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FBI admits it “has so far found no evidence” January 6th Capitol riot was organized on social media

By Tom Parker | Reclaim The Net | August 20, 2021

The narrative that the January 6 storming of the US Capitol was organized on social media contributed to the shutdown of alternative tech app Parler, led to mass social media censorship, and was even used by some Big Tech platforms to justify the permanent suspension of President Trump.

But now, the FBI is disputing this narrative, with multiple current and former law enforcement officials telling Reuters there is scant evidence that the events of January 6 were the result of an organized plot and no evidence that Trump was involved in organizing the storming of the Capitol.

Four current and former law enforcement officials, who have been either directly involved or regularly briefed on the FBI’s investigations into the storming of the Capitol, told Reuters that “the FBI at this point believes the violence was not centrally coordinated by far-right groups or prominent supporters of then-President Donald Trump.”

One of the sources added that “ninety to ninety-five percent of these are one-off cases” and that the remaining five percent “were more closely organized” but “there was no grand scheme with Roger Stone and Alex Jones and all of these people to storm the Capitol and take hostages.”

Additionally, the sources said that the FBI “has so far found no evidence” that Trump or people directly around him were involved in organizing the violence.

These revelations from law enforcement sources directly dispute the January 6 narrative that has been pushed by numerous media outlets which, in the immediate aftermath of the storming of the Capitol, blamed social media and Trump supporters for the events at the US Capitol.

In a January 6 article titled “The storming of Capitol Hill was organized on social media,” The New York Times claimed that groups that had been “bolstered by Mr. Trump” had “openly organized on social media networks and recruited others to their cause.”

The article also directly connected this alleged months-long organization on social media to the storming of the Capitol by stating “their online activism became real-world violence, leading to unprecedented scenes of mobs freely strolling through the halls of Congress and uploading celebratory photographs of themselves, encouraging others to join them.”

Countless other media outlets, including BuzzFeed and ProPublica, pushed the same narrative by claiming that the Capitol rioters had been planning online for weeks.

Not only did these media articles allege that the storming of the Capitol was organized on social media but many also suggested that alt-tech sites such as Gab, Parler, and Telegram were to blame.

The New York Times piece claimed that both Gab and Parler were being “used by the far-right” to share “directions on which streets to take to avoid the police and which tools to bring to help pry open doors.”

And BuzzFeed wrote:

“On pro-Trump social media website Parler, chat app Telegram, and other corners of the the far-right internet, people discussed the Capitol Hill rally at which Trump spoke as the catalyst for a violent insurrection. They have been using those forums to plan an uprising in plain sight, one that they executed Wednesday afternoon, forcing Congress to flee its chambers as it met to certify the results of the election.”

This media narrative, which is now being disputed by the FBI, triggered a wave of online censorship after January 6.

President Trump was banned from all of the major social media platforms days after January 6. Big Tech justified the bans by referencing the events at the Capitol and suggesting that Trump was inciting violence.

Twitter even pushed similar talking points to those being pushed by the media and claimed that “plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021” were one of the factors that led to it banning Trump.

And Parler was booted from Apple and Google’s app stores and Amazon’s web hosting services within days of the Capitol riot. Apple even echoed the media’s assertion that Parler was being “used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate the illegal activities in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021” in its threat to ban the alt-tech platform from the App Store.

Other examples of post-January 6 Big Tech censorship include Facebook banning photos and videos from protestors at the US Capitol and YouTube disabling live chats on some streams discussing protests at the Capitol.

As this media narrative that the storming of the Capitol was organized on social media starts to fall apart, those who were impacted by the subsequent censorship are still feeling its impact.

President Trump is still blacklisted from all of the Big Tech platforms and has lost his ability to reach the millions of followers he had accumulated on these platforms, even after these law enforcement sources said the FBI has found no evidence that Trump or his prominent supporters had anything to do with coordinating or organizing the events of January 6.

And since it was deplatformed by Apple, Google, and Amazon in January, Parler has lost more than 95% of its traffic. According to web analytics service SimilarWeb, Parler’s traffic declined from a peak of over 40 million visits in January to 1.93 million visits in July.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media outlets that pushed this narrative are still given preferential treatment by Big Tech through algorithms that boost their reach by up to 20x.

This phenomenon of mainstream media outlets pushing a narrative that leads to mass censorship, only for the narrative to crumble months later isn’t limited to January 6.

Countless social media users were censored for suggesting the possibility of the coronavirus leaking from the infamous Wuhan lab until the media reversed course and reported that this could in fact be a possibility. Facebook then changed its rules to allow discussions of the lab leak theory but most of those who were censored before the media reversed course still haven’t had their accounts or posts reinstated.

Yet the media outlets that previously claimed the lab leak theory was a “conspiracy” and then reversed course, haven’t faced any sanctions and get to maintain their status as “authoritative sources” that are boosted by Big Tech’s algorithms.

Related:  How Big Tech’s “authoritative” mainstream media sources prop up each other’s falsehoods

August 24, 2021 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Fake News, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , | 3 Comments

Press in His Pocket: Bill Gates Buys Media to Control the Messaging

Editorial by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Board Chair, Children’s Health Defense | September 3, 2020

A Columbia Journalism Review expose reveals that, to control global journalism, Bill Gates has steered over $250 million to the BBC, NPR, NBC, Al Jazeera, ProPublica, National Journal, The Guardian, the New York Times, Univision, Medium, the Financial Times, The Atlantic, the Texas Tribune, Gannett, Washington Monthly, Le Monde, Center for Investigative Reporting, Pulitzer Center, National Press Foundation, International Center for Journalists, and a host of other groups. To conceal his influence, Gates also funneled unknown sums via subgrants for contracts to other press outlets.

His press bribes have paid off. During the pandemic, bought and brain-dead news outlets have treated Bill Gates as a public health expert—despite his lack of medical training or regulatory experience.

Gates also funds an army of independent fact checkers including the Poynter Institute and Gannett —which use their fact-checking platforms to “silence detractors” and to “debunk” as “false conspiracy theories” and “misinformation,” charges that Gates has championed and invested in biometric chips, vaccine identification systems, satellite surveillance, and COVID vaccines.

Gates’s media gifts, says CJR author Tim Schwab, mean that “critical reporting about the Gates Foundation is rare.” The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation declined multiple interview requests from CJR and refused to disclose how much money it has funneled to journalists.

In 2007, the LA Times published one of the only critical investigations on the Gates Foundation, exposing Gates’s holdings in companies that hurt people his foundation claims to help, like industries linked to child labor. Lead reporter Charles Piller, says, “They were unwilling to answer questions and pretty much refused to respond in any sort of way…”

The investigation showed how Gates’s global health funding has steered the world’s aid agenda toward Gates’ personal goals (vaccines and GMO crops) and away from issues such as emergency preparedness to respond to disease outbreaks, like the Ebola crisis.

“They’ve dodged our questions and sought to undermine our coverage,” says freelance journalist Alex Park after investigating the Gates Foundation’s polio vaccine efforts.


© September 3, 2020, Children’s Health Defense, Inc. This work is reproduced and distributed with the permission of Children’s Health Defense, Inc. Want to learn more from Children’s Health Defense? Sign up for free news and updates from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and the Children’s Health Defense. Your donation will help to support us in our efforts.

September 6, 2020 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Anti-Trump groups fund ‘trust indicators’ to combat ‘fake news’ on social media

RT | November 17, 2017

Under pressure to stop the spread of false information, Facebook, Google and Twitter have turned to the Trust Project to inform users of the credibility of news sources. But the supposed nonpartisan effort is funded by deep-pocketed anti-Trump forces.

On Thursday, Facebook, Google and Twitter announced their participation in the initial phase of implementing the Trust Project’s “trust indicators,” notes attached to news posts to let the reader know if the post is an advertisement or to provide background information on the author or sources, including a publisher’s ethics policy and funding arrangements.

The Associated Press, the Washington Post, the Economist, Vox.com, and the Globe and Mail, and other outlets are among the select few currently permitted to use the indicators. Search engines and social media feeds are being improved to gravitate toward, not just what their users want to see, but also sources deemed respectable, and that’s what the indicators seek to influence.

The Trust Project is based at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, but is funded by craigslist.com founder and philanthropist Craig Newmark, as well as Google, the Democracy Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Markkula Foundation.

Newmark, also a founder of the Trust Project, has poured millions of dollars into various vehicles aimed at restoring trust in the media. Earlier this year, he donated $1 million to ProPublica, saying, “As a news consumer, I won’t pay for news I can’t trust.”

The Trust Project, however, is not simply another way for Newmark to support news outlets with his own money. He has been looking to take stronger steps to boost the journalism he likes best since his favored candidate Hillary Clinton lost the presidential race to Donald Trump last year.

The 2016 election result stunned almost everyone, with many wondering if Americans had made a fully-informed choice. The influence of the internet had increased considerably since 2012 and 2008, just as trust in mass media declined to an all-time low. Gallup found that less than one-third of Americans held a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in mainstream news. Meanwhile, people’s enchantment with social media has seen both solid alternative reporting and “fake news” disseminated widely.

For Newmark, the added element of alleged Russian meddling made the issue of trust in media all the more urgent to address. In recent weeks, during and following testimony by Facebook, Google and Twitter representatives to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Newmark tweeted that it was “a huge deal” that the committee kept referring to the matter of “fake news” in terms of war.

Last week, Newmark tweeted a 1970 quote by Canadian media theorist, professor and philosopher Marshall McLuhan: “World War III is a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.”

Funding for the Trust Project also comes from the Democracy Fund, whose founder, Pierre Omidyar, also founded the online auction site eBay. Omidyar has contributed $1 million to the Clinton Foundation for HIV/AIDS treatment, but also donated $100,000 to the NeverTrump political action committee in April 2016.

Fact-checking news sources is not new to Omidyar. His Omidyar Network also funds projects of the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit school for journalism that owns the Tampa Bay Times, the home of Politifact, which has been criticized for having a left-leaning bias. Omidyar once went as far as comparing Trump to “the personal and political styles of early Adolf Hitler” in a tweet.

Joe Goldman, president of the purportedly bipartisan Democracy Fund, retweeted a video of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) during the November 1 Senate hearings with social media representatives on alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The video showed the ranking committee member admonishing the tech companies for “not getting it.”

“We’re talking about the beginning of cyberwarfare,” Feinstein said. “We’re talking about a major foreign power with the sophistication and ability to involve themselves in a presidential election and sow conflict and discontent all over this country.”

