Friday, July 18, 2014

Inspector General Reports: Biosecurity at Multiple Agencies (including CDC and NIH) a Joke/ USAToday

From USAT:

... CDC has not responded to USA TODAY's requests, under the Freedom of Information Act, filed in June 2012, for records involving lab safety and security incidents at the lab complex.
The latest set of "restricted" inspector general audits covered six federal entities conducting research on potential bioterror germs. Additional audits looked at how the agents are shipped and compliance at labs run by a sampling of universities and state, local and private labs.
For security reasons, the IG's office removed the names of the government agencies, universities and private firms that were running the labs. The specific germs or toxins were also withheld.
Among the reports' findings:
• An August 2009 report cites an undisclosed federal lab for not always restricting access to bioterror agents to approved individuals; failing to maintain complete records of who had accessed the specimens and not ensuring that individuals working with the specimens received proper training. In some cases, the agency had failed to cancel the electronic "swipe cards" and biometric access rights of people no longer authorized to be in the areas. "The Laboratory's access records showed that the three individuals entered select agent areas a total of 35 times after their access rights were terminated," the report notes.
• A June 2006 summary report examining labs at 15 universities found weaknesses at 11 of them. Three had incomplete inventory records. One university told auditors it "could not verify inventory records because it lacked qualified personnel to safely perform this function." Six universities were cited for issues that could have allowed unapproved individuals to access areas where specimens were stored, including one university where unapproved individuals could have generated keys for themselves and others.
A January 2008 summary report about issues at state, local, private and commercial labs, which was sent to Julie Gerberding, the CDC's director at the time, found problems at all of them that "could have compromised the ability to safeguard select agents from accidental or intentional loss." The issues included not adequately restricting access to approved individuals, insufficient security plans and lack of documented training. Although the eight entities had agreed with auditors' recommendations for corrections, the IG noted that six months had passed and CDC lab inspectors still hadn't documented corrections and submitted reports to auditors.
An April 2009 audit sent to the CDC's acting director at the time, Richard Besser, found problems in the transfer of specimens between undisclosed labs and failures by labs to ensure that only approved individuals received the packages. "Allowing unapproved individuals to handle select agents increased the risk that the agents could be lost or stolen, thereby potentially posing a severe threat to public health and safety," the auditors wrote. Yet CDC's lab inspectors were not adequately monitoring or enforcing requirements that labs protect against loss or theft during such transfers. Of 24 entities where auditors found unauthorized individuals accepting delivery of specimen packages, CDC inspectors had cited only four of them. CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said this week the agency has strengthened its inspection process since the report was written.
• A December 2009 audit involved a federal agency that described itself in an attached response letter as "the Nation's premier biomedical research institution." The National Institutes of Health has used that phrase in online publications to describe itself. Violations cited in the report included failure to maintain accurate and current inventory records. "The laboratory did not conduct a physical count until apprised of our audit in October 2008, at which time the laboratory determined that it had seven vials of select agents that were not recorded in the inventory records," auditors wrote. The types of germs in the vials, which the report said dated from the 1960s, were redacted from the report. The agency in its response said auditors had overstated the potential consequences of their findings. Auditors wrote that they disagreed. The NIH press office, in a statement, said it was not able to confirm that the report is about its agency.
All of the reports about federal entities involve agencies that are part of HHS, according to the letterhead of agency response letters that had the specific agency name removed. HHS officials did not respond to USA TODAY's interview request about the IG reports, and referred all questions to the CDC. In addition to the CDC, the two other federal agencies involved in the forgotten smallpox vials — the FDA and NIH — are also part of HHS...

What happened to the last safety czar you appointed? Asked who this was, the CDC Director didn't know/ Reuters

I am posting the entire Reuters story below. Is it funny, pathetic, or both?
CDC Director Tom Frieden promised Congress to appoint a senior official to oversee lab security in a 2012 letter responding to a Congressional inquiry. Asked about this person at the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Hearing on Wednesday (at 1 hr 25 minutes), Frieden could not recall who had been appointed.  The next day, CDC spokesman Skinner said the official was appointed in March 2013, and that the official was Joseph Henderson.
One problem:  Henderson had been sitting next to Frieden at the witness table the day before.  It seems he didn't know he was the appointee, or he would have presumably informed Frieden and the committee. Will Frieden get another chance to spout happy talk to Congress? Watch his performance at the hearing, where he probably pissed off every member of the subcommittee with his canned non-answers.  (He sounded like a slightly impatient teacher explaining the same thing over and over to slow children, never ever expanding beyond his brief, initial comments. OTOH, there may have been good reasons why Frieden desperately avoided veering from his script.)

Here is the Reuters story
(Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers investigating repeated safety lapses at government laboratories questioned Thursday whether the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was up to the task of fixing the problem, given similar promises to remedy such breaches in 2012.
The CDC is under scrutiny for a June incident, in which more than 80 lab workers may have been exposed to live anthrax bacteria that was mistakenly sent out of a high-security lab on its Atlanta campus. Federal investigators have since reported dozens of other infractions at CDC labs that handle deadly pathogens such as anthrax and avian flu.
A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee is investigating the incident and the CDC's response. Committee members are weighing the possibility of imposing new outside oversight on CDC labs and crafting national lab safety standards that would be administered by a single government body.
On Thursday, Committee Chairman Fred Upton made public a 2012 letter from CDC Director Dr Thomas Frieden saying the agency had put a senior official in charge of lab security and was soliciting advice from outside experts in biosecurity.
"We have designated a senior official who will report directly to the CDC Director regarding concerns or complaints related to safety at CDC's laboratories," Frieden said in the letter from September 2012 that was addressed to Upton.
Two years later, those measures did not appear to prevent a new round of safety breaches, including the anthrax incident.
Last week, Frieden said the CDC had appointed Dr. Michael Bell to be in charge of lab safety issues and would convene a panel of outside experts to advise the agency.
“These measures sound very similar to the corrective actions Dr. Frieden outlined last Friday to address the current lab crisis," Upton said. "Why should we believe this time that things will be different?”
Frieden testified on Wednesday at a hearing of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
When asked about the senior official put in charge of lab security in 2012, Frieden was unable to name the appointee or describe the official's duties.
"I will have to get back to you about that to get you the name and the details of what was done pursuant to that letter," he told Representative Gregg Harper, a Mississippi Republican.
CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said on Thursday that CDC official Joseph Henderson was named to the position around March 2013, and that the role included a broader portfolio of responsibilities. Henderson, currently director of the Office of Safety, Security and Asset Management, sat next to Frieden at the witness table during the subcommittee hearing.
"When that letter was written in September 2012, there may have been a person designated in an acting role. Joe was hired full time seven months later in 2013," Skinner said.

