hurts.”
      HKDC: “Lemme ask you a question, seriously. Why does he come here, knowing I don’t let you in? Eh? Think about it.”
      USD: “I don’t know.”
      HKDC: “Ha! Alright, my advice to you is uh, dump him. Lose him. You don’t need that. You see what I’m sayin’? You see the point I’m tryin’ to make? Espionage is a bitch, Duck. Espionage is a bitch!”
      USD: “Ain’t it the truth.”
      HKDC: “Oh, it’s the truth.”
      USD: “High five.”
      HKDC: “Alright…”

      Snowden: “Were you here long?”
      USD: “Nah, nah, three, four weeks? You have a good time at least?
      Snowden: “Uh-huh.”
      USD: “Oh, good. That’s good. So what now?”
      Snowden: “Freedom.”
      USD: “Leavenworth? Gitmo? Black site?”
      Snowden: “Nice try. I’m gonna release the information now.”

    1.  There is surely more time available to file most extradition requests. In this case there is little doubt that they were in a huge hurry, which probably contributed. I doubt there was any double game (‘we don’t *really* want to extradite him’) involved. Of course, they were probably also arrogant enough to think that the Chinese would overlook all the holes in the paperwork given the circumstances.

  3. Probably just arrogant grandstanding: We’re a world power, we get what we want!

    It reminds me of the situation years back, when Russia demanded the Chechen opposition leader Ahmed Zakayev extradited from Denmark on terrorism charges. The Danish police promptly arrested him, but the material sent by the Russian authorities lacked evidence and was obviously unsuited to bring about an extradition. The paperwork was sloppy, incomplete and as I said – it lacked evidence. Instead, Russian politicians did a lot of threats and huffing and puffing and demanded that the government short-circuit the judiciary and just give them Zakayev (which would have been unthinkable at the time, I’m less confident today). They did not latch on to te fact that the only thing that could help their extradition request was better paperwork, especially evidence.

    In the end, Zakayev was released, not extradited and promptly left the country  to seek asylum elsewhere. The US behaviour in the Snowden case is eerily parallel.

  4. Hope no low level workers have their name attached to that request or it’s scapegoat time!

    Government institutions loooove to make a show of fixing problems by firing peons who were probably told to do a job with insufficient instruction or authority.

  5. So, after reading the actual article, Cory, you’ve misrepresented some of the things mentioned.  
    1) They didn’t not include his passport number.  Hong Kong asked for ‘confirmation’ of his passport number, probably because of…
    2) Diplomatic papers (which I assumed means passport, but could also mean other papers relating to the extradition) listed him as Edward James Snowden and Hong Kong imigration had him as Edward Jospeh Snowden.  The state department asked for Edward J Snowden, probably assuming there were not multiple Edward J Snowdens in Hong Kong at that moment in time.

    This means that Hong Kong knew that they were looking for an Edward J Snowden with a particular passport number.  However, they wanted to be absolutely sure before they went for a warrant, which is probably sensible.

    Also, if the US didn’t provide required evidence, then the whole name thing is moot.

    Now, the timeline:
    Sat. 6/15: The US makes the request
    Mon. 6/17: Hong Kong says it is *drafting* a *list of questions* about the request.  Note, this is not them making a request for information.
    Fri. 6/21: Hong Kong sends the actual request for clarification.
    Sun. 6/23: Ed leaves.

    So, it took them a week to draft a list of clarifications, which was then sent on a Friday?  My guess is the state dept should have had someone standing by to answer the request immediately, which is where they dropped the second ball.

    But you can’t tell me that a five-to-seven day delay (depending on when you start counting) in asking for clarification isn’t foot dragging.  Or bureaucratic red tape, I suppose.

    And then, of course the US didn’t respond because Ed left a day-and-a-half to two days later.  Why reply?

    Anyway, I have no love for the gov’t in this.  They are already complicit in all sorts of despicable things.  There’s no need to invent more, as all it does is add to the Snowden-cover masking the real issues.


    1.  Or maybe the everyday operation of the Federal government is less like a Jason Bourne movie and more like Brazil.

          1.  Cue the running-single-file-with-Snowden-in-the-lead skit, with Yakity-Sax accompaniment.

          2. Now I kind of want to see Eraserhead in its entirety with Yakety Sax as the soundtrack.

    2. Magnificent manoeuvring by the HK officials, intended or otherwise. They didn’t want their hands dirty, and the US complicated things by requesting extradition on items not covered by extradition treaties. 5 days may be an appropriate time to get lawyers to review all the relevant law.

    3. Re: your point 2):

      I think that if you’re a government requesting the extradition of one of your citizens from another country you can take the time to specify that person’s full name. If such formalities are ever called for to be followed to the letter, then this is one. “Edward J.”, indeed! The HK authorities were right to sit on their hands until they got a request with his full name, if that is what they did.