“You’ve created these platforms, and now they are being misused,” she added, “and you have to be the ones to do something, or we will.”

Read more:

Google & Soros-backed ‘fact-checkers’ join forces to control news search results

Twitter, Google & Facebook grilled by Senate, try hard to find ‘Russian influence’

‘Zero collusion’: Trump says Russia probe a disgrace, many ads ‘bad’ for him

November 17, 2017 Posted by | Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Age of the Oligarchs

By Robert Parry | Consortium News | April 4, 2014

The chaos in Ukraine can be viewed, in part, as what happens when a collection of “oligarchs” – sometimes competing, sometime collaborating – take control of a society, buying most of the politicians and owning the media. The political/media classes become corrupted by serving their wealthy patrons and society breaks down into warring factions.

In that sense, Ukraine could be a cautionary tale for the United States and other countries that are veering down a similar path toward vast income inequality, with billionaire “oligarchs” using their money to control politicians and to pay for propaganda through media ventures.

Depending on your point of view, there may be “good oligarchs” and “bad oligarchs,” but the concept of oligarchy is antithetical to democracy, a system in which governance is supposed to be driven by the informed consent of the majority with respect for minority rights. Instead, we’re moving toward a competition among oligarchs with the “people” mostly as bystanders to be manipulated one way or the other.

On Wednesday, a 5-4 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court lifted limits on total amounts that an individual can contribute during a campaign cycle, an extension of the 2010 ruling on Citizens United allowing the rich to spend unlimited sums on political advertising. It was another step toward an American oligarchy where politicians, activists and even journalists compete to satisfy one “oligarch” or another.

Regarding political spending, that can mean the energy tycoon Koch Brothers financing the Tea Party or Americans for Prosperity to tear down government regulations of businesses. Or it can mean casino kingpin Sheldon Adelson staging his own “primary” in which Republican hopefuls compete to show who would do the most for Israel. Or – from a liberal perspective – it can be billionaire investor Tom Steyer pressing for action on man-made climate change.

On the Right, there also have been vast investments in propaganda – from books, magazines and newspapers to talk radio, TV and the Internet – by the likes of Rupert Murdoch and Richard Mellon Scaife, an imbalance countered, in only a relatively small way, by a few liberal “oligarchs” who have started their own big-budget Web sites.

And, despite the appearance of a few “left-of-center” U.S. sites, there continues to be a lock-step consensus – across the nation’s media – regarding most international conflicts, such as the recent crises in Syria and Ukraine. In those cases, these liberal “oligarchic” sites are as likely to go with the conventional wisdom as the right-wing “oligarchic” sites.

So, if you want to find critical reporting on U.S. interference in Ukrainian politics or a challenging analysis of U.S. claims about the Syrian chemical weapons attack, you’re not likely to find them at ProPublica, which is backed by ex-subprime mortgage bankers Herbert and Marion Sandler and is edited by well-paid traditional journalists from the mainstream press, like Stephen Engelberg, formerly of the New York Times. Nor at FirstLook.org funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

Though both ProPublica and FirstLook do some fine work on certain topics – such as  the environment and privacy rights, respectively – they haven’t shown much willingness to get in the way of U.S. foreign-policy stampedes as they run out of control. Presumably, that would make their funders nervous and possibly put their larger business interests at risk.

Another new media “oligarch,” Washington Post owner and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has shied away from reining in “the neocons who brought us the Iraq War.” He has left neocons like Fred Hiatt and Jackson Diehl in charge of the opinion section of Official Washington’s hometown newspaper. Their positions on Syria and Ukraine have been predictable.

And, of course, other mainstream outlets – like the New York Times, the Daily Beast and the major TV networks – have completely fallen into line behind the conventional wisdom. Most coverage of the Syrian civil war and the Ukraine crisis couldn’t have been more submissive to the U.S. government’s propaganda themes if the stories had been written by Radio Liberty or the CIA.

Anyone looking for journalistic skepticism about the mainstream U.S. narrative on these touchy issues has had to seek out Internet sites like Consortiumnews.com which relies on mostly small donations from readers.

But the broader problem is the debilitating impact on democracy when the political/media process takes on the form of some super-hero movie in which super-human combatants do battle – crashing from building to building – while the regular humans mostly watch as powerless spectators as the chaos unfolds.

The Ukraine Mess

In Ukraine’s case, this process was telescoped in time because of the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, which was followed by the triumphal intervention of Western “free-market” advisers who descended on Kiev – as well as Moscow – with self-confident prescriptions of privatization and deregulation.

Very quickly, well-connected operatives were scoring mind-boggling deals as they gained control of lucrative industries and valuable resources at bargain-basement prices. Billionaires were made overnight even as much of the population descended to near starvation levels of poverty and despair.

In Russia, strong-willed nationalist Vladimir Putin emerged to put some brakes on this process, banishing some oligarchs like Boris Berezovsky into exile and jailing others like Mikhail Khordorkovsky. However, in Ukraine, the oligarchs continued buying politicians and finally created a crisis of confidence in government itself.

Though public resentment of political corruption was a driving force in the large protests that set the stage for the overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22, the manipulation of that popular anger may end up impoverishing Ukrainians even more by entrenching oligarchic control even further.

Not only has the Washington-based International Monetary Fund moved to impose “macroeconomic reforms” that will slash spending on Ukraine’s already scant social programs, but “oligarchs” are moving to take direct control of the government.

For instance, the coup regime in Kiev appointed billionaire steel magnate Serhiy Taruta as governor of the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine where many ethnic Russians live. Taruta quickly moved to suppress pro-Russian sentiment.

As part of the crackdown, the Kiev regime arrested Pavel Gubarev, who had called himself the “people’s governor.” Mikhail Dobkin, a pro-Yanukovych former regional governor who indicated he would seek the presidency, was arrested on sedition charges.

Governor Taruta also has called for some of the IMF’s more draconian demands to be put off until after political resistance to the new order in Kiev has faded.

“People are concerned with one thing,” Taruta told the Washington Post in a flattering story about his leadership. “If we show we can provide help and support, we will calm the situation down. Three to four months from now is the time to talk about financial reform in Ukraine.”

That would mean delaying the harshest elements of the IMF plan until after the scheduled presidential election on May 25, meaning that the voters will have already gone to the polls before they get a taste of what’s in store for them. By then, they may have another billionaire industrialist, Petro Poroshenko, as their new president. He is now the leading candidate.

According to Forbes magazine, there are now about 1,600 billionaires in the world, worth a total of around $6.6 trillion. The writing seems to be scribbled on the walls of Ukraine as well as the United States and around the globe that we are entering the Age of the Oligarchs.

April 5, 2014 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , | Leave a comment

ProPublica Exposed: A Pseudo Alternative with $26 Million Dollars in Secret Mega-Donors Funding

By Sibel Edmonds | Boiling Frogs | September 8, 2013

On September 7, 2013, the daring website, Cryptome, published and publicized the tax reports filed by one of the dime-a-dozen pseudo alternative online publications-ProPublica. The stunning IRS 990 forms filed by this new flashy tax-exempt online news organization expose a secretive operation funded by millions of dollars received from secret entities:

ProPublica Tax Report for 2011 lists $10,000,000 (Ten Million Dollars) private funding from Anonymous (Secret) Donors: Click Here

ProPublica Tax Report for 2010 lists $10,000,000 (Ten Million Dollars) private funding from Anonymous (Secret) Donors: Click Here

ProPublica Tax Report for 2009 lists $ 6,000,000 (Six Millions Dollars) private funding from Anonymous (Secret) Donors: Click Here

That is correct. ProPublica, in the first three years of its existence and operation, has received $26,000,000 (26 Million Dollars) funding from secret donors.

The tax-exempt, 501 (C) (3) NGO was established and began operation in June 2008. When you look at the established date of their operation, and their first 990 tax form filed in 2009, you see that, right from the start, before even establishing any track record, their founders-operators were able to collect $6,000,000.

Well, if you look at ProPublica’s founders and operators the above facts will start making sense:

  • ProPublica was founded by Paul Steiger, the former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal
  • Propublica is managed and led by Stephen Engelberg, the former investigative editor of The New York Times
  • Propublica is run and directed by Richard Tofel, the former assistant publisher of The Wall Street Journal

Let’s sum it up: Three individuals, major participants and players from the US mainstream media, from entities long known as intimate propaganda arms of the US government, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, got together and said: The alternative media is taking off with the public, so let’s set up shop and pose as one. After all, the establishment is smart enough to not put all its eggs in one basket-in this case, the mainstream outlet.

With their established record as mainstream players who understood the importance of government-imposed propaganda and the role of controlled opposition fronts, the trio set up shop with window-dressing that distorted them and made them look like a Watch-Dog Independent Alternative media outlet – in a posh office with an Uber Expensive Manhattan address.

Right from the start, with the government and the establishment’s backing they positioned them in the forefront as a major player by: 1-quickly securing $6,000,000 upfront seed money from secret donors; 2-smoothly establishing  their shop-business as a tax-exempt 501 (C) (3) NGO with the US government

Isn’t it amazing how a supposedly alternative watchdog that is supposedly working to expose dark secret deals for greater transparency and public awareness happens to be a mega-funded business with secret mega-donors?!

I tried my best to comb through their site, hoping to get a glimpse of these generous funders who have given ProPublica $26,000,000. But, no such luck. If I were a betting woman, I’d put my money on the same-o-same-o mega corporate foundations- the 1%: Soros, Rockefellers, Carnegie, Ford … You know who we’re looking at and talking about here, no?

I would say that even more appalling than having $26,000,000 from secret donors is the fact that ProPublica wants much more: They want uninformed and gullible individuals, our average hard-working Janes & Johns, to dish out donations and recurring subscriptions, and enrich the already very rich operators of this so-called alternative business. How bold and daring of ProPublica !

Think about it, during these tough economic times, while even the mainstream is struggling to make ends meet (despite backing from billionaires, government and corporate advertisers), ProPublica has received $26, 000,000 and more from its secret admirers within the mega-billionaire circle. Why? Since when do the Uber Corporate players and their foundations have a desire for transparency-seeking and Pro-Public media sources? Obviously, they don’t want any transparency when it comes to their money and where their mega-dollars go. Otherwise, why remain so very anonymous and secret? Right?