Monday, July 14, 2014

CDC says there were 269 separate, reported incidents of lost or escaped 'select agent' microbes in 2010/ Reuters

Not to put too fine a point on it, but today's Reuters story has even more bad news on safety at our highest containment labs:
According to a 2012 report by CDC scientists, there were 16 incidents of lost or escaped microbes from select-agent labs in 2004, meaning everything from misplaced samples to an infected researcher walking out the door harboring a virus. That rose to 128 in 2008 and 269 in 2010.
There is some good news.  In light of all this, CDC Director Tom Frieden has proposed reducing the number of high containment labs in the US, and at CDC.  Sounds like a great idea! Also from the Reuters story:
    In the wake of disclosures that top government labs mishandled anthrax, smallpox and avian flu, U.S. health authorities are considering the once unthinkable: cutting the burgeoning number of labs working with the planet's most dangerous microbes.
    When the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week unveiled a report documenting multiple safety breaches at its labs, its director for the first time suggested the country turn back the rapid-fire proliferation of such research units, which have tripled in little more than a decade to at least 1,500. 
    "One of the things that we want to do is reduce the number of laboratories that work with dangerous agents to the absolute minimum necessary," said CDC Director Dr Thomas Frieden. "Reduce the number of people who have access to those laboratories to the absolute minimum necessary. Reduce the number of dangerous pathogens we work with." 
    His remarks may vindicate the views of a small group of biosafety and biosecurity experts who see that as the only way to protect dangerous viruses and bacteria from both lab accidents and thefts.... 
UPDATE:  US Government purges more than half the members of an NIH biosafety advisory board, including several anthrax experts.  Guess the executive branch has its own ideas about the kind of advice it wants, and feared it might not be forthcoming from this group.  See email sent to the 11 members here.

CDC scientists' lack of understanding of anthrax is shocking and terrifying


The WaPo has published the full text of the CDC report on its anthrax mishap last month, with mention of a number of other, almost identical mishaps...one even from the same lab... in which highly virulent, live bacteria, including anthrax, H5N1 avian flu and Clostridium botulinum were transferred to other labs, on the assumption they were benign strains or had been killed.

However, the report deemphasizes a critical safety breech:  that multiple lab personnel failed to appreciate the differences between anthrax spores and vegetative organisms.  It further minimizes the risk from live spores.

The report repeatedly states that the procedure used to inactivate anthrax would have worked for vegetative forms of anthrax.  The report admits the procedure did not completely kill spores.

There's an understatement.  Vegetative, growing anthrax bacteria can be killed by almost anything, including flying through the air. They cannot be used as a weapon due to their fragility.  

But spores are an entirely different matter.  There are very few things that kill anthrax spores, which can live for hundreds of years. That is why it was so difficult and expensive to decontaminate buildings contaminated with them.  An area harboring anthrax spores remains dangerous for the foreseeable future.  Scotland's Gruinard Island, where anthrax was tested during World War 2, was off limits to humans for 45 years, until it was decontaminated by being bathed in formaldehyde.

At CDC, an inactivation procedure was used on anthrax spores that was developed for vegetative, growing Brucella bacteria, yet was expected to inactivate spores.  This fact alone is astounding.  It shows complete lack of understanding of what the scientists were dealing with.  The report says its scientists had "inadequate knowledge of the peer-reviewed literature" on anthrax.  I would say they knew nothing about how to work with anthrax and are lucky they are still alive. They did not understand what they were doing, and should be reassigned away from select agents.

Even after 24 hours in a chemical bath, not all spores were killed.  Four colonies grew from an estimated 50,000 put on a plate.  Based on this, CDC's report claims there was no problem, as not enough spores (only about 1 in 10,000) might have lived to cause trouble.

However, only an estimated 50,000 spores were plated.  But how many were transferred to other labs? That number is never provided.  Bruce Ivins kept 1 trillion spores per ml (milliliter) in his flask at Fort Detrick. Fermenters produce one billion organisms per ml.  Most experiments require many orders of magnitude more than were plated. A reasonable guess might be that 10 billion spores were transferred.  At the given rate of inactivation, a million anthrax spores would have remained viable. According to the NY Times:
Over the next few days, scientists in two other labs where breathing equipment was not used agitated the bacteria and sprayed them with compressed gas, which could have blown spores into the air.
Could have blown spores into the air?  Clearly, these procedures did release spores into the air. Luckily for the scientists, it usually takes thousands of spores to cause infection.  But the occasional person (consider nanogenarian Ottilie Lundgren in Connecticut) may succumb to just a few spores.

The litany of mistakes that were made, detailed in the report's Findings, is breathtaking.  Lack of understanding of anthrax. Lack of SOPs. Lack of appropriate experimental design. Failure to follow CDC's own protocols, where they existed. Lack of supervision. Lack of timely communication when the incident was discovered, including identifying employees who may have been exposed so they could receive prophylaxis. (See page 16 of the Report.)  However, I disagree that it was highly unlikely that staff were exposed to anthrax:  they were, more likely, simply not exposed to enough anthrax spores, along with receiving prophylactic antibiotics, to induce disease.