  6. Maybe they don’t really want to catch him. There must be lots of people who took a job where they had to keep secrets, and found the secrets were not the ones they expected. They may not blow the whistle themselves, and yet still be pleased that it happened, and prepared to stretch a point if it might help him get away with it. I hope so, anyhow.
    “Lisa, if you don’t like your job, you don’t strike: you just go in every day and do it really half assed. That’s the American way.” –Homer Simpson

  7. When Mrs. Foschea, in the sixth grade, docked me 10 points for not writing my name, date, class period, and room number in the upper right hand corner of my history paper…. THIS is the kind of thing she was preparing me for.

    1.  Mrs. McElliott in 8th grade math did exactly the same. Plus to have the piece of paper pre-folded before doing homework a certain way. Definitely a bureaucratic preview of life.

  8. More likely they were arrogant twits that expected him to just be meekly handed over based on the fact that the US is the god-king of the universe, and thus didn’t consider the extra few minutes it’d take to fill out the forms properly was particularly worth doing.

    1. This x1000.  Even on BB we are getting caught up in the Snowden and forgetting the actual fucking story – massive unaccountable criminality (in spirit if not technically in practice) on the part of the US government.


      1.   And this, combined, got eight (8) likes on BB.

        Now, what’s the latest fallout? Nothing?
        Nah, SnodenSchnowden all over. A lawyer answering your questions (BBers, go over voting for the right ones, pls!) at 5pm BST Thursday at the guardian.  A lawyer. (Remember Henry VI? Be afraid. The Power is always not in favour of those who have chosen the wrong side in court.)

        Meanwhile, not kittens on the top of the guardian’s HP, but “Dogs dressed as their owners”.

        A failwhale is ging to hit Islington, I’m sure of that. Or a pot of petunias. Again.

  9. Am I the only one around here who thinks people massively overestimate the skill, talent, and intelligence of people working in government? It’s not the movies. It’s probably very average people in a rush cutting corners and doing a bad job.

    1. Actually, there are lots of competent people in government.  Its just that they were probably not trusted with this “important” task.  It was likely handled by the political appointees and their lackeys, who are generally not very competent.  This smacks of gross incompetence, and career bureaucrats/lawyers working for the Justice Dept. are not incompetent. To me it just arrogance and incompetence at the highest levels.  The guys who draft this stuff all the time do not make such dumb mistakes.

    2. But when the job that you’re doing at that moment is the number one news story in half the world, shouldn’t you do your best?

      1.  That’s what all the semi-literate spawn of Republican political donors were thinking while they were running Iraq in the early days of the occupation.  ‘We really need to do this right, the world is watching.’

        I suspect they were actually thinking ‘we are gods and can do no wrong’.  My point being – just because it is important doesn’t mean people aren’t capable of being clueless incompetents.  It often brings it out in them.

  10. I remember hearing the same thing when the Bush administration asked/demanded that the Taliban turn over bin Laden.

    US:  Turn over bin Laden!  He masterminded 9/11!
    Taliban:  Could we see, perhaps, some evidence?
    US: @#$%^! [invades]

  11. Just a guess, but I’ve got to imagine that any pre- or post-unification extradition treaties that the U.S. has with HK are probably narrowly focused on cases involving the Triads, where there are mutual interests being served. It wouldn’t be just a free-for-all “deliver on request” deal. 

    I’m sure it would have been relatively trivial to make an extradition request for Snowden that would’ve met the terms of the treaty (theft, collusion, extortion, etc.), but that would’ve required an international lawyer who knew or cared about Hong Kong.

  12. Once again we are complicit to diversions and distractions.  The problem here is what the heck is the gov’t doing with all this information and who is paying for it, and why is it going to third party contractors.  Ok I know why but I’m just saying.

  13. I’m guessing that they’re so used to bullying air travelers, American citizens, and the phone companies that they’re in the habit of thinking anyone they ask for something will just hand it over.

  14. Notice how the story went from ‘the NSA is spying on americans’ to ‘US seeks to extradite/capture/charge Snowden’? 
    The chase is better for the administration because they can distract from the story that started this whole thing. Snowden said it himself when he claimed he didn’t want it to be about him, but the government’s actions. 
    Also, in the well timed interview with the South China Morning Post (published Thursday, 20th), Snowden claimed that the US was spying on Chinese citizen cell calls. This would cause HK & Beijing to be less than prompt about their actions while they figure it out. 

  15. Judging from the “quality” of the No-Fly list, and stories of innocents detained and Gitmo or killed in drone strikes, the government doesn’t seem to care about positively identifying someone before persecuting them.

  16. Sloppy? Have any of you actually read the extradition treaty?  It does NOT call for a full name. It does NOT call for a passport number. In fact, all it asks for is an”description” of the fugitive and any information that might “help identify” the person or their nationality.  Section 8 of the following:

    Hong Kong case law allows for detention in extradition cases under the lower standard of proof.

    Hong Kong’s bogus reply is like telling a cop “help, a guy stole my computer” and the cop saying “do you have his name or drivers license number? I can’t chase him until you give me that”.  

    But I guess it is just easier to use Hong Kong’s claims of sloppiness as some confirmation bias to existing pre-conceived stereotypes many have about Americans.

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