~

Aletho News adds that ProPublica seems to have a thing about Iran and Hezbollah:

Salting “public interest” news and commentary with warmongering pieces furthering Israel’s aggressive aims deserves exposure and LobeLog has done just that. In July, Jim Lobe deconstructed the ProPublica piece, The Terror Threat and Iran’s Inroads in Latin America. His take on ProPublica’s smear Iran pieces:

What virtually all of them have in common is the heavy reliance on anonymous intelligence sources; a mixture of limited original reporting combined with lots of recycled news; a proclivity for citing highly ideological, often staunchly hawkish neoconservative “experts” on Middle East issues from such think tanks as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC) without identifying them as such; a surprising deference (considering his status as an investigative reporter) toward “official” accounts or reports by friendly security agencies, some of which work very closely with their Israeli counterpart…

Lobe’s article, ProPublica and the Fear Campaign Against Iran is worth reading in its entirety.

~

BFP Update #1

In less than an hour after our report on ProPublica tax forms, their $26 Million-dollar budget and untraceable (at least not easily traceable) corporates and foundations funders, we received a threatening e-mail from their  President Richard Tofel asking us to retract since somewhere, out there, they have a list of some of their major donors. They sure made that info hard to find!

Now we have more documents, including the list of some of their major donors and a more exact dollar number for their operating budget. We are more than happy to release these documents and the links. You know what: This information proves every single point we made in our report and more! Here we go:

1- We had listed ProPublica’s funding at $26,000,000. Well, it happens to be much higher than that: ProPublica, during their first four years, received $37,000,000 in funding. They received $11,000,000 in 2012, and that brings the total for their four years in operation to $37,000,000 Million: Click Here

2- They have listed some of their big foundations- make that corporate-foundations, under a vague ‘Supporters’ page. Well, again, I was right: Ford, Soros, Rockefeller and Carnegie are there, but there are more …Hewlett Foundation, Lisa & Douglas Goldman Fund , Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge … and check this, even NBC4New York!! To read the list filled with mega billionaires and millionaires check out ProPublica’s list of Sugar Daddies here

Let me give you a couple of examples: Sandler Foundation gave ProPublica $4,000,000 in 2012, and Knight Foundation gave them $2,000,000 only in 2012 (for one year). Check them out here

3-ProPublica also lists its partners. Ladies and gentleman if we had to summarize the list it would read: The Entire US Mainstream Media. ProPublica partners list include: CNN, ABC News, CBS News, Chicago Tribune, NPR, CNBC, Fortune, Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The New York Times, NewsWeek … Basically, the entire charlatan and propaganda machine called the US Mainstream Media. Not only that, they are also partner with Amazon! Please help yourself to this truly stinky list of ProPublica partners: Click Here

All right. I now have provided you with additional information related to ProPublica funding and partners, as I promised Mr. Tofel. And with all this, what have we got? Let’s recap:

An almost brand new business posing as a nonprofit alternative online publication received $37,000,000 since its operation began 4 years ago. This hefty $37,000,000 comes from all the nasty corporate moguls such as Rockefellers, George Soros, Ford, Carnegie Family, Hewlett Packard, Goldman, and  the like. ProPublica is also proud to announce the entire dirty despicable US mainstream media, outlets such as CNN, NBC, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, as its dear partners in its operations.

Now, I invite you to find one qualification here, whether in funding, or the background of its operators, or its partners, that makes this phony an Independent Alternative Media with only the public interest in mind. When ProPublica says, alternative, ask them exactly alternative to what?!

BFP Update #2

Today, after spending hours analyzing ProPublica’s tax forms, which list their enterprise’s expenses for 2012 (Click Here ), we have more shocking items to report. For this report we are concentrating mainly on the incredibly extravagant salaries listed for this newly created NGO enterprise, since the level of money they receive would even raise the eyebrows of the highest paid reporters-managers in mainstream media publications.

The average salary earned by Presidents-CFOs/CEOs within the NGO industry is $97,000 a year

The President and Editor in Chief for ProPublica, Paul E. Steiger (Position in 2012), made $570,000 + $14,914 = $584,914

The 2012 average salary for managing editors for major publications is $65,000

The Managing Editor for ProPublica, Stephen Engelberg, made $360,000 + $31, 758 = $391,758

The average salary for NGO general managers is around $60,000 a year

The General Manger for ProPublica (Position in 2012), Richard Tofel, made $335,000 + $28,600 = $363,600

The average salary for Vice President (VP) positions within the NGO community is $70,000

The average salary for editors for major publications in New York is $61,000

The Editor for ProPublica, Mark Schoofs, made $184,000 + $7918 = $191,918

The 2012 average salary for reporters in major publications in New York is around $67,000

A Senior Reporter for ProPublica (Position in 2012), Jesse Eisinger, made $218,500 + $29,682 = $248,182

Another Senior Reporter, for ProPublica, Dafna Linzer, made $212,000 + $18,534 = $230,534

Another ProPublica Senior Reporter, Charles Ornstein, made $192,500 + $$25,984 = $218,484

And yet another Propublica Senior Reporter, Tracy Weber, made $192,500 + $20,270 = $212,770

The last we heard (and read) journalists were crying out loud on the issue of shrinking and even disappearing already-meager salaries.  Well, the industry’s report on average salaries justifies them, since even within the major publications in New York many senior reporters are collecting less than $60,000. What do you know! They should be lining up for jobs with the NGO online publications!! ProPublica reporters are making quarter million dollars annual salaries and benefits ($248,000).

Same with managers and mid-level editors. The private publication business industry seems nothing compared to some start-up NGOs. Look, the general managers and mid-level VPs at ProPublica are raking hundreds of thousands of dollars ($363,600 & $260,135).

And check out the Wall Street man who had the nose to smell where the real money was going to come from: Mr. Paul E. Steiger with $584,914. And whoever said you can’t make millions of dollars within a couple of years using NGO models and dirty sugar daddies has been proven wrong!

September 8, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

How Rotella Reported Another Dubious Iranian Bomb Plot

By Gareth Porter | LobeLog | August 20, 2013

Introduction by Jim Lobe

While the terrible events in Egypt have delayed my plans to reply to ProPublica’s response to my critique of Sebastian Rotella’s report on the alleged build-up of Iran’s terrorist infrastructure in the Americas, Gareth Porter has written the following essay on a 2009 article by Rotella for the Los Angeles Times about an alleged bomb plot to blow up the Israeli Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 2008. It offers a very good illustration of some of the problems raised in my original critique of Rotella’s most recent work, notably the virtually exclusive reliance on sources that are clearly hostile to Iran with an interest in depicting it in the most negative light possible. But you be the judge.

It happened in Baku, transforming the capital of Azerbaijan into a battleground in a global shadow war.

Police intercepted a fleeing car and captured two suspected Hezbollah militants from Lebanon. The car contained explosives, binoculars, cameras, pistols with silencers and reconnaissance photos. Raiding alleged safe houses, police foiled what authorities say was a plot to blow up the Israeli Embassy in Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic that borders Iran.

Thus begins the only detailed English-language press account of an alleged Iranian terror plot in Azerbaijan in 2008: a May 2009 article, written with a Paris dateline, by Sebastian Rotella for the Los Angeles Times.

But despite the sense of immediacy conveyed by his lede, Rotella’s sources for his account were not Azerbaijanis. Rather, the sources Rotella quoted on the details of the alleged plot, the investigation and apprehension of the suspects consisted of an unnamed “Israeli security official”, and Matthew Levitt, a senior fellow at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and the author of a constant stream of articles, op-eds, and Congressional testimony reflecting the Israeli government’s interest in promoting the perception of a growing Iranian terrorist threat around the world.[1]

It was Levitt who described the alleged plot in Baku to Rotella as having been “in the advanced stages” when it was supposedly broken up by Azerbaijani security forces, an assertion echoed by the anonymous Israeli security official cited in the article:

 ”[Iran] had reached the stage where they had a network in place to do an operation,” said an Israeli security official, who requested anonymity for safety reasons. “We are seeing it all over the world. They are working very hard at it.”

So readers of the LA Times received a version of the plot that was filtered primarily, if not exclusively, through an Israeli lens.[2] Relying on Israeli officials and a close ally at a pro-Israel US think tank for a story on an alleged Iranian bomb plot against an Israeli Embassy is bound to produce a predictable story line where the accuracy can hardly be assumed at face value. Indeed, in this case, there were and remain many reasons for skepticism.

Yet, three years later, in a July 2012 article for ProPublica, he referred to the plot as though it was established fact.

Had Rotella sought an independent source in Azerbaijan, he would have learned, for example, that such alleged plots had been a virtual perennial in Baku for years. That is what a leading scholar of Azerbaijan’s external relations, Anar Valiyev, told me in an interview last November. “It’s always the same plot year after year,” said Valiyev, Dean of the School of International Affairs of the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy in Baku.

In fact, security officials in Azerbaijan had claimed the existence of a similar plot in October 2007 and January 2012 and only two months later, authorities arrested Azerbaijani suspects in two different allegedly Iranian-initiated plots to carry out terrorist actions against Western embassies, the Israeli Embassy and/or Jewish targets. In early 2013, prison sentences were announced in yet another alleged terrorist plot to attack the Eurovision song contest in Baku in 2012. Valiyev told me that those detained by Azerbaijani security officials are always charged with wanting to kill Israeli or US officials and subsequently tried for plots to overthrow the government, which carries the maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

In a 2007 article in Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus, Valiyev observed that plots, assassination and coup-attempts were “thwarted” with regularity in Azerbaijan. “Periodically the government finds a scapegoat,” he wrote, to justify attacks on domestic critics, including “Wahabbis”, followers of Kurdish-Sunni scholar Said Nursi and/or Shiite radicals. Valiyev suggested that security officials might be “trying to show that radical Islamists could come to power… should the incumbent government lose the election.”

The Azerbaijani government and its security forces are not known for their devotion to the rule of law. The current president, Ilham Aliyev, is the son of Azerbaijan’s first president, Heydar Aliyev, who, in turn, was the head of the Soviet KGB before Azerbaijan’s independence. According to Jim Lobe, who visited Baku last year, dissidents regard the first Aliyev’s tenure as relatively liberal compared that of his son. A 2009 State Department cable described Ilham Aliyev as a “mafia-like” figure, likening him to a combination of Michael and Sonny Corleone in the “The Godfather”.

Valiyev observed that virtually nothing about the alleged plot made sense, beginning with the targets. According to Rotella’s story, the alleged Hezbollah operatives and their Azerbaijani confederates had planned to set off three or four car bombs at the Israeli Embassy simultaneously, using explosives they “intended to accumulate” in addition to the “hundreds of pounds of explosives” they had allegedly already acquired from “Iranian spies.”