Good recommendations are made to prevent a repeat in this report.  However, as the NY Times notes below, CDC has failed repeatedly to correct the very same problems identified in the report.  Decades ago, Fort Detrick lost two employees at its research facility to anthrax.  Many of us think it simply isn't possible for thousands of labs to perform this type of work safely.  It needs a tremendous degree of attention, care, and a paranoid mindset.  I would not trust myself to do it.  

It is slow working in a moon suit with a self-contained breathing apparatus.  You don't get to do blockbuster science this way. 

Have lower caliber scientists been shunted to the labs that perform this type of work, when what is required are the highest caliber, in order to do it safely?

UPDATE:  USDA's investigation of CDC finds even more bloopers and blunders, including failure to secure one of the labs that received the live anthrax.  People continued to transit the area for days after the mistake was discovered.  The CDC clinic failed to see exposed workers for up to 5 days, and advised some to check themselves for anthrax.  Anthrax was kept in an unlocked hall fridge; elsewhere, anthrax had gone missing.

2nd UPDATE:  Congressional memo with comments on USDA's APHIS report

Congress will be investigating with a hearing July 16.  From the Times:

Several experts on biosecurity noted that the inspector general’s office of the Department of Health and Human Services sent official complaints to the C.D.C. in 2008, 2009 and 2010 about undertrained lab personnel and improperly secured shipments.
Both Dr. Frieden and his predecessor, Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, replied in letters over their signatures that the problems would be fixed.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

CDC anthrax story keeps getting weirder

Latest update claimed that CDC scientists put anthrax into a chemical bath to inactivate it for 24 hours, but after only ten minutes took out a sample for plating and culturing to determine if viable spores remained.  They failed to plate the anthrax that was transferred, after 24 hours in a chemical bath. And it was the spores that were in the bath for 24 hours that were shipped to other labs.
From Reuters:
What researchers are trying to find out is whether that was long enough to kill the anthrax, Dr Paul Meechan, director of the CDC's environmental health and safety compliance office, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"We don't know that, but we're doing experiments to prove it," said Meechan. The CDC first disclosed the incident to Reuters a week ago.
An independent laboratory is running the same set of experiments to see if they get the same answers, which would add to the validity of the findings.
Meechan said workers in the bioterror lab were testing a new protocol for inactivating anthrax before sending the bacteria for experiments in two lower-security CDC labs.
The protocol they were following had been used by researchers at the CDC to inactivate other bacteria, but not on anthrax. It called for placing anthrax into a bath of acid for 10 minutes, removing some, putting it on a nutrient-rich plate and placing it in an incubator.
After 24 hours, the researchers checked to see if any colonies of anthrax had grown. None had, so the team took the anthrax that had been soaking in acid for 24 hours, put it on slides and sent it for testing in two other CDC labs.
1.  Why did it take 10 days for this piece of information to be reported?
2.  Why is CDC only now doing the allegedly appropriate experiment to determine if there even was an exposure to live anthrax, more than 2 weeks after the mistake was discovered?
3.  If scientists truly kept the anthrax spores in a bath for 24 hours, then they should have plated those spores to check for inactivation.  CDC says it is only now doing the experiment to see if 24 hours in the bath inactivates anthrax spores.  Really?  Only now you are doing the experiment that needed to be done (according to your own protocols) before any anthrax was sent elsewhere?
4.  Anthrax, when healthy, can go through enough doublings to form a visible colony on an agar plate in 18-24 hours.  After a bath in a harsh chemical, one should not assume they grow as fast. Even a small growth delay could require more time for visible growth on agar.  Even 48 hours should not be enough time to rule out the presence of viable, possibly mutated and slower-growing spores.
5.  Did researchers start with spores or vegetative forms of anthrax?  Vegetative forms are easily killed--but may convert to spores when placed in harsh conditions.  The spores can survive whatever method kills only the vegetative form.  Was there vegetative cell to spore conversion?
6.  To perform a valid experiment, you test one parameter of the experiment.  However, media reports claim that CDC scientists were testing a new method to detect anthrax.  To do so they were using anthrax that was killed by a new method.  When you have two variables (new methods) in this type of experiment, you need extra experimental arms to control for the presence of two variables.  There have been no reports that the experiment took this into account. Therefore the CDC experiment for which the anthrax was prepared was likely an example of junk science, i.e., could not produce a valid answer to the question posed no matter what result was obtained.
7.  Why, a week after the problem was discovered, had only 2/3 of potentially exposed individuals been seen by occupational health and treated using CDC-established post-exposure prophylaxis protocols?
8.  Here are CDC's recommendation for handling and proving the inactivation of anthrax spores (which were not followed) that were issued after a similar incident exposed lab workers to live anthrax at Oakland Children's Hospital in June 2004:
Inactivated suspensions of B. anthracis should be cultured both at the preparing laboratory before shipment and at the research laboratory several days before use to ensure sterility. Sensitivity of sterility testing might be enhanced by increasing the inoculum size and incubation time, and by inoculating in multiple media, including both solid and broth media. Such procedures would increase the probability of detecting even a small number of viable B. anthracis spores. CHORI staff members did not perform sterility testing on the suspension received in March 2004.
Because inhalation of viable B. anthracis spores can result in fatal infection, CDC recommends that laboratory personnel who routinely perform activities with clinical materials and diagnostic quantities of infectious cultures implement BSL-2 practices (7). These practices include use of appropriate PPE (e.g., gloves, gowns, or laboratory coats) and a BSC for procedures with the potential to expel infectious aerosols (e.g., centrifuging or ejection of pipette tips). Face protection (e.g., goggles, face shield, or splatter guard) should be used against anticipated splashes or sprays when potentially infectious materials require handling outside of the BSC. In the incidents described in this report, because CHORI staff members believed they were working with nonviable organisms, they did not fully implement BSL-2 practices until after the deaths in the second group of mice.
Research laboratory workers should assume that all inactivated B. anthracis suspension materials are infectious until inactivation is adequately confirmed. BSL-2 procedures should be applied to all suspension manipulations performed before confirming sterility. After sterility is confirmed, laboratory personnel should continue to use BSL-2 procedures while performing activities with a high potential for expelling aerosolized spores.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends routine anthrax vaccination of persons who work with production quantities or concentrations ofB. anthracis cultures or perform other activities with a high potential for producing infectious aerosols (8). Facilities performing such work should have appropriate biosafety precautions in place to prevent exposure to B. anthracis spores; however, anthrax vaccination can be an additional layer of protection in the event of an unrecognized breach in practices or equipment failure. Because of the small potential for inadvertent exposure to aerosolized B. anthracis spores before or after sterility testing, vaccination might also be considered for researchers who routinely work with inactivated B. anthracis suspensions.
In addition, laboratories working with inactivated B. anthracis organisms should develop and implement training activities and incident-response protocols to ensure appropriate actions are taken in the event of a potential exposure. These protocols should describe mechanisms for offering counseling and postexposure chemoprophylaxis and obtaining paired sera from potentially exposed persons. Training at animal research facilities should emphasize prompt communication between animal handlers and researchers if animals are unexpectedly found dead and any special handling procedures are needed for carcasses and bedding. Finally, institutional biosafety committees should routinely review protocols and procedures to ensure that appropriate safety precautions are always in place.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Nevada Democrats pick ‘None of these candidates’ for governor in Primary/ WaPo

