I contacted Western Digital and (as expected) didn't get anywhere.  They claim 
they don't support OSs other than Windows and OS X, so once you ask questions 
beyond that, they are less than helpful.

I did make some progress in terms of potentially determining the cause of the 
different behavior.

Every drive has the same model number, except for the 
trailing characters that denote color.  No one specific color works or 
doesn't work.  The model numbers all begin with WDBBEP0010B and end with BK, 
BL, RD, or SL.
 
Functional drives are internally denoted as "My Passport" and have firmware 
version v1.019.
 
There are two sorts of broken drives, one listed as "My Passport (Z)" and 
others called "My Passport Essential".  Versions of firmware that do not work 
are v1.010, v1.033, v1.042, and v1.049.  The last one appears to 
be the most current version.
 So it seems possible that if I could install firmware v1.019 on the other 
drives, they would all behave.  Of course, ideally, I'd like to have FreeBSD 
Just Work with all the drives, but one way or another I'd like to actually be 
able to use these things, and I'm less concerned with the nature of the 
solution at this point.

WD claims they have no means of installing older versions of the firmware on 
the old drives, but their brains shut down once they hear a scary word like 
"FreeBSD", so I doubt they're being accurate.

Somewhere exists an installer with that version of the firmware (they have a 
recently-updated installer with a newer version than was on my most 
recently-purchased drives, which also doesn't work with FreeBSD), but they 
don't offer it to the public.

Any suggestions?

Unfortunately it's hard to find ANY hardware that is explicitly approved for 
FreeBSD, so I did the next best thing.  I bought some samples to make sure they 
worked first, and they did.  I wasn't prepared for them to change the product 
without explanation and without changing the model number first.

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