But the Israeli Embassy is located in the seven-story Hyatt Tower office complex along with other foreign embassies, and no automobiles are allowed to park in close proximity to the complex, according to Valiyev. So the alleged plotters would have needed a prodigious amount of explosives to accomplish such a plan.

For example, the bomb that destroyed the eight-story US Air Force barracks at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996 was estimated at 23,000 pounds of explosives detonated less than 100 feet away from the building. Valiyev told me that it is “practically impossible to find such components in Azerbaijan” because “Even a few kilograms of explosives would be tracked down by the ministry of national security.”

In his article, Rotella also referred — though only in passing — to the prosecutor’s charge that the alleged conspirators were planning to attack a Russian radar installation at Gabala (sometimes spelled Qabala) in northern Azerbaijan. But that part of the plot was also highly suspect, according to Valiyev. No reason was ever given for such a target, and it would have made no sense for either Hezbollah’s or Iran’s interests.

Built in 1984, the Gabala radar station was leased to the Russians until 2012, and 900 troops from the Russian Space Forces were stationed there. An attack on the station by Hezbollah or its supposed proxies in Azerbaijan would have represented a major provocation against Russia by Iran and Hezbollah, and was therefore hard to believe, as Valiyev pointed out in a July 2009 report for the Jamestown Foundation. Valiyev said it was far more plausible that the alleged plotters were simply carrying out surveillance on the station which, according to some reports, was being considered for possible integration into a regional US missile defense system.

Rotella failed to mention yet another aspect of the prosecution’s case that should arouse additional skepticism. The indictment included the charge that the leader of the alleged terrorist cell plotting these attacks was working simultaneously for Hezbollah and al-Qaeda. Even though it has been long been discredited, the idea of an Iran-al-Qaeda collaboration on terrorism has been a favorite Israeli theme for some time and one that continues to be propagated by Levitt.

Rotella’s account of how the suspects were apprehended also appears implausible. In May 2008, when the bombings were supposedly still weeks away, according to his story, the suspects realized they were under surveillance and tried to flee.

But instead of hiding or destroying incriminating evidence of their terrorist plot — such as the reconnaissance photos, the explosives, the cameras and the pistols with silencers — as might be expected under those circumstances, the two suspects allegedly packed all that equipment in their car and fled toward the border with Iran, whereupon they were intercepted, according to the official line reported by Rotella.

Somehow, despite the surveillance, according to anonymous “anti-terrorist officials” cited by Rotella, “a number of Lebanese, Iranian and Azerbaijani suspects escaped by car into Iran.” Only those with the incriminating evidence — including, most implausibly, hundreds of pounds of explosives — in their car were caught, according to the account given to Rotella.

Even Rotella’s description of the two Lebanese suspects, Ali Karaki and Ali Najem Aladine, as a veteran Hezbollah external operations officer and an explosives expert, respectively, should not be taken at face value, according to Valiyev. It is more likely, he said, that the two were simply spies working for Iranian intelligence.

Even the US Embassy report on the trial of the suspects suggested it also had doubts about the alleged plot. “In early October after a closed trial,” the reporting cable said, “an Azerbaijani court sentenced a group of alleged terrorists arrested the previous Spring and supposedly connected to Lebanese Hezbollah plot to bomb the Israeli Embassy in Baku AND the Qabala radar station in northern Azerbaijan” (emphasis in the original). It added, “In a public statement the state prosecutor repeated earlier claims that the entire plot was an operation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”

Yet another striking anomaly about the alleged plot was the fact that nothing was published about it for an entire year. No explanation for the silence was ever made public. This silence is all the more significant because during 2009 and 2010, the Israeli government either publicly alleged or leaked stories of Iranian or Hezbollah plots in Turkey and Jordan about which the host country authorities either did not comment on or offered a different explanation. But despite the extremely close relationship between Azebaijani and Israeli intelligence services (confirmed by this US Embassy cable), neither the Israeli media nor foreign journalists were tipped off to the plot until the Israelis leaked the story to Rotella a year later.[3]

The complete absence of any leak by the Israelis for an entire year about an alleged Iranian plot to bomb the Israeli Embassy in Baku casts some circumstantial doubt on whether such a plot had indeed been uncovered in 2008, as claimed in the article.

Despite the multiple anomalies surrounding this story — the complete lack of any publicly available corroborating evidence; the well-established penchant for the Aliyev government for using such alleged plots to justify rounding up domestic critics; the US Embassy’s apparent skepticism, his failure to consult independent sources; and the 2009 publication by the Jamestown Foundation of Valiyev’s own critique of the “official” version of the case — Rotella has shown no interest in clarifying what actually happened. In fact, as noted above, he referred to the plot again in a July 2012 article for ProPublica as if there was not the slightest doubt with regard to its actual occurrence, identifying it, as he did in the original article, as an attempted retaliation for the assassination of a senior Hezbollah operative three months before:

Conflict with Israel intensified in February 2008 after a car bomb in the heart of Damascus killed Imad Mughniyah, a notorious Hezbollah military leader and ally of Iranian intelligence. Iranian Hezbollah publicly accused Israel and vowed revenge.

Within weeks, a plot was under way against the Israeli Embassy in Azerbaijan. Police broke up the cell in May 2008. The suspects included Azeri accomplices, a senior Hezbollah field operative and a Hezbollah explosives expert. Police also arrested two Iranian spies, but they were released within weeks because of pressure from Tehran, Western anti-terror officials say.[4] The other suspects were convicted.

As narrowly sourced as it was, Rotella’s original 2009 story thus helped make a dubious tale of a bomb plot in Baku part of the media narrative. More recently, he continued that pattern by promoting the unsubstantiated charge by Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman and various pro-Israel groups and right-wing members of Congress, such as Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, that Iran poses a growing terrorist threat to the US in the Americas. While Jim has helped deconstruct that story line, I have recently marshaled evidence showing that Nisman’s charges about alleged Iranian involvement in the 1994 AMIA bombing and the 2007 JFK airport plot were tendentious and highly questionable.

[1] In one illustration of Rotella’s and Levitt’s long-time symbiosis, Levitt cited Rotella’s account of the alleged Baku plot as his main source about the incident in a 2013 article on alleged Hezbollah terrorism published by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC).

[2] Rotella referred twice to “anti-terrorism officials” as sources for describing the surveillance of the alleged perpetrators that preceded their arrest and past work for Hezbollah. Of course, the phrase “anti-terrorism officials” does not exclude the possibility that they, too, were Israeli.)

[3] The first time the alleged plot’s details appeared in the Anglophone Israeli press was when Haaretz published a several hundred-word piece based virtually exclusively on Rotella’s account with the added detail, citing “Israeli sources,” that the “plotters also planned to kidnap the Israeli ambassador in Baku…”

[4] This account, incidentally, was the first to report the arrest in the case of “two Iranian spies”, another anomaly that may be explained by a flurry of media reports in 2010 that it was the two Lebanese who were released as part of a larger prisoner exchange that also included an Azerbaijani nuclear scientist arrested as a spy by Iran.

August 22, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama Regime Closes Inquiry Into Afghan Massacre – and Will Release No Details

By Cora Currier | ProPublica | July 31, 2013

Soon after taking office, President Obama pledged to open a new inquiry into the deaths of perhaps thousands of Taliban prisoners of war at the hands of U.S.-allied Afghan fighters in late 2001.

Last month, the White House told ProPublica it was still “looking into” the apparent massacre.

Now it says it has concluded its investigation – but won’t make it public.

The investigation found that no U.S. personnel were involved, said White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. Other than that, she said, there is “no plan to release anything.”

The silence leaves many unanswered questions about what may have been one of the worst war crimes since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, including why previous American investigations were shut down, and how evidence was destroyed in the case.

“This is not a sufficient answer given the magnitude of what happened here,” said Susannah Sirkin, director of international policy for Physicians for Human Rights, the organization that originally uncovered mass graves where the prisoners were buried.

The long saga began in November 2001, when Taliban prisoners who had surrendered to Northern Alliance commander Abdul Rashid Dostum were transported in shipping containers without food or water. According to eyewitness accounts and forensic work by human rights investigators, hundreds of men died of suffocation while others were shot, and their bodies buried at the desert site of Dasht-i-Leili.

Dostum was working closely with U.S. troops at the time. Surviving prisoners alleged that Americans were present at the loading of the containers – but the Pentagon has said repeatedly that it had no evidence that U.S. forces participated or were even aware of the deaths. (Dostum has denied any personal involvement, and claims that roughly 200 men died in transit, from battlefield wounds.)

In the fall of 2002, the U.S., U.N., and even Dostum himself expressed support for an investigation. But none got underway. In the summer of 2009, prompted by a New York Times report that Bush administration officials had actively discouraged U.S. investigations, President Obama ordered a new review of the case.

Hayden, the White House spokeswoman, said the new investigation “was led by the intelligence community,” and found that no Americans – including CIA officers, who were also in the region – were involved.

She declined to answer the following lingering questions:

  • What was the scope of the investigation? Former Bush administration officials who had been involved in the initial U.S. response to Dasht-i-Leili told ProPublica that they had not been contacted for a new inquiry. Physicians for Human Rights said it received only tepid responses to its queries from the administration over the past several years.
  • Did the investigation cover the allegations, reported in the New York Times, that Bush administration officials had discouraged inquiries by the FBI and State Department?
  • Did the U.S. help with related inquires by the U.N. or the Afghan government? Even absent direct involvement of U.S. personnel, government documents make clear that the U.S. knew about the allegations early on. The U.S. was in an alliance with Dostum, and was the de facto power in the country after the invasion. An Afghan human rights official told ProPublica last month, “I haven’t seen any political or even rhetorical support of investigations into Dasht-i-Leili or any other investigation into past atrocities, from either Bush or Obama.”
  • Did the new investigation cover revelations that graves were disturbed and evidence removed as late as 2008? What, if anything, did the U.S. do to help protect the site over the years?

A parallel investigation began by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2010 also never made headway. The committee staffer leading that investigation was former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who is currently serving time in federal prison for revealing the name of an undercover officer to a reporter.

In letters from prison to ProPublica and an interview published recently in Salon, Kiriakou said that Secretary of State John Kerry, who was then chairman of the committee, personally called off the investigation. The State Department declined to comment, but a former Senate aide to Kerry called Kiriakou’s account “completely fabricated.”