In light of the Eric Cantor defeat in Virginia's Republican primary, that fact that more Nevada voters cast votes for a "None of the Above" option than for a candidate is interesting.  Voters are fed up in both the east and west.  From the Washington Post blog:
"And the winner is -- no one.
More Democratic primary voters cast ballots for "None of these candidates" than for any actual ones in Tuesday's nominating contest for governor in Nevada, a testament to a weak field looking to challenge popular Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) and a unique Nevada election law that allows voters the none-of-the-above option.
With all precincts reporting, "None" led the way with 30 percent of the vote, according to an unofficial tally from the Associated Press. Finishing second was former state economic development director Robert Goodman, who won 25 percent of the vote..."

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Vodaphone issues report on requests for data by many countries

A WaPo Saturday article, based on a detailed report by the company Vodaphone, details how many other countries do exactly what the US government does with digital data, including the content of phone calls: scoop up everything they want:

...In the Czech Republic, for example, the government compelled Vodafone to turn over the content of conversations 7,677 times during the 12-month reporting period, from April 2013 to March 2014. Hungary collected metadata 75,938 times. Italy, with its government investigations into organized crime, led the Vodafone list with 605,601 demands for metadata...
Verizon listed 320,000 requests in the United States in 2013 and several thousand collectively in 11 other nations. AT&T listed more than 300,000 requests...

Monday, May 5, 2014

Biowatch--the unworkable system for detecting bioweapons in the air--finally cancelled after wasting over $1 billion

From David Willman at the LA Times:
WASHINGTON — Amid concerns about its effectiveness and multibillion-dollar cost, the Department of Homeland Security has canceled plans to install an automated technology that was meant to speed the 24-hour operations of BioWatch, the national system for detecting a biological attack.
The cancellation of the "Generation 3" acquisition was made Thursday at the direction of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, according to a memorandum circulated by Michael V. Walter, the BioWatch program manager.
Homeland Security officials earlier had told companies interested in supplying the technology that it would spend $3.1 billion for it during the first five years of operation...
Last June, Willman noted that the theory behind Biowatch had been rejected.
"After 10 years of operation, we still don't know if the current BioWatch technology can detect an aerosolized bioterrorism agent in a real-world environment," Murphy said.


Friday, May 2, 2014

A woman giving birth in America now is more likely to die than a woman giving birth in China/WaPo



What is the tag line?  Don't be poor in America.  Healthcare is simply too expensive for a sizable number of Americans to afford, so they go without.  And this is the result.  True, there are more high-risk pregnancies in the US than there used to be, but that is equally true for other developed countries.

The maternal mortality rate is 3 times higher in the US as in the UK. This cannot be acceptable. 

From the WaPo:

Maternal deaths related to childbirth in the United States are nearly at the highest rate in a quarter century, and a woman giving birth in America is now more likely to die than a woman giving birth in China, according to a new study.
The United States is one of just eight countries to see a rise in maternal mortality over the past decade, said researchers for the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in a study published in The Lancet, a weekly medical journal. The others are Afghanistan, Greece, and several countries in Africa and Central America.
The researchers estimated that 18.5 mothers died for every 100,000 births in the U.S. in 2013, a total of almost 800 deaths. That is more than double the maternal mortality rate in Saudi Arabia and Canada, and more than triple the rate in the United Kingdom...  The United States now ranks 60 for maternal deaths on a list of 180 countries...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Looking to sales growth, Merck rolls out vaccine adherence plan using electronic medical record


The Electronic Medical Record has a new application: to sell more vaccines. The following article comes verbatim from FierceVaccines, while a link to Forbes tells the same story, although its slant emphasizes improvements in health outcomes, rather than Merck profits.

Merck has partnered with a cloud-based electronics medical record company to gain information on patients who may not have received every possible vaccine, and to push that information to their doctors.  PracticeFusion offers a free electronic medical record to doctors--its business model provides patient and physician data to pharmaceutical companies and other 'partners' to generate their revenues. The Brave New World of medicine is already here.

