In articles discussing the whereabouts of Edward Snowden, both Glenn Greenwald and Charlie Savage provided PDF files as evidence. The screen capture above is from page 1 of the Pang & Associates memo. The Dragnet News has previously discussed some of the content in this memo.
The additional information here is compelling enough for a deeper dive into this memo.
Here at The Dragnet News, dissecting the frog is one of the top priorities. Surface-level inspections can have their uses, especially due to time constraints of writers and readers alike. But when time allows for careful examinations of the inner workings and finer details, the emphasis will be placed there.
This memo needs that extra attention.
After the initial reading of the documents, the next step is to determine what these documents say and what they don’t say.
This is a legal memo, produced by Pang & Associates on behalf of their client, The Mira. Legal memos are typically carefully crafted. Each word, sentence, and paragraph are given due consideration. If something isn’t stated explicitly, there’s usually a legal reason for that choice.
Reading through the memo and disregarding the redactions might give the impression that they are discussing Snowden’s records. It doesn’t actually say it, though.
There’s several parts to consider here. Let’s start with this:
RE: Residential record of a guest
Nothing about this tells readers which exact guest is being referenced here. The next part continues this trend.
[Extensive Redaction] our client hereby provides the following documents for your client’s information:-
This memo does not definitively state that these records/documents are Snowden’s. While it is easy to get the impression that they relate to him, this is because his name is the only one that is left visible in the memo body and in the list.
Redactions are subtractive. They take away people’s access to [extensive redaction.] As such, select reactions can change the entire original meaning of a document.
As discussed in the earlier piece, an existing Hong Kong ordinance requires the redaction of personal information if it has not been authorized for further disclosure. A third party has been redacted from this memo, not only in the memo’s body but in line 2 of the document list.
The redaction in the body is quite long. Using the lines above and below the redaction as a reference, it could be 80 characters in length. This figure is based on counting the letters and spaces while excluding punctuation. However, this is likely the maximum count and it may well be less, as the memo uses a “justified” text layout.
This redaction obscured more than just a person’s name. It’s long enough to obscure the precise purpose of the verification with this third party. Consider that the portion of the previous sentence which is italicized and bolded is 80 characters long. This count used the same counting method mentioned earlier.
Clearly there is a great deal of information under that redaction which the public is not privy to. It could be obscuring anything. For instance, it could easily be redacting the following hypothetical text:
… including but not limited to verification with [unnamed party. In consideration of his/her consent to release the requested records,] our client hereby …
This text allows for a name that is 15 characters long, plus one more character for the space between the first and last name. Keep in mind, this is merely hypothetical.
However, the memo provides even more enlightening information, such as the writing in the initial sentence.
… the original written authorization of Mr. Edward Joseph Snowden with English translation.
At first glance, we might think nothing of this. It seems to be just an acknowledgement that the lawyers for The Mira have previously received some form of authorization from Snowden. We don’t know precisely what was authorized.
That little line proves that The Mira had already received everything they would have needed to be able to release the records. There was no additional third party needed if this request was solely for Snowden’s records.
A good reason to involve a third party would be if a third party’s data was involved. Which, based on the other redaction of item 2 in the list, it is more than reasonable to infer that a third party’s data was involved.
Looking through the list again, there is only one item that is specifically identified as belonging to Snowden; his passport details. None of the other items specify to whom the records belong. If a third party wasn’t involved and then redacted from the record, there would be little to question.
As mentioned in the earlier piece, even one of Snowden’s lawyers seemingly didn’t want their name associated with these documents. Considering all the problems uncovered in these analyses and the chain of custody of these documents, it is no wonder why.
Side Note: Perhaps this piece is also useful as an illustration of one investigation tactic used at The Dragnet News. It may take significantly longer to perform this style of analysis, but it has its uses. In some cases, it may be overkill. But here, it was immensely helpful.