August 2, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , | Leave a comment

Who Are We at War With? That’s Classified

By Cora Currier | ProPublica | July 26, 2013

In a major national security speech this spring, President Obama said again and again that the U.S. is at war with “Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces.”

So who exactly are those associated forces? It’s a secret.

At a hearing in May, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., asked the Defense Department to provide him with a current list of Al Qaeda affiliates.

The Pentagon responded – but Levin’s office told ProPublica they aren’t allowed to share it. Kathleen Long, a spokeswoman for Levin, would say only that the department’s “answer included the information requested.”

A Pentagon spokesman told ProPublica that revealing such a list could cause “serious damage to national security.”

“Because elements that might be considered ‘associated forces’ can build credibility by being listed as such by the United States, we have classified the list,” said the spokesman, Lt. Col. Jim Gregory. “We cannot afford to inflate these organizations that rely on violent extremist ideology to strengthen their ranks.”

It’s not an abstract question: U.S. drone strikes and other actions frequently target “associated forces,” as has been the case with dozens of strikes against an Al Qaeda offshoot in Yemen.

During the May hearing, Michael Sheehan, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, said he was “not sure there is a list per se.” Describing terrorist groups as “murky” and “shifting,” he said, “it would be difficult for the Congress to get involved in trying to track the designation of which are the affiliate forces” of Al Qaeda.

Sheehan said that by the Pentagon’s standard, “sympathy is not enough…. it has to be an organized group and that group has to be in co-belligerent status with Al Qaeda operating against the United States.”

The White House tied Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and “elements” of Al Shabaab in Somalia to Al Qaeda in a recent report to Congress on military actions. But the report also included a classified annex.

Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law who served as a legal counsel during the Bush administration and has written on this question at length, told ProPublica that the Pentagon’s reasoning for keeping the affiliates secret seems weak. “If the organizations are ‘inflated’ enough to be targeted with military force, why cannot they be mentioned publicly?” Goldsmith said. He added that there is “a countervailing very important interest in the public knowing who the government is fighting against in its name.”

The law underpinning the U.S. war against Al Qaeda is known as the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, and it was passed one week after the 9/11 attacks. It doesn’t actually include the words “associated forces,” though courts and Congress have endorsed the phrase.

As we explained earlier this year, the emergence of new or more loosely-aligned terrorist groups has legal scholars wondering how effectively the U.S. will be able to “shoehorn” them into the AUMF. During the May hearing, many lawmakers expressed concern about the Pentagon’s capacious reading of the law. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., described it as a “carte blanche.”

Obama, in his May speech, said he looked forward “to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate.” But he didn’t give a time frame. On Wednesday, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., introduced an amendment that would sunset the law at the end of 2014, to coincide with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. It was voted down the same day, 185 to 236.

The AUMF isn’t the only thing the government relies on to take military action. In speeches and interviews Obama administration officials also bring up the president’s constitutional power to defend the country, even without congressional authorization.

July 26, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , | Leave a comment

ProPublica and the Fear Campaign Against Iran

Chavez-Iran-Venezuela-Ahmadinejad

By Jim Lobe | LobeLog | July 18, 2013

Last Thursday, the highly respected, non-profit investigative news agency ProPublica featured a 2,400-word article, “The Terror Threat and Iran’s Inroads in Latin America”, by its award-winning senior reporter, Sebastian Rotella, who has long specialized in terrorism and national-security coverage. In support of its main thesis that Iran appears to be expanding its alleged criminal and terrorist infrastructure in Venezuela and other “leftist, populist, anti-U.S. governments throughout the region,” Rotella quotes the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Lt. Gen. James Clapper (ret.), as telling a Senate hearing last year that Iran’s alliances with Venezuela and other “leftist, populist, anti-U.S. government” could pose

…an immediate threat by giving Iran – directly through the IRGC, the Quds Force [an external unit of the IRGC] or its proxies like Hezbollah – a platform in the region to carry out attacks against the United States, our interests, and allies.

Now, there is a serious problem with that quotation: Clapper never said any such thing. Indeed, the exact words attributed to the DNI were first spoken at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing entitled “Ahmadinejad’s Tour of Tyrants and Iran’s Agenda in the Western Hemisphere” (page 2) by none other than the Committee’s then-chair, Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, whose hostility toward Iran is exceeded only by her views on Cuba and Venezuela.* It is, after all, one thing to have the head of the U.S. intelligence community tell Congress that the threat of an attack against the United States from various “platforms” in Latin America is “immediate.” It’s quite another for a far-right Cuban-American congresswomen from Miami to offer that assessment, particularly given her past record of championing Luis Posada Carriles and the late Orlando Bosch, both of whom, according to declassified CIA and FBI documents, were almost certainly involved in the 1976 mid-air bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner, among other terrorist acts.

I personally have no doubt that the misattribution was unintentional and merely the product of sloppiness or negligence. But negligence matters, particularly when it is committed in pursuit of a thesis that Rotella has long propagated (more on that in upcoming posts) and that comes amid an ongoing and well-orchestrated campaign against Iran that could eventually result in war, as Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reminded us yet again Sunday. Of course, such a glaring mistake also detracts from the credibility of the rest of the article, much of which is based on anonymous sources whose own credibility is very difficult to assess.

The Iranian threat and anonymous sourcing

Most of the article concerns a hearing with the rather suggestive title, “Threat to the Homeland: Iran’s Extending Influence in the Western Hemisphere”, which was held July 9 by the Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency of the Republican-led House Homeland Security Committee with the apparent purpose of rebutting a still-classified State Department report, which included a two-page unclassified appendix concluding that Iran’s influence in the region is actually on the wane. In addition to reporting on the hearing, however, Rotella provides some original reporting of his own in the lede paragraphs, setting an appropriately dark and menacing tone for the rest of his story:

Last year, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited his ally President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, where the firebrand leaders unleashed defiant rhetoric at the United States.

There was a quieter aspect to Ahmadinejad’s visit in January 2012, according to Western intelligence officials. A senior officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) traveled secretly with the presidential delegation and met with Venezuelan military and security chiefs. His mission: to set up a joint intelligence program between Iranian and Venezuelan spy agencies, according to the Western officials.

At the secret meeting, Venezuelan spymasters agreed to provide systematic help to Iran with intelligence infrastructure such as arms, identification documents, bank accounts and pipelines for moving operatives and equipment between Iran and Latin America, according to Western intelligence officials. Although suffering from cancer, Chavez took interest in the secret talks as part of his energetic embrace of Iran, an intelligence official told ProPublica.

The senior IRGC officer’s meeting in Caracas has not been previously reported.

The aim is to enable the IRGC to be able to distance itself from the criminal activities it is conducting in the region, removing the Iranian fingerprint,” said the intelligence official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly. “Since Chavez’s early days in power, Iran and Venezuela have grown consistently closer, with Venezuela serving as a gateway to South America for the Iranians.”

The bold face, added for emphasis, is designed to illustrate Rotella’s heavy reliance on anonymous “intelligence officials”, none of whose nationalities are specified. In the context of an investigative report, that failure begs a series of questions that bear on the credibility of the account.

For example, does he include Israelis in his definition of “Western officials” or “Western intelligence officials?” After all, it would be one thing to cite a Swedish intelligence official who may tend to be somewhat more objective in describing Iranian-Venezuelan intelligence cooperation; it’s quite another to quote an Israeli “official” responsible to a government that has been aggressively promoting a policy of confrontation with Iran for many years now. And if his sources agreed to talk to Rotella only on the condition of being identified as “Western officials” or “Western intelligence officials”, why did they do so? (Indeed, the only identified “Western intelligence official” quoted — or misquoted — by Rotella in the entire article is Clapper.) Identifying at least the nationality of the officials with whom Rotella spoke with would help readers assess their credibility, but he offers no help in that regard.

Moreover, given the details about the meeting provided by Rotella’s sources, why was the senior IRGC officer who set up the purported joint intelligence program with the Venezuelans not named? That omission sticks out like a sore thumb.

But the problems in Rotella’s article go beyond the misattribution of the Ros-Lehtinen quote or his heavy reliance on anonymous sources. Indeed, it took all of about 30 minutes of Googling (most of which was devoted to tracking down the alleged Clapper quote) to discover that the story also includes distortions of the record in relevant criminal proceedings and a major error of fact in reporting the testimony of at least one of the hearing’s four witnesses — all of whom, incidentally, share well-established records of hostility toward Iran.

But before going into the results of my Google foray, let’s hear what a former top U.S. intelligence analyst had to say about Rotella’s article. I asked Paul Pillar, a 28-year CIA veteran who served as the National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005 (which means he was in charge of the analysis of those regions for the CIA and all other U.S. intelligence agencies), if he could read it. This was his emailed reply:

The article certainly seems to be an effort to go out of the way to raise suspicions about Iranian activities in the hemisphere, by dumping together material that is either old news or not really nefarious, and stringing it together with innuendo. Almost all of the specifics that get into anything like possible terrorist activities are old.  The Iranian efforts to make diplomatic friends in Latin America by cozying up with the regimes in Venezuela and elsewhere that have an anti-U.S. streak is all well known, but none of that adds up to an increase in clandestine networks or a terrorist threat.  The closest the article gets in that regard is with very vague references to Venezuela being used by “suspected Middle Eastern operatives” and the like, which of course demonstrates nothing as far as Iran specifically is concerned.  Sourcing to an unnamed “intelligence officer” is pretty meaningless.

As we will try to show in subsequent posts by Marsha Cohen and Gareth Porter (who both contributed substantially to this post), Pillar’s assessment could apply to a number of Rotella’s articles, especially about the Middle East and alleged Iranian or Hezbollah terrorism, going back to his years at the Los Angeles Times. What virtually all of them have in common is the heavy reliance on anonymous intelligence sources; a mixture of limited original reporting combined with lots of recycled news; a proclivity for citing highly ideological, often staunchly hawkish neoconservative “experts” on Middle East issues from such think tanks as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC) without identifying them as such; a surprising deference (considering his status as an investigative reporter) toward “official” accounts or reports by friendly security agencies, some of which work very closely with their Israeli counterparts (see, for example, this 2009 story about an alleged plot against the Israeli embassy in Azerbaijan about which Gareth plans to write a post); and a general failure to offer critical analysis or alternative explanations about specific terrorist incidents or groups that are often readily available from academic or other more independent and disinterested regional or local specialists.