Merck's shingles vaccine Zostavax
"Vaccine sales can only grow as much as patient adherence to immunization recommendations allows, but Merck ($MRK) is rolling out a new initiative that could give its vaccines unit a boost.
Partnering with Practice Fusion, Merck will use the electronic health records provider's platform to alert doctors and patients about upcoming or missed vaccines based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommended list of vaccinations for adults. Merck markets several big sellers among the agency's suggested jabs, including Zostavax for shingles and Gardasil for HPV.
This is one of Big Pharma's first forays into patient compliance through electronic medical records. Traditionally, it's been the role of healthcare payers to intervene on isuues like overdue vaccinations.
But Merck will take any boost in sales it can get in light of lackluster sales from its pharma unit in 2013, which sank 8% to $44 billion from 2012. For Merck, its vaccines unit seems like a logical place to focus on growth. In 2013, sales of Gardasil swelled 12% to reach $1.8 billion, up from $1.6 billion in 2012. Zostavax sales grew even more, with revenues expanding by 16% to $758 million last year.
The pharma giant's new plan will involve 112,000 of Practice Fusion's medical professionals, who will have access to a real-time dashboard that allows them to track the percentage of their adult patients that have received vaccines bases on CDC guidelines. During patient office visits, the electronic health record program will alert providers if a vaccine is recommended for patients.
The partnership with Practice Fusion builds on another recent effort rolled out by Merck to supply physicians with vaccination reminder cards to give to patients.

While Merck has benefited from an increase in young women receiving an HPV vaccine like Gardasil, as well as an uptick in people getting the shingles shot, the CDC reported in February that there has been little improvement in vaccination rates, and those rates even fell in some demographics."

Here's the Press Release.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Nancy Haigwood was central in defining Bruce Ivins as a psychopathic criminal. Why?


How did Professor Haigwood come to make the case against Ivins?  It appears that (like Jean Duley, Ivins' trainee therapist who was under house arrest when she was brought by FBI to obtain a restraining order against Ivins, then was trotted out for all major media by the FBI before she went into hiding) Haigwood too received considerable coaching from the FBI.  A very long interview with Nancy Haigwood is posted here by Frontline/ProPublica/McClatchy.  The statements below come from this interview.

It is telling that Haigwood learned from the FBI that Ivins meant to harm her (back in graduate school) by damaging the brakes on her bicycle.  The FBI told her Ivins stole her lab notebook in graduate school. The FBI told her "that it was reasonable for me to be frightened." and "they warned me on a regular basis." “Be careful,” they said. “The best thing you could possibly have done was to move to the West Coast, where you’re out of range, out of driving range.”

"... I just think at any point things could have gone differently. What if I wasn’t so careful? If I hadn’t called the FBI? Might I have been a victim?"

Thursday, April 10, 2014

What are the mechanisms by which corruption operates in the US? Some breathtaking examples of bonuses and revolving doors are discussed by Michael Krieger

Why is the country practically bankrupt and mired in corruption? Can the parts of our economic culture that enable huge government giveaways be identified?

We certainly don't know about how most decisions are made at the federal level, nor do we have any idea how much money changes hands and how.  But there are some things that are known.  Persons in policymaking or oversight positions often seem to have been placed there to carry out certain predefined tasks.


In David Stockman's Contra Corner website, Michael Krieger lays out many examples of how those responsible for major policies get rewarded by industry via bonuses, special contract provisions and revolving door jobs:


"Nothing is more important to a fully streamlined corrupt crony capitalist economy as the ever-present “revolving door” between regulatory agencies and the industries/companies they regulate. These moves have become so pervasive in American society that it is simply impossible to keep up with them all, but I try my best to cover the most egregious examples whenever possible. As a refresher, I suggest reading the following:

How Obama’s Chief Negotiators on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty Received Huge Bonuses from Mega Banks
Revolving Door 2014: Former Head of the Federal Communications Commission Joins Carlyle
Journalism’s Revolving Door: Washington Post’s National Security Editor Joins the State Department
The Pentagon’s Revolving Door with Defense Contractors…Some Shocking Statistics
How Jack “Bailout Bonus” Lew Got to Treasury
It Never Ends: Top Obama Housing Advisor Jumps Ship to Wells Fargo
Meet Liz Fowler: Architect of ObamaCare Jumps Ship to Johnson & Johnson
Meet Mary Jo White: The Next SEC Chief and a Guaranteed Wall Street Patsy"

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Syria's chemical weapons attack(s) an Erdogan False Flag/ Seymour Hersh

Seymour Hersh provides a very plausible deconstruction of how chemical weapons were used in an attempt to draw the United States into military engagement with Syria last year---by the Turkish government in cahoots with anti-Assad Syrian rebels. Hopefully you have heard about the leaked YouTube audiotape in which planning for a Syria false flag attack is discussed.  It did not get much mainstream press, though both Voice of America and RT carried the story.

Last September I blogged about possible transfers of weapons located in Libya to Syrian rebels, particularly surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).  This seemed related to the Benghazi consulate takeover. Hersh provides more details on this, though much remains unknown.

Hersh pays close attention to what we knew and when did we know it--and what did the administration do about it.  An important read.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Anthrax Industry report published/ Research and Markets

Wondering which corporations feed at the anthrax biodefense rice bowl?  For a minimum of $995 (US) you can find out about where the anthrax money is being spent and who's doing what. Yet the biggest feeder (Emergent BioSolutions) is missing from the list. So is Pharmathene, which was perhaps Emergent's biggest competitor, and which just had its USG contract for anthrax vaccine scaled back today.
"The Anthrax Partnering 2007-2012 report provides understanding and access to the anthrax partnering deals and agreements entered into by the worlds leading healthcare companies."
Top anthrax deals by valueDeals listed by company A-Z, industry sector, stage of development, technology type. 

