—Mohammad Fazl is a former deputy defense minister and chief of staff and commander for the Taliban army. “Detainee is wanted by the U.N. for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shiites. Detainee was associated with terrorist groups currently opposing U.S. and coalition forces,” according to a 2008 detainee assessment by the U.S. military. “If released, detainee would likely rejoin the Taliban and establish ties with … elements participating in hostilities against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.”
—Abdul Haq Wasiq served as the Taliban deputy minister of intelligence and had direct access to the Taliban leadership. “He was central to the Taliban’s efforts to form alliances with other Islamic fundamentalist groups to fight alongside the Taliban against U.S. and coalition forces after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks,” according to military records. “Detainee utilized his office to support al-Qaida and to assist Taliban personnel elude capture. Detainee arranged for al-Qaida personnel to train Taliban intelligence staff.”
—Mullah Norullah Nori was a senior Taliban commander in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif when the Taliban fought U.S. forces in late 2001. He previously served as a Taliban governor in two northern provinces, where he has been accused by the U.N. of ordering the massacre of thousands of Shiites. “Detainee continues to be a significant figure encouraging acts of aggression and his brother is currently a Taliban commander conducting operations against U.S. and coalition forces,” a 2008 U.S. military assessment of Nori said.
—Khairullah Khairkhwa served in various Taliban positions, including interior minister and as a military commander, had direct ties to Taliban chief Mullah Omar and the late al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, according to U.S. military documents. His U.S. lawyers have argued that his affiliation with the Taliban was a matter of circumstance, rather than ideology, and that he had backed away from them by the time of his capture. His lawyers also have argued that he was merely a civil servant and had no military role.
In February 2011, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, through the Afghan High Peace Council, requested that the U.S. release Khairkhwa, claiming he was a “moderate official of the Taliban government” who would “positively contribute to the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.” The U.S. District Court in Washington declined to release Khairkhwa. At the time, the Obama administration argued that he remained a threat because of his past association with Omar and actions in the fight against U.S.-led coalition forces.
—Mohammed Nabi served as chief of security for the Taliban in Qalat, Afghanistan, later worked as a radio operator for the Taliban’s communications office in Kabul and was an office manager in the border department, according to U.S. military documents. In the spring of 2002, he told interrogators that he received about $500 from a CIA operative as part of the unsuccessful effort to track down Omar. When that didn’t pan out, he is said to have helped the agency locate al-Qaida members.
Source: 2008 U.S. military assessments of Guantanamo detainees released by Wikileaks.
A man named William Frederick Seiler has been missing since 1958.
His granddaughter, Tracy Seiler, made a plea on social media recently to anyone who might be helpful: “If you recognize him, even by a different name, please contact me. I’d love to know what happened to him.”
This is a very cold case getting colder, but here is what known:
On Oct. 6, 1958, Bill Seiler went to the Carlton House Downtown to meet Mark Alexander, a potential investor in his business. Mr. Seiler, 35, was in plastics manufacturing.
His family last heard from him that afternoon when he called his wife, Rose. She reported to The Pittsburgh Press that “he sounded awfully happy.”
Rose was at home at 1125 St. Martin St. in the South Side Slopes with their three children. Her husband’s wallet was found on the Smithfield Street Bridge. His white 1958 Chrysler was found in a parking garage on Seventh Street. Mr. Seiler was never found.
“Tons of rumors ran through the family about what happened to him,” Ms. Seiler told me. “The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that he didn’t commit suicide and he liked to gamble.”
An unidentified clergyman called the police after receiving Mr. Seiler’s parking claim ticket in an anonymous envelope. A newspaper in the car was opened to the racing section. A garage attendant told police Mr. Seiler was carrying a wad of cash.
The story remained in the papers for a few days.
Some family members think Bill Seiler may have gone into hiding with a secret.
Tracy Seiler said her older relatives refuse to talk about the case, but her cousin, Sandy Seiler, has researched the disappearance as part of her genealogical work. She learned the investigation was taken on by Lawrence Maloney, an assistant superintendent of city police at the time who was later accused of racketeering but acquitted at trial.
Retired Pittsburgh police Cmdr. Ron Freeman, a police historian, was contacted see if he remembered the Seiler case. He didn’t, but he knew Mr. Maloney as “a corrupt individual. I remember him requiring us to buy uniforms and equipment from one vendor and we found out he was getting kickbacks from them.”
Mr. Freeman called several retired officers who might have remembered the Seiler case and said they all showed an interest but could recollect nothing.
He was asked whether Maloney may have taken the investigation in order to quash it because he had something to do with Mr. Seiler. Mr. Freeman said Mr. Maloney could have exercised some malevolent influence over the case, but he was circumspect about that.
David Reich was a prosecutor for the U.S. attorney who worked on the racketeering case against Mr. Maloney. Despite the acquittal, Mr. Reich said he was sure he was guilty; racketeers testified that Mr. Maloney took money from them and that anyone who reneged got a visit from “Maloney’s Marauders,” who smashed their doors.
“The Maloney Marauders made him a prominent public figure who had the appearance of being a crime fighter, and I think he valued that image,” Mr. Reich said. “I have no reason to speak highly of Maloney, but I’m not inclined to accuse him [of having anything to do with Bill Seiler’s disappearance]. Some cases just don’t get solved.”
Sandy Seiler, whose father was Bill’s brother, said she has hit “a brick wall” investigating her uncle’s disappearance.