Iran in Latin America

In the meantime, it’s also important to set the context for Rotella’s latest article. It came amid an intense campaign over the past couple of years by Iran hawks, including individuals from the various neoconservative think tanks cited above, to highlight the purported terrorist threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah from their Latin American “platforms,” as Ros-Lehtinen put it. Those efforts culminated in legislation, the “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012,” approved overwhelmingly by Congress last December. Among other provisions, it required the State Department to report to Congress on Iran’s “growing hostile presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere,” along with a strategy for neutralizing it, within six months. That report, only a two-page annex of which was publicly released, was submitted at the end of last month.

To the disappointment of the bill’s chief sponsors, notably the Republican chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Jeff Duncan, the report concluded that, despite an increase in Tehran’s “outreach to the region working to strengthen its political, economic, cultural and military ties, … Iranian influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is waning.” And while the rest of the report remains classified, its contents reportedly were consistent with those of the State Department’s 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism, also released last month, which found no evidence of Iranian or Hezbollah terrorist plotting or operations in the Americas, in contrast to what it described as a sharp increase of such activity in Europe, the Middle East and Asia during the past year.

Duncan, who, incidentally, spoke on a panel on Evangelical Christian support for Israel at AIPAC’s annual conference last year, and who in 2011 became the only member of Congress given a 100-percent rating on the Heritage Action for America legislative scorecard, expressed outrage at these conclusions, accusing the State Department of failing to “consider all the facts.” In particular, he charged that the State Department had not taken into account new evidence “documenting Iran’s [ongoing] terrorism activities and operations in the Western Hemisphere” compiled by an Argentine prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, in a 502-page report released (perhaps not entirely coincidentally) just one month before the State Department was due to submit its study.

The Nisman Report and the AMIA bombing

In 2006, Nisman, the chief prosecutor in the case of the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) building, released an even longer controversial report on that case in which he concluded that the bombing had been ordered by Iran’s top leadership and carried out by Hezbollah operatives under the direction of Iran’s cultural attaché at its Argentine embassy, Mohsen Rabbani. (Gareth wrote his own critique of the 2006 report for the The Nation in 2008, joining many Argentine journalists and researchers in questioning Nisman’s theory of the case. Last week he published a related story for IPS that noted the diminished credibility of Nisman’s primary source, a former Iranian intelligence operative named Abdolghassem Mesbahi. He plans a new series on the subject to begin later this month.) The State Department report, Duncan said at the hearing, “directly contradicts the findings from Mr. Nisman’s three-year investigation, which showed clear infiltration of the Iranian regime within countries in Latin America using embassies, mosques, and cultural centers.”

Indeed, according to Nisman’s new report, Iran, through Rabbani and other operatives, has established “clandestine intelligence stations and operative agents” throughout Latin America, including in Guyana, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago and Uruguay and, most especially in the Tri-Border Area (TBA) of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, a region about which Rotella wrote rather darkly when he was Buenos Aires bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times in the late 1990’s. (In fact, a 15-year-old article on the TBA as a “Jungle Hub for World’s Outlaws” and a refuge for terrorists was cited by WINEP’s Matthew Levitt in written testimony submitted at last week’s hearing. Long one of Rotella’s favorite sources, Levitt, the subject of a rather devastating — albeit pay-walled — profile by Ken Silverstein in Harper’s Magazine last year, has been a major figure in the U.S.- and Israeli-led campaign to persuade the European Union to list Hezbollah as a terrorist entity, a campaign that has been boosted by Rotella’s work, as reflected in this article published by ProPublica last April. The symbiotic relationship between the two men may be the subject of a subsequent LobeLog post.)

Nisman, whose new report has been promoted heavily by neoconservative media and institutions over the past six weeks (see, for example, here, here, here, and here), had been invited by the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, to testify at last week’s hearing. But, as noted by Rotella in the article, “his government abruptly barred him from traveling to Washington”, a development which, according to McCaul, constituted a “slap in the face of this committee and the U.S. Congress” and was an indication that Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner had no intention to “pursue justice and truth on Iranian involvement in the AMIA bombing.”

(In his message to me, Pillar noted that there were other good reasons why Kirchner would not want to see Nisman “being used as a prop in Duncan’s hearing …[given] other equities …regarding relations with Washington,” including the ongoing lawsuit against Argentina by a group of hedge funds — led by Paul Singer, a billionaire and major funder of hard-line pro-Israel organizations — that have sponsored full-page ads in the Washington Post and other publications highlighting, among other things, Argentina’s allegedly cozy relationship with Iran.)

In his article, Rotella, who appears to have accepted without question the conclusions of Nisman’s 2006 report on the AMIA bombing, also offers an uncritical account of the prosecutor’s latest report, quoting affirmations by Duncan, McCaul, as well as the four witnesses who testified at the hearing, that the report’s main contentions were true — Iran and Hezbollah are indeed building up their terrorist infrastructure in the region. “The attacks in Buenos Aires in the 1990s revealed the existence of Iranian operational networks in the Americas,” Rotella’s writes. “The Argentine investigation connected the plots to hubs of criminal activity and Hezbollah operational and financing cells in lawless zones, such as the triple border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay and the border between Colombia and Venezuela.”

The Nisman Report and the JFK Bomb Plot

After noting U.S. Treasury designations in 2008 of two Venezuelans as terrorists “for allegedly raising funds for Hezbollah, discussing terrorist operations with Hezbollah operatives, and aiding travel of militants from Venezuela to training sessions in Iran”, Rotella provides the purported Clapper quote about Venezuela and its allies offering “a platform in the region to carry out attacks against the United States, our interests, and allies”, suggesting (falsely) that the DNI himself endorsed Nisman’s view that Iran was behind a plot to attack JFK airport six years ago:

The aborted 2007 plot to attack JFK (airport) was an attempt to use that platform, according to the Argentine special prosecutor. A Guyanese-American Muslim who had once worked as a cargo handler conceived an idea to blow up jet fuel tanks at the airport. He formed a homegrown cell that first sought aid from al Qaida, then coalesced around Abdul Kadir, a Guyanese politician and Shiite Muslim leader.

The trial in New York federal court revealed that Kadir was a longtime intelligence operative for Iran, reporting to the Iranian ambassador in Caracas and communicating also with Rabbani, the accused AMIA plotter.

‘Kadir agreed to participate in the conspiracy, committing himself to reach out to his contacts in Venezuela and the Islamic Republic of Iran,’ Nisman’s report says. ‘The entry of Kadir into the conspiracy brought the involvement and the support of the intelligence station established in Guyana by the Islamic regime.’

Police arrested Kadir as he prepared to fly to Iran to discuss the New York plot with Iranian officials. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

But this account of the case is tendentious, to say the least, and here I am relying on Gareth’s research into the case which he covered in an IPS story last week. While Rotella claimed that the would-be terrorist “cell” had “coalesced around” Kadir, the original criminal complaint that was submitted to the U.S. district court in New York on which the arrests of the four men accused in the plot were based makes clear that Kadir was a secondary participant at the time the arrest was made. In addition, the complaint made no mention of any ties between Kadir and Iran.

Moreover, Rotella’s assertion that the trial revealed Kadir to have been “longtime intelligence operative for Iran” is unfounded, apparently based on nothing more than a set of personal letters Kadir had sent by ordinary mail to Rabbani and the Iranian ambassador to Venezuela and the fact that some contact information for Rabbani was found in Kadir’s address book.

But Kadir’s letters to Rabbani were clearly not the work of an Iranian intelligence operative. They consisted of publicly available information about the political, social and economic situation in Guyana, where Kadir was a member of parliament. Indeed, the fact that they were sent by regular mail — and the lack of any known replies by the addressees — suggests that Kadir’s relationship to Iranian intelligence was even more distant and less interactive than that of George Zimmerman’s to the Seminole County Sheriff’s office in Florida.

During the subsequent trial in 2010, the prosecution tried to play up the letters and even asked Kadir if he was a spy for Iran, which he denied strongly. No other evidence implicating Iran in the plot was introduced. Even the U.S. Attorney’s press release issued after Kadir’s sentencing (and discoverable within milliseconds on Google) offers no indication that Iran had any knowledge of the plot at the time of his arrest. Finally, if indeed the U.S. government had acquired any evidence that Rabbani or any other Iranian official had a role in the plot, as asserted by Nisman, it seems reasonable to ask why he wasn’t indicted along with Kadir and the three others? Yet, in spite of all these factors, Rotella appears to accept Nisman’s argument that the Iranian government had a role in the case and that Kadir was its “long-time intelligence operative” presumably in charge of its “intelligence station” in Guyana.

Rotella next cites the purported testimony (of unknown origin) of Fernando Tabares, the former director of Colombia’s intelligence agency who

…described a mission by an Iranian operative to Colombia via Venezuela in 2008 or 2009. Working with Iranian officials based at the embassy in Bogota, the operative, according to Nisman’s report, ‘was looking at targets in order to carry out possible attacks here in Colombia,’ Tabares testified.

Apart from the vagueness of this account about the unidentified Iranian operative and his mission — as well as the absence of any corroborating evidence — Rotella omitted the easily discoverable fact (via Google) that Tabares himself was sentenced in 2010 to eight years in prison for abuse of trust and illegal wire-tapping, a detail that may reflect on the former intelligence chief’s credibility.

Iranian migrants (refugees?) to Canada

A couple of paragraphs later, Rotella cites the testimony of Joseph Humire, “a security expert” and one of the four witnesses who testified at last week’s hearing. According to Rotella, Humire, executive director at the Center for a Secure Free Society

…cited a report last year in which the Canadian Border Services Agency described Iran as the top source of illegal migrants to Canada, most of them coming through Latin America. Between 2009 and 2011, the majority of those Iranian migrants passed through Caracas, where airport and airline personnel were implicated in providing them with fraudulent documents, according to the Canadian border agency.

But Rotella misreports Humire’s testimony. Humire did not say that Iran was the top source of illegal migrants to Canada; he said Iran was the top source country of improperly documented migrants who make refugee claims in Canada — a not insignificant difference, particularly because the number of Iranian asylum-seekers who come to Canada each year averages only about 300, according to the CSBA report, which noted that 86% won their asylum claims. In addition, the report, a heavily redacted copy of which was graciously provided to me by Humire, indicates that, between 2009 and 2012, more of these migrants flew into Canada from Mexico City and London than from Caracas.

Moreover, the picture painted by the redacted CSBA report is considerably less frightening than that offered by either Rotella or, for that matter, Humire’s testimony.