Companies mentioned: 
Abbott
Actavis
Actelion
Allergan
Amgen
Aspen Pharmacare
Astellas
AstraZeneca
Baxter International
Bayer
Biogen Idec
Boehringer Ingelheim
Bristol-Myers Squibb
Celgene
CSL
Daiichi Sankyo
Dainippon Sumitomo
Eisai
Eli Lilly
Endo Pharmaceuticals
Forest Laboratories
Galderma
Gilead Sciences
GlaxoSmithKline
Grifols
Hospira
Johnson & Johnson
Kyowa Hakko Kirin
Lundbeck
Menarini
Merck & Co
Merck KGaA
Mitsubishi Tanabe
Novartis
Novo Nordisk
Otsuka
Pfizer
Purdue
Roche
Sanofi
Servier
Shionogi
Shire
Takeda
Teva
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Friday, April 4, 2014

UN Human Rights Committee Finds US in Violation on 25 Counts/ Truthout

    This is a very long piece, but it needs to be said and all the points are important.  The US' record on Human Rights is pitiful, and our commitment to our international  obligations doubly so.  From Truthout:hudson img
While President Obama told the country to "look forward, not backward" when it came to Bush's torture program, the United Nations has taken a different route. Recently, the UN Human Rights Committeeissued a report excoriating the United States for its human rights violations. It focuses on violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the country is party. The report mentions 25 human rights issues where the United States is failing. This piece will focus on a few of those issues - Guantanamo, NSA surveillance, accountability for Bush-era human rights violations, drone strikes, racism in the prison system, racial profiling, police violence, and criminalization of the homeless.Accountability for Bush-Era Crimes, Torture
The UN committee expressed concerned with "the limited number of investigations, prosecutions and convictions of members of the Armed Forces and other agents of the US government, including private contractors" for "unlawful killings" and "torture" during the Bush years. It welcomed the closing of the CIA black sites, but criticized the "meagre number of criminal charges brought against low-level operatives" for abuses carried out under the CIA's rendition, interrogation and detention program. The committee also found fault with the fact that many details of the CIA's torture program "remain secret, thereby creating barriers to accountability and redress for victims."
In response to the 9/11 terrorist attack, the Bush administration jettisoned the Constitution and international law and openly embraced the use of torture against suspected terrorists captured overseas. The CIA tortured people in secret prisons around the world known as "black sites." Torture was sanctioned from the top down. Then-President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, lawyers and many others in the executive branch played roles in crafting nifty ways to justify, approve and implement the use of torture. 
Rather than be held accountable, the top-level government officials responsible for authorizing torture and other crimes have been given comfort in the public sphere. Condoleezza Rice returned to Stanford University as a political science professor. John Yoo, who authored the torture memos, is a law professor at UC Berkeley. Jose Rodriguez, a former CIA officer in the Bush administration, vigorously defends torture in his autobiography and interviews. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are able to rest comfortably in retirement and continue to defend their records. 

Of the report's 25 issues, four looked at racial disparities within the United States' criminal justice system and law enforcement practices.

In the Guantanamo military commissions, evidence of torture is concealed. A "protective order" restricts what defense lawyers and the accused can say about how the defendants were treated in CIA black sites, including details of torture, because that information is classified. Defense lawyers have been fighting for declassification of those details, as they are mitigating evidence. 
The potential release of portions of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA report could tip the scale in their favor. "There is every reason to believe the SSCI [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence] Report contains information about the CIA's torture of Mr. al Baluchi," said defense attorney James Connell, who represents Ammar al-Baluchi, one of the five 9/11 defendants, in a press statement. "The SSCI knows the truth of what happened, and the military commission considering whether to execute Mr. al Baluchi should know too." 
Racism in the Prison System, Racial Profiling, Police Brutality
Of the report's 25 issues, four looked at racial disparities within the United States' criminal justice system and law enforcement practices. It denounced the "racial disparities at different stages in the criminal justice system, sentencing disparities and the overrepresentation of individuals belonging to racial and ethnic minorities in prisons and jails." The committee condemned racial profiling by police and FBI/NYPD surveillance of muslims - but it did welcome plans to reform New York City's "stop and frisk" program. It also denounced the continuing use of the death penalty and "racial disparities in its imposition that affects disproportionately African Americans." Finally, it expressed concern at "the still high number of fatal shootings by certain police forces" and "reports of excessive use of force by certain law enforcement officers . . . which have a disparate impact on African Americans, and the use of lethal force by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the US-Mexico border." 
The United States contains the largest prison population in the world, holding over 2.4 million people in domestic jails and prisons, immigration detention centers, military prisons, civil commitment centers and juvenile correctional facilities. Its prison population is even larger than those of authoritarian governments like China and Russia, which, respectively, hold 1,640,000 and 681,600 prisoners, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies. More than 60 percent of the US prison population are people of color. African Americans, while 13 percent of the national population, constitute nearly 40 percent of the prison population. Moreover, one in every three black males can expect to go to prison in their lifetime, compared to one in every six Latino males, and one in every 17 white males. Thus, black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white men. Even though whites and blacks use drugs at roughly the same rates, African Americans are more likely to be imprisoned for drug-related offenses than whites.
Every 28 hours, a black person is killed by a police officer, security guard, or self-appointed vigilante, according to a report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. Recently in New York City, NYPD brutalized two teenage African-American girls at a Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn. A 16-year-old girl's face was slammed against the floor, while police threw the 15-year-old through the restaurant's window, shattering it as a result. The incident started when police ordered everyone to leave the restaurant, but one of the girls refused. 
While police violence against people of color has long existed, the militarization of American police exacerbates this trend. This militarization began in 1981, when President Ronald Reagan signed the Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies Act, which provided civilian police agencies with military equipment, training, advice and access to military research and facilities. When 9/11 hit, police militarization kicked into overdrive with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, which has given police still greater access to military and other highly-sophisticated hardware like armored vehicles and riot gear. Now police look, act and think like the military, with dangerous consequences for the communities they serve. 
Drone Strikes, Assassinations
To execute its perpetual global war on terrorism, the Bush administration favored large-scale, conventional land invasions and occupations, as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama has moved away from such operations and embraced seemingly lighter tactics of irregular warfare to continue the perpetual war, while making it less visible to Americans. Extrajudicial killing and drone strikes are the most notable methods, but others include air strikes, cruise missile attacks, cyberwarfarespecial operations, and proxy wars
These tactics have meant more use of the military's Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and the paramilitary branch of the CIA. Both the CIA and JSOC carry out drone strikes and sometimes collaborate in joint operations. The CIA, not the military, is legally mandated to launch covert operations, which are classified and unacknowledged by the US government. However, JSOC performs essentially the same operations, particularly extrajudicial killings. Thus, transferring control of the drone program from the CIA to the military would make little difference.
The UN report criticized the United States' assassination program and drone strikes. It expressed concerned with the "lack of transparency regarding the criteria for drone strikes, including the legal justification for specific attacks, and the lack of accountability for the loss of life resulting from such attacks." The United States' position for justifying its extrajudicial killing operations is that it is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban and "associated forces" - a term the Obama administration created to refer to co-belligerents with al-Qaeda - and that the war is in accordance with the nation's inherent right to self-defense against a terrorist enemy. 
However, the committee took issue with the United States' position, particularly its "very broad approach to the definition and the geographical scope of an armed conflict, including the end of hostilities." A May 2010 report by Philip Alston, former UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, notes that, under international law, states cannot wage war against non-state actors, such as international terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, because of their nebulous character and loose affiliations. 
The committee's report also took issue with "the unclear interpretation of what constitutes an 'imminent threat' and who is a combatant or civilian taking a direct part in hostilities, the unclear position on the nexus that should exist between any particular use of lethal force and any specific theatre of hostilities, as well as the precautionary measures taken to avoid civilian casualties in practice." 