“I know that the family claimed him legally dead after seven years,” she wrote to me, “but I spent the cash to check on his death certificate. The return reply was ‘None found.’ ”
Closure is the last word in the chapter of a life, and the unfinished chapter of Bill’s in the Seilers’ book is poignant to me as I think of my own father. Although unknown to each other, the two men were born six months apart and both served in the U.S. Army in World War II.
Some cases don’t get solved, but the last words in Bill Seiler’s chapter are out there somewhere.
The White House-backed USA Freedom Act would require companies to supply call logs of intelligence targets and those of their contacts to authorities as needed. But companies would not need to keep logs longer than they do now, and authorities would need court approval to search records.
The major U.S. cellphone service providers currently have wide-ranging record retention policies, offering surveillance-wary customers – or those who may have ordered pizza from the same shop as a terror suspect – a range of privacy options.
A federal regulation requires landline providers to store call detail records 18 months, but wireless companies store the records for shorter – or significantly longer – periods of time.
Verizon Wireless, the country’s largest cell service provider, keeps call detail records for about one year, a company spokesman says. Second-place AT&T holds them “as long as we need,” according to the company’s website, though AT&T spokesman Michael Balmoris tells U.S. News the retention period is five years.
T-Mobile holds call records between seven and 10 years, spokesman Viet Nguyen says. MetroPCS maintains separate records and keeps them two years.
Sprint holds call logs 18 months, spokeswoman Stephanie Vinge Walsh says. U.S. Cellular holds records one year, according to spokeswoman Katie Frey.
There are a number of other cell service providers that lease network space from the five major operators.
TracFone Wireless, the largest such provider, tells U.S. News in a statement that the company doesn’t “comment on matters related to customer data and records.”
Credo Mobile, a smaller company that uses space on Sprint’s network, keeps records three years. The self-branded “progressive” firm finances a highly active advocacy group, Credo Action, which lobbies against surveillance laws like Section 215 of the Patriot Act – a provision that both the Bush and Obama administrations used to justify bulk phone record collection.
“All carriers should aim to minimize their storage of telephone customer metadata to the extent allowed by law, especially in light of the current debate in Congress over reauthorization of the Patriot Act Section 215,” says Becky Bond, vice president of Credo Mobile.
“As a telecom that can be compelled by the government to participate in unconstitutional spying on Americans, we urge the Senate to fight to sunset Section 215 of the Patriot Act and oppose the USA Freedom Act,” Bond says.
At least one cellphone service provider does not keep records of customers’ calls and therefore cannot be forced to provide them to authorities.
FreedomPop, which says it’s nearing 1 million customers, leases space on Sprint’s data network. Similar to the Internet service Skype, it uses technology for calls known as Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, that shields customers from such requests, spokesman Tony Miller says.
One of FreedomPop’s products, the encrypted and so-called Snowden phone, was marketed in direct response to the bulk records collection exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in June 2013.
The Freedom Act would, its backers say, end the bulk collection of call records, but many civil libertarians prefer that Section 215 expire as currently mandated on June 1 rather than be modified by the bill. Many privacy advocates voted against the Freedom Act when it passed the House of Representatives on May 13. Others support the act, however, pointing out bulk collection might migrate to another legal authority – such as another section of the Patriot Act – if the bill does not pass.
There’s no guarantee the Freedom Act will clear the Senate, where it failed to reach the 60-vote threshold for consideration last year and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing instead for a clean extension of Section 215.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who plans to vote for the Freedom Act, says her backup plan in the event of an eleventh-hour impasse is legislation that would force wireless companies to store records longer than they currently do – an idea vigorously opposed by privacy advocates that also may legally entitle telecom companies to compensation.
“It’s particularly important now that companies be allowed to compete for their customers over privacy, and to compete for their privacy you have to be able to offer less data retention, offer more secure services, and the government shouldn’t be in the business of telling those companies what services they’re allowed to offer,” says American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Alex Abdo, who successfully argued the collection is illegal before a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. The panel found earlier this month that Section 215 doesn’t authorize the program.
Failure of the Freedom Act and continuation of the bulk collection of call records wouldn’t be a total loss for privacy advocates, though. In fact, it likely would provide better footing for lawsuits like one from the ACLU seeking a declaration that the practice is unconstitutional and a fundamental modification of the existing third-party doctrine – the legal argument that Americans have no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding information voluntarily shared with companies. Passage of the Freedom Act could kill some or all of those cases, two of which are awaiting appeals court rulings.
Government officials defending Section 215 bulk collection in court have largely refused to acknowledge that any of the major cellphone service providers are affected by secret court orders requiring them to turn over customer call records, saying Verizon Business Network Services – the company affected in a court order leaked by Snowden – is the only confirmed entity impacted.
But officials also have made little effort to deny the data collection is happening, and U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in 2013 surmised Verizon Wireless had been affected, granting standing for a lawsuit from legal activist Larry Klayman and finding the collection likely violates the Fourth Amendment.
Though surveillance by federal agencies like the NSA has animated public debate about the privacy of phone records, the storage time by cell providers can come into play in routine criminal cases and civil lawsuits as well.
“The virtue of those other contexts is they are almost always in the context of an individualized investigation,” Abdo says. “There are certainly privacy questions and concerns, but they’re of a different magnitude than the NSA’s bulk collection.”
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