Many of these migrants use “facilitators” to enter Canada, according to the report. “…Information provided by the migrants on their smugglers suggest possible links to organized criminal elements both within and outside of Canada…Many people seeking refuge in Canada use fake documents and rely on middlemen to help them flee persecution in their homelands.

“While Iranian irregular migrants mainly enter Canada to make refugee claims, it is possible that certain individuals may enter with more sinister motives”, the report cautioned, observing that 19 Iranian immigrants had been denied entry on security grounds since 2008.

So, instead of the flood of Iranian operatives pouring into Canada as suggested by Rotella, what we are talking about is a relatively small number of Iranians who are seeking asylum from a repressive regime. And, like hundreds of thousands of other refugees around the world, they rely on traffickers who provide them with forged or otherwise questionable documents. A few of these may be entering Canada for “more sinister motives”, but Rotella offers no concrete evidence that they have done so.

Yet Rotella follows his brief — if fundamentally flawed — summary of Humire’s remarks about Iranian asylum-seekers in Canada with his own riff, going “out of the way to raise suspicions about Iranian activities,” as Pillar notes, and returning once again to those anonymous “security officials” as his sources.

Humire’s allegations are consistent with interviews in recent years in which U.S., Latin America and Israeli security officials have told ProPublica about suspected Middle Eastern operatives and Latin American drug lords obtaining Venezuelan documents through corruption or ideological complicity.

“There seems to be an effort by the Venezuelan government to make sure that Iranians have a full set of credentials,” a U.S. law enforcement official said.

Last year’s secret talks between Iranian and Venezuelan spies intensified such cooperation, according to Western intelligence officials who described the meetings to ProPublica. The senior Iranian officer who traveled with the presidential entourage asked Venezuelan counterparts to ensure access to key officials in the airport police, customs and other agencies and “permits for transferring cargo through airports and swiftly arranging various bureaucratic matters,” the intelligence official said.

Venezuelan leaders have denied that their alliance with Iran has hostile intent. They have rejected concerns about flights that operated for years between Caracas and Tehran. The State Department and other U.S. agencies criticized Venezuela for failing to make public passenger and cargo manifests and other information about secretive flights to Iran, raising the fear of a pipeline for clandestine movement of people and goods.

The flights have been discontinued, U.S. officials say.

ProPublica’s high standards

I personally believe that ProPublica, since it launched its operations in 2008, has performed an invaluable public service in providing high-quality investigative journalism at a time when the genre risked (and still risks) becoming virtually extinct. As a result, readers of the agency have come to expect its articles not only to compile existing information that is already publicly available in ways that connect the dots, but also provide significant, previously unpublished material with important insights into the events of the day in ways that seriously challenge conventional wisdom as defined by mainstream media and, as ProPublica’s mission statement puts it, “those with power.”  The question posed by Rotella’s latest article — as well as other work he has published on alleged Iranian and Hezbollah terrorism — is whether it meets the mission and high standards that ProPublica readers expect.

Given the misattribution of a quotation critical to the story’s thesis; the prolific use of anonymous “Western intelligence sources” and the like; the citation of sources with a clear ideological or political axe to grind; the omission of information that could bear on those sources’ credibility; the more or less uncritical acceptance of official reports that are known to be controversial but that generally reflect the interests of the axe-grinders; and the failure to confirm misinformation that can be quickly searched and verified, one can’t help but ask whether Rotella’s work meets ProPublica’s standards.

That question takes on additional and urgent importance given the subject — alleged terrorist activities by Iran and Hezbollah — Rotella specializes in. All of us remember the media’s deplorable failure to critically challenge the Bush administration’s allegations — and those of anonymous “Western intelligence sources”, etc. — about Saddam Hussein’s links to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, as well as his vast and fast-growing arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including a supposedly advanced nuclear-weapons program. We now face, in many respects, a comparable situation with respect to Iran. Bearing that history in mind, any media organization — but especially one of ProPublica’s stature and mission — should be expected to make extraordinary efforts not only to verify its information, reduce its reliance on anonymous sources and avoid innuendo, but also to aggressively challenge “official” narratives or those that are quite obviously being promoted as part of a campaign by parties with a clear interest in confrontation — even war — with Iran. The stakes are considerable.

Gareth Porter and Marsha Cohen contributed substantially to this report.

*Today, shortly before this blog post was published and one day after I contacted the DNI press office to confirm that the quotation had been misattributed to DNI Clapper, ProPublica issued the following correction: “Due to an error in testimony by a congressional witness, this story initially misattributed a statement made by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., to James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence. The story has been revised to correct the attribution and incorporate Clapper’s actual statement to a Senate committee.” In my view, the wording of the correction, suggesting that the misattribution was the fault of a witness, underlines the importance of meticulous fact-checking when dealing with such a charged issue. As noted above, Clapper was the only identified Western intelligence official cited in the article, and his quotation — or non-quotation — is critical to the overall credibility of the underlying thesis: that Iran and Hezbollah are building a terrorist infrastructure in the Americas aimed at the U.S.  While the quote in question is now properly attributed to Ros-Lehtinen (who was never mentioned in the original version), the implicit suggestion that she has serious expertise on the issue, in my opinion, makes the article’s underlying thesis even less credible.

Further weakening the thesis is the introduction in the article’s corrected version of the Arbabsiar case (the alleged 2011 plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington) about which Rotella was initially skeptical but which he and/or his editors have now seen fit to include in the story.  But citing the Arbabsiar case begs a serious question: If Iran, the Quds Force and Hezbollah have built up all these terrorist hubs and smuggling networks throughout Latin America and the Caribbean (and even into Canada), why would Quds Force commanders resort to recruiting a totally inexperienced, obviously unstable Iranian-American failed used-car salesman (now described by Rotella as “an Iranian-American operative”) to make contact with the Zetas to arrange the assassination? Conversely, if the Quds commanders felt they had to resort to Arbabsiar to establish contact with the Zetas to get the job done, then the existence of the terrorist infrastructure depicted in Rotella’s article looks even more doubtful than it did in the original story.

UPDATE: Apparently, the witness who misattributed the Ros-Lehtinen/Clapper quote was AFPC’s Ilan Berman (who most recently misattributed the quote in a usnews.com op-ed co-authored with Netanel Levitt on July 15). Berman, a leading figure in the continuing sanctions campaign against Iran, suggested shortly after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq that Washington should pursue regime change in Iran.

Photo Credit: Prensa Miraflores

July 19, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Four Years Ago Obama Promised to Investigate Afghan Massacre. Has Anything Happened Since?

Physicians for Human Rights sent forensic experts to conduct a preliminary forensic assessment of various mass graves in northern Afghanistan, including the one at Dasht-e-Leili. (Physicians for Human Rights)

By Cora Currier | ProPublica | June 4, 2013

In his first year in office, President Barack Obama pledged to “collect the facts” on the death of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Taliban prisoners of war at the hands of U.S.-allied Afghan forces in late 2001.

Almost four years later, there’s no sign of progress.

When asked by ProPublica about the state of the investigation, the White House says it is still “looking into” the apparent massacre. Yet no facts have been released and it’s far from clear what, if any, facts have been collected.

Human rights researchers who originally uncovered the case say they’ve seen no evidence of an active investigation.

The deaths happened as Taliban forces were collapsing in the wake of the American invasion of Afghanistan. Thousands of Taliban prisoners had surrendered to the forces of a U.S.-supported warlord named Abdul Rashid Dostum. The prisoners, say survivors and other witnesses, were stuffed into shipping containers without food or water. Many died of suffocation. Others were allegedly killed when Dostum’s men shot at the containers.

A few months later, a mass grave was found nearby in Dasht-i-Leili, a desert region of northern Afghanistan.

The New York Times reported in 2009 that the Bush administration, sensitive to criticism of a U.S. ally, had discouraged investigations into the incident. In response, Obama told CNN that “if it appears that our conduct in some way supported violations of the laws of war, I think that we have to know about that.”

A White House spokeswoman told ProPublica that there has indeed been some kind of review – and that it’s still ongoing: “At the direction of the President, his national security team is continuing its work looking into the Dasht-i-Leili massacre.” She declined to provide more details.

“This seems quite half-hearted and cynical,” said Susannah Sirkin, director of international policy at Physicians for Human Rights, the group that discovered the grave site in 2002 and since then has pushed for an investigation.

The group sent a letter to the president in December 2011, the tenth anniversary of the incident. In a follow-up meeting some months later, senior State Department officials told Physicians for Human Rights that there was nothing new to share.

“This has been a hot potato that no one wanted to deal with, and now it’s gone cold,” said Norah Niland, former director of human rights for the United Nations in Afghanistan.

Human rights advocates have long said the responsibility for a comprehensive investigation lies with the U.S., because American forces were allied with Dostum and his men at the time. Surviving prisoners have also claimed that Americans were present when the containers were loaded, though that’s never been corroborated.

A Pentagon spokesman told ProPublica that the Department of Defense “found no evidence of U.S. service member participation, knowledge, or presence. A broader review of the facts is beyond D.O.D.’s purview.” That initial review has never been made public.

At this point, say advocates, an investigation should address not just the question of U.S. involvement, but also what the U.S. did in the years that followed to foster accountability.

“I’m not saying Dostum ordered these people killed, and I’m not saying U.S. troops participated,” said Stefan Schmitt, a forensic specialist with Physicians for Human Rights. “All I’m saying is there are hundreds if not thousands of people that went missing. In a country that’s looking to have peace, to be under the rule of law, you need to answer these questions.”

Initially excited by Obama’s statement, researchers with Physicians for Human Rights peppered the administration with their findings. But the response was “murky at best,” said Sirkin.

“We were never very clear on who within the administration was delegated the task,” she said. Current and former administration officials interviewed by ProPublica couldn’t say which agency or department had the job.

Sirkin and others eventually resigned themselves to the fact that Obama, in his televised remarks, had not specifically called for a full investigation. With the U.S. now withdrawing from Afghanistan, many observers say it’s no surprise that investigating Dasht-i-Leili is no longer a priority.

Dostum still holds considerable sway in Northern Afghanistan, though he has fallen in and out of favor with the U.S. and with Afghan president Hamid Karzai. The Times recently reported Dostum is one of several former warlords to whom Karzai passes on thousands of dollars in cash he receives from the CIA each month. (We were unable to reach Dostum himself for this story.)

