History Commons Groups

September 10, 2010

The Votes are In!

Filed under: community,History Commons 2.0 — Max @ 8:58 pm
Tags: ,

Okay, the votes are in, and it’s an interesting set of results and comments.

To the question, “Do you feel the History Commons is an inaccessible ‘walled garden’?” the votes are as follows:

Yes: 13
No: 58

That’s over 80% of respondents who don’t feel the History Commons is a “walled garden.” Here are some of the comments, reproduced from the poll results at PollDaddy:

“Tenstring” writes: “I would just say that the website is very raw, that is it’s just basically a collection of data — and that’s probably good. People can come and follow the timelines and come to their own conclusions. It would open a can of worms to provide analysis, although I wouldn’t be against it. It would certainly potentially complicate things, though.” Agreed. We weren’t suggesting analysis, you can get that just about anywhere and in any flavor, from hard-right to hard-left and anywhere in between. That has never been what HC is about. JZ disagrees with the idea that the Commons is “just basically a collection of data,” and has some very nice things to say about HC stacking up well against Wikipedia “in regards to value from the interconnections it reveals due to its format.” I agree with that 100%; it’s one reason why I write for the Commons instead of Wikipedia. HC contributor Erik Larson writes that HC offers “great insight into the big picture and small details are available from MSM and govt reports, but they are often ignored by the majority of pols and pundits, and missed by the general public, as they may be buried deep in the reports, at the ends of articles or on the inner pages, or only reported by a single news outlet, or only make sense in context with other information, which is not provided by MSM journalists; this is what historycommons.org does so well, and the org deserves greater attention.” Rick Mason sums it up well: “I always considered CCR as an information gathering site with verified and accurate contributions from responsible journalists. It’s where I go when I wish to make sure I’m talking about facts, not rumors. It would be great if it were interactive.”

Commentator Kevin Boulton recommends a program like Visual Thesaurus to “visually link” some of the events on the HC projects; we have considered something like this, and while I’m personally not sure VT is itself the solution, there are some very, very good visual information organizers out there that I’d love to see implemented as corollaries to our existing projects. JZ recommends looking at visual organizers such as The Brain, and steers us towards a TED video by David McCandless. The Brain looks terrific at first glance, and the video is very informative. I would welcome further discussion along these lines.

JZ asks about HC having “its own forum that is part of the site but not simply a commenting system for each entry which I think would fragment the feedback,” and recommends something along the lines of the Citizen Investigation Team forum. I would love to see such a forum implemented. If anyone has any ideas about implementing — and hosting and moderating! — such a forum, please let us know.

Overall, I find the responses heartening. We originally conceived of the idea of “History Commons 2.0” as essentially revamping the application and redesigning the site to be more user-friendly, along with adding some more interactive features. We’ve come to see that approach as lacking a fundamental understanding of what the History Commons is. As I wrote in a working draft for the HC staff: “History Commons 2.0 is not a revised app and a redone design, it’s a new community of contributors and participants.” The app will grow out of the needs and participation of the community, not the other way around. Discussions like this one are the first steps in growing a new and vibrant History Commons community. Let’s extend it by talking over some of the points above in the comments.

September 8, 2010

What ‘Albert’ Did First

Filed under: Torture and Abuse — kevinfenton @ 3:31 pm
Tags: , , ,

The AP today published a story identifying the CIA officer who tried to scare al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri with a gun and power drill by the alias “Albert.” It also mentions that “Albert” had previously worked for the FBI as a translator in New York, as well as other nuggets of information such as the fact he later left the agency and returned as a (presumably better paid) contractor.

Upon reading this, I could not help but recall that we may have come across this guy before in another, similar context. From Jane Mayer’s Dark Side, regarding the CIA taking militant training camp manager Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi away from the FBI:

… Several days into what the FBI regarded as winning al-Libi’s trust, a young Arabic-speaking CIA officer named “Albert,” who had previously worked for [FBI agent Jack Cloonan] Cloonan at the FBI as a junior language specialist, burst into the cell where [FBI agent Russell] Fincher was questioning al-Libi and started shouting at the prisoner. “You’re going to Egypt!” he yelled. “And while you’re there, I’m going to find your mother and f*ck her!”

Mayer says that “Albert” is “young,” whereas the AP story gives his age as 60 (meaning he would have been 51 in 2001), so that’s not right, but the fact that the aliases are identical–and the AP story hints that “Albert” might be his real first name–and the fact that both Alberts were previously FBI translators in New York lead me to believe that both Alberts may be the same guy (and let’s not forget both of them had a penchant for methods that some might describe as overly aggressive).

I had previously speculated that the Albert who threatened al-Libi was Andrew Warren (a young and, apparently, also crazy CIA officer in Afghanistan at that time), but this speculation now appears to be completely wrong. Nevertheless, I am gratified that two of the people we have been writing about have turned out to be not two people, but one person. I suspect that as we learn more about what has being going on, there will be more and more of this.

September 2, 2010

9/11 Commission Documents about the US Embassy in Riyadh

This post lists all the documents we are finding in the 9/11 Commission’s archives about the US Embassy in Riyadh, at which four visas were issued to the 9/11 hijackers.The documents have been posted at the 9/11 Document Archive at Scribd. I am reading through the commission’s documents gradually and highlighting interesting information. This post will be updated if I find any more information related to the embassy.

A memo of a February 2003 State Department inspector general interview of a consular officer who issued a visa to 9/11 hijacker Satam al Suqami in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in November 2000. The officer says that she did interview al Suqami and recalls his photo, although the 9/11 Commission later suggested she did not interview him. She also says she later helped develop the Visa Express programme. The officer may be Elizabeth Colton, the Vice Consul in Riyadh at this time.

Another version of the memo with a page missing.

A memo of a January 2003 State Department inspector general interview of a consular officer who issued a visa to 9/11 hijacker Hamza Alghamdi in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in October 2000. The consular officer says there were hits in the consular database, but that they were for people with similar names and different dates of birth. The officer says he did not interview Alghamdi and he probably would have given him a visa even if he had.

Another version of the document with slightly different redactions.

A memo of a January 2003 State Department inspector general interview of a female consular officer who issued visas to 9/11 hijackers Mohand Alshehri and Majed Moqed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in October and November 2000. She says that there were “hits” the in the consular database for the two men, but she determined these were for similar people, not Alshehri and Moqed. She did not interview them.

Another version of the document with slightly different redactions.

A list of 28 questions put by the US State Department Inspector General to the various consular officers who issued visas to the 9/11 hijackers.

Notes on a June 2002 telephone conversation with a State Department official about the number of US consular positions worldwide.

Withdrawal notices from the 9/11 Commission’s files, one for a telephone directory for the US embassy in Abu Dhabi, the other for a list of consular staff at the US embassies in Riyadh and Berlin.

The masterlist for all documents the 9/11 Timeline has obtained and is analysing can be found here.

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