So far, US drone strikes and other covert operations have killed between 2,700 and nearly 5,000 people.

Under international law, self-defense against an "imminent" threat is "necessity of that self-defense is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation." However, the Obama administration completely obliterated this meaning. In a 16-page white paper leaked to NBC News, the Obama administration believes that whether "an operational leader presents an 'imminent' threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interest will take place in the immediate future." Thus, a "high-level official could conclude, for example, that an individual poses an 'imminent threat' of violent attack against the United States where he is an operational leader of al-Qa'ida or an associated force and is personally and continually involved in planning terrorist attacks against the United States" without any proof of an actual plot against the United States. Thus, in Obama-lingo, the word "imminent" means the complete opposite of what it is in the English language.
There is no due process in the assassination program, either. President Obama and his advisors decide who will be killed by a drone strike in a secret internal executive branch process that occurs every Tuesday. Even American citizens are fair game for the assassination program. In fact, four US citizens have been killed by drone strikes, including a 16-year-old boy. A database called the "disposition matrix" adds names to kill or capture lists, ensuring the assassination program will continue no matter who is in office. Targeting for drone strikes is not based on human intelligence but, rather, signals intelligence, particularly metadata analysis and cellphone tracking. The NSA geolocates a SIM card or mobile phone of a suspected terrorist, which helps the CIA and JSOC to track an individual to kill or capture in a night raid or drone strike. Since this methodology targets a SIM card, rather than a real person, civilians are commonly killed by mistake. 
As with the word "imminent," the Obama administration utilizes its own warped definitions of "civilian" and "combatant." As The New York Times reported in May 2012, the Obama administration "counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants . . . unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent." 
Despite claims to the contrary, drone strikes kill a significant number of civilians and inflict serious human suffering. So far, US drone strikes and other covert operations have killed between 2,700 and nearly 5,000 people, including 500 to more than 1,100 civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism's figures. Many of those deaths occurred under Obama's watch, with drone strikes killing at least 2,400 people during his five years in office. Only 2 percent of those killed by drone strikes in Pakistan are high-level militants, while most are low-level fighters and civilians. In addition to causing physical harm, drone strikes terrorize and traumatize communities that constantly live under them. 
Drone strikes have lulled in Pakistan due to peace talks between the Pakistani government and Pakistan Taliban, which collapsed on February 17. The last US drone strike in Pakistan happened on Christmas Day 2013. In Yemen, drone strikes have continued. Several US drone strikes in Yemen occurred during the first 12 days of March. Last November, six months after President Obama laid out new rules for US drone strikes, a TBIJ analysis showed that "covert drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan have killed more people than in the six months before the speech." It also was recently reported that the Obama administration is debating whether to kill a US citizen in Pakistan who is suspected of "actively plotting terrorist attacks," according to The New York Times.  
It is very likely these operations will continue. The Pentagon's 2015 budget proposal, taking sequestration into account, spends $0.4 billion less than 2014 at $495.6 billion, shrinks the Army down to between 440,000 to 450,000 troops from the post-9/11 peak of 570,000, and protects money for cyberwarfare and special operations forces. Cyber operations are allocated $5.1 billion in the proposal, while US Special Operations Command gets $7.7 billion, which is 10 percent more than in 2014, and a force of 69,700 personnel. While President Obama promised to take the United States off a "permanent war footing," his administration's policies tell a different story. The Obama administration is reconfiguring, rather than halting, America's "permanent war footing." 
Guantanamo, Indefinite Detention
President Obama recommitted himself to closing the prison in Guantanamo last year, but has made little progress, which the UN report noted. The committee said it "regrets that no timeline for closure of the facility has been provided." It also expressed concern that "detainees held in Guantanamo Bay and in military facilities in Afghanistan are not dealt with within the ordinary criminal justice system after a protracted period of over a decade in some cases." 
The report called on the United States to expedite the transfer of prisoners out of Guantanamo, close the prison, "end the system of administrative detention without charge or trial" and "ensure that any criminal cases against detainees held in Guantanamo and military facilities in Afghanistan are dealt with within the criminal justice system rather than military commissions and that those detainees are afforded fair trial guarantees." 

Indefinite detention violates international human rights law, but has been embraced by Obama ever since he stepped into the White House.

Currently, 154 men remain held in the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Of those, 76 are cleared for release; around four dozen will remain in indefinite detention; 20 can be "realistically prosecuted," according to chief prosecutor Brig. Gen. Mark Martins' estimate; six are being tried in military commissions and two are serving sentences after being convicted in the commissions. 
President Obama promised to close Guantanamo right when he stepped into office. However, he has yet to fulfill that promise. Congressional obstructionism, especially from the Republican Party, has stalled his plans as, for a long time, Congress blocked funding for transferring prisoners. Recently, though, Congress eased those restrictions, making it easier to transfer prisoners to other countries, but not to the United States. 
While the Obama administration is working to close the prison at Guantanamo, it maintains the policy of indefinite detention without trial, designating close to four dozen Guantanamo prisoners for forever imprisonment. Obama's original plan to close Guantanamo was to open a prison in Illinois to hold Guantanamo detainees, many indefinitely. While soon killed, this plan would have effectively moved the system of indefinite detention from Guantanamo to US soil. Now the Obama administration is considering opening a prison in Yemen to hold the remaining Guantanamo prisoners, many of whom are Yemeni. Indefinite detention violates international human rights law, but has been embraced by Obama ever since he stepped into the White House. The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that Obama signed into law contains sections that allow for the indefinite detention of US citizens on American soil. 
NSA Surveillance
Notably, the UN report denounced the NSA's mass surveillance "both within and outside the United States through the bulk phone metadata program (Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act) and, in particular, the surveillance under Section 702 of Amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) conducted through PRISM (collection of the contents of communications from US-based companies) and UPSTREAM (tapping of fiber-optic cables in the country that carry internet traffic) programs and their adverse impact on the right to privacy. "The report also criticized the secrecy of "judicial interpretations of FISA and rulings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)," which prevent the public from knowing the laws and legal interpretations that impact them. Promises of "oversight" obviously did not persuade the committee, either, as it said "the current system of oversight of the activities of the NSA fails to effectively protect the rights of those affected," and "those affected have no access to effective remedies in case of abuse." 
Continuing NSA leaks, provided by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden last year, have revealed the depth of the United States' massive surveillance system. The bulk collection of phone metadata is probably the most well-known program. Recently, President Obama promised to end the bulk phone metadata collection program. But the NSA's surveillance system extends far beyond phone metadata. 
In a program called PRISM, the NSA collects user data, such as search history and message content, sent through internet communication services like Google, Yahoo!, Facebook and Skype. Major tech companies have denied knowledge of the program, but the NSA claims those companies knew and provided full assistance. The NSA uses a back door in surveillance law to monitor the communications of American citizens without a warrant. As mentioned earlier, the NSA is also involved in the drone program through the collection of signals intelligence. Additionally, much of NSA surveillance is used for economic espionage. The NSA, with the help of Australian intelligence, spied on communications between the Indonesian government and an American law firm representing it during trade talks. Indonesia and the United States have long been in trade disputes, such as over Indonesia's shrimp exports and a US ban on the sale of Indonesian clove cigarettes. It is highly unlikely Obama's reforms will curb these abuses. 
Criminalizing the Homeless
Compared to torture and war crimes, the plight of homeless people is rarely held up as a pressing human rights issue. But, in the UN report, it is. The committee expressed concern "about reports of criminalization of people living on the street for everyday activities such as eating, sleeping, sitting in particular areas etc." It also "notes that such criminalization raises concerns of discrimination and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment."
For evidence of such criminalization and of "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment," look no further than to the liberal, historically countercultural city of San Francisco. The city that smugly prides itself on progressivism has a sit-lie ordinance that forbids people from sitting or lying on public sidewalks between 7 AM and 11 PM. It particularly hurts and targets homeless people. 
In the same city, homeless people are washed away. Street cleaners from the San Francisco Department of Public Works regularly spray their high-powered hoses at homeless people sleeping on the streets.
Recently, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, police shot and killed a homeless man. His crime? Illegal camping . . . in the Albuquerque foothills. Albuquerque police went to arrest 38-year-old James Boyd, who was sleeping in a campsite he set up. After arguing with police for three hours, Boyd was apparently about to leave and picked up his belongings. As he started walking down the hill, police shot a flash-bang device at Boyd. He dropped his bags, appeared to take out a knife, and then police fired multiple bean-bag rounds at Boyd. The man dropped to the ground, hitting his head on a rock, his blood spattered on it. Officers yelled at him, telling Boyd to drop his knife. When Boyd didn't answer, police fired more bean-bag rounds and sicced their dog on him. Boyd was later taken to a hospital and pronounced dead a day later. In addition to stun guns and bean bags, officers shot six live rounds at Boyd. The shooting prompted an FBI investigation, which is ongoing, and a protest in Albuquerque that was met with intense police violence as officers fired tear gas into the crowd. 
Clean Your Own House
The UN report elevates the suffering inflicted by US domestic and foreign policies to the realm of international human rights. To be tortured, spied on, unjustly imprisoned, put in solitary confinement, indefinitely detained, extrajudicially killed by the state, racially profiled, deprived of a home and criminalized for being homeless is to have one's basic human rights violated and dignity as a human demolished. That's why there are international laws to protect those rights - laws with which the United States and every nation-state are bound to comply. Even as the United States commonly condemns other countries for their human rights abuses, it has yet to clean its own house.