The Obama administration has been cool toward him in recent years, saying ahead of Afghanistan’s elections in 2009 that the U.S. “maintains concerns about any leadership role for Mr. Dostum in today’s Afghanistan.”

Back in 2001, Dostum was far more important to the U.S. He was a U.S. proxy, fighting the Taliban as part of the Northern Alliance. American Special Forces famously rode on horseback alongside Dostum’s men, advising and calling in airstrikes. The alliance took the city of Mazar-i-Sharif from the Taliban in one of the first major victories of the invasion in early November 2001.

The shipping container deaths occurred a few weeks later, when Taliban fighters who had surrendered to the Northern Alliance at the city of Kunduz were en route to a prison about 200 miles away.

That winter, Physicians for Human Rights discovered a mass grave at Dasht-i-Leili. A preliminary investigation exhumed several bodies that appeared to have died from suffocation. Stories began to circulate in the region and Newsweek and others published detailed accounts from surviving prisoners, truck drivers, and other witnesses.

The Times also reported that an FBI agent interviewing new Afghan arrivals to Guantanamo Bay prison in early 2002 heard consistent accounts of prisoners “stacked like cordwood,” and death by suffocation and shooting. When the agent pressed for an investigation, he was reportedly told it was not his responsibility.

Dostum has said that he would welcome an investigation. He said that some 200 prisoners had indeed died in transit, but that the deaths were unintentional, the result of battlefield wounds.

Other estimates put the toll much higher.

A widely cited State Department memo from fall 2002 said that “the actual number may approach 2,000.”

Around the same time, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell tasked his Ambassador for War Crimes, Pierre-Richard Prosper, with looking into Dasht-i-Leili. Prosper told ProPublica that due to the U.S. alliance with Dostum, Washington felt the U.S. should not take the lead in an investigation.

“We were in the middle of fighting, and we thought we should keep the lines clear, let someone else, the U.N. or Afghans, handle this,” said Prosper.

But the newly installed Afghan government had neither the will nor the resources for a thorough investigation, and U.N. officials said they could not guarantee security. Witnesses and others involved in Dasht-i-Leili had already been killed and harassed, according to State Department memos.

A declassified Defense Department memo from February 2003 indicates the U.S. was not providing security for an investigation. The memo’s author, Marshall Billingslea, told the Times in 2009, “I did get the sense that there was little appetite for this matter within parts of D.O.D.” (Billingslea did not respond to our requests for comment.)

As the years went by, no one from the U.S., the U.N., or Afghanistan guarded the grave site. In 2008, reporters and researchers found empty pits where they had once found human remains. Satellite photos obtained later showed what appeared to be earth-moving equipment in the desert in 2006. Locals told McClatchy that Dostum’s men had dug up the graves.

After Obama pledged in 2009 to look into the case, a parallel inquiry was begun the next year in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by current Secretary of State John Kerry.

The fate of that investigation is also unclear. The lead investigator, John Kiriakou, was a former CIA officer who was caught up in a criminal leak prosecution and is now in prison. Other Senate staffers could not provide details on Kiriakou’s efforts. Physicians for Human Rights says contact from the committee fizzled out within a year.

New attention to Dasht-i-Leili had also been sparked within the U.N.’s mission in Afghanistan and the organization’s High Commission on Human Rights, former U.N. officials said.

However, Peter Galbraith, who was the U.N.’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan until the fall of 2009, told ProPublica that “an investigation would’ve required a push from the U.S. It required the cooperation of the coalition forces.” (Neither the U.N. mission in Afghanistan nor the office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights responded to our requests for comment.)

The mass grave at Dasht-i-Leili is one of many left unexamined in Afghanistan. In late 2011, the nation’s Independent Human Rights Commission concluded a massive report on decades of war crimes and human rights abuses, which reportedly documents 180 mass graves across the country. The region near Dasht-i-Leili is also believed to hold the remains of civilians massacred by the Taliban in 1998, in what Human Rights Watch called “one of the single worst examples of killings of civilians in Afghanistan’s twenty-year war.” In all, the report named 500 individuals responsible for mass killings – some of whom hold prominent government positions.

American and Afghan officials reportedly discouraged publication of the report, and the commission has still not made it public. “It’s going to reopen all the old wounds,” an American Embassy official told the New York Times last year. Afghanistan also recently adopted an amnesty law offering blanket immunity for past war crimes.

Nader Nadery, the commissioner responsible for the report, told ProPublica: “I haven’t seen any political or even rhetorical support of investigations into Dasht-i-Leili or any other investigation into past atrocities, from either Bush or Obama.”

A History of Inaction

Nov. 24, 2001: As Taliban forces surrender to the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, several thousand prisoners of war are transported in shipping containers. Survivors and witnesses later allege as many as 2,000 prisoners died — some suffocated while others were shot — and are buried in a grave site at Dasht-i-Leili.

February 2002: Physicians for Human Rights visits the graves at Dasht-i-Leili. That spring, under the auspices of the U.N., PHR conducts an initial forensic investigation of the graves, exhuming a number of recent remains that indicated death by suffocation.

Spring and Summer 2002: Media reports detail eyewitness allegations about deaths in the containers.

Fall 2002: U.S., U.N. and Afghan authorities say that a full investigation is warranted, but none gets off the ground.

2006: Satellite photos show disturbances at the grave sites at Dasht-i-Leili.

2008: Researchers and reporters find empty pits where graves had once been.

July 10, 2009: The New York Times reports that Bush administration officials had discouraged U.S. government investigations into Dasht-i-Leili.

July 13, 2009: Obama tells CNN, “I’ve asked my national security team to… collect the facts for me that are known.”

Early 2010: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee begins an inquiry into Dasht-i-Leili. The scope and result of that investigation is not clear.

May 2013: A White House spokesperson says that the president’s “national security team is continuing its work looking into the Dasht-i-Leili massacre.”

June 6, 2013 Posted by | Progressive Hypocrite, War Crimes | , , , , , | Leave a comment

FDA Let Drugs Approved on Fraudulent Research Stay on the Market

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Retired FDA investigator Patrick Stone (Katie Hayes Luke for ProPublica)

On the morning of May 3, 2010, three agents of the Food and Drug Administration descended upon the Houston office of Cetero Research, a firm that conducted research for drug companies worldwide.

Lead agent Patrick Stone, now retired from the FDA, had visited the Houston lab many times over the previous decade for routine inspections. This time was different. His team was there to investigate a former employee’s allegation that the company had tampered with records and manipulated test data.

When Stone explained the gravity of the inquiry to Chinna Pamidi, the testing facility’s president, the Cetero executive made a brief phone call. Moments later, employees rolled in eight flatbed carts, each double-stacked with file boxes. The documents represented five years of data from some 1,400 drug trials.

Pamidi bluntly acknowledged that much of the lab’s work was fraudulent, Stone said. “You got us,” Stone recalled him saying.

Based partly on records in the file boxes, the FDA eventually concluded that the lab’s violations were so “egregious” and pervasive that studies conducted there between April 2005 and August 2009 might be worthless.

The health threat was potentially serious: About 100 drugs, including sophisticated chemotherapy compounds and addictive prescription painkillers, had been approved for sale in the United States at least in part on the strength of Cetero Houston’s tainted tests. The vast majority, 81, were generic versions of brand-name drugs on which Cetero scientists had often run critical tests to determine whether the copies did, in fact, act the same in the body as the originals. For example, one of these generic drugs was ibuprofen, sold as gelatin capsules by one of the nation’s largest grocery-store chains for months before the FDA received assurance they were safe.

The rest were new medications that required so much research to win approval that the FDA says Cetero’s tests were rarely crucial.

Stone said he expected the FDA to move swiftly to compel new testing and to publicly warn patients and doctors.

Instead, the agency decided to handle the matter quietly, evaluating the medicines with virtually no public disclosure of what it had discovered. It pulled none of the drugs from the market, even temporarily, letting consumers take the ibuprofen and other medicines it no longer knew for sure were safe and effective. To this day, some drugs remain on the market despite the FDA having no additional scientific evidence to back up the safety and efficacy of these drugs.

By contrast, the FDA’s transatlantic counterpart, the European Medicines Agency, has pulled seven Cetero-tested medicines from the market.

The FDA also has moved slowly to shore up the science behind the drugs. Twice the FDA announced it was requiring drug makers to repeat, reanalyze or audit many of Cetero’s tests, and to submit their findings to the agency. Both times the agency set deadlines, yet it has allowed some companies to blow by them.

Today, six months after the last of those deadlines expired and almost three years after Cetero’s misconduct was discovered, the FDA has received the required submissions for just 53 drugs. The agency says most companies met the deadlines but acknowledged that “a few have not yet submitted new studies.”

Other companies, it said, have not submitted new research because they removed their drugs from the market altogether.

For its part, the FDA has finished its review of just 21 of the 53 submissions it has received, raising the possibility that patients are taking medications today that the agency might pull off the market tomorrow.

To this day, the agency refuses to disclose the names of the drugs it is reassessing, on the grounds that doing so would expose “confidential commercial information.” ProPublica managed to identify five drugs that used Cetero tests to help win FDA approval.

FDA officials defended the agency’s handling of the Cetero case as prudent and scientifically sound, noting that the agency has found no discrepancies between any original drug and its generic copy and no sign that any patients have been harmed.

“It is non-trivial to have to redo all this, to withdraw drugs, to alarm the public and the providers for a large range of drugs,” said Janet Woodcock, the director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “There are consequences. To repeat the studies requires human experimentation, and that is not totally without risk.”

Woodcock added that an agency risk assessment found the potential for harm from drugs tested by Cetero to be “quite low,” an assessment she said has been “confirmed” by the fact that no problems have been found in the drugs the agency has finished reviewing.

She declined to release the risk assessment or detail its design. A subsequent statement from the agency described the assessment as “fluid” and “ongoing.” The FDA also has not released its 21 completed reviews, which ProPublica has requested.

Some experts say that by withholding so much information in the Cetero case the FDA failed to meet its obligations to the public.

“If there are problems with the scientific studies, as there have been in this case, then the FDA’s review of those problems needs to be transparent,” said David Kessler, who headed the FDA from 1990 to 1997 and who is now a professor at the University of California at San Francisco. Putting its reviews in public view would let the medical community “understand the basis for the agency’s actions,” he said. “FDA may be right here, but if it wants public confidence, they should be transparent. Otherwise it’s just a black box.”

Another former senior FDA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also felt the FDA had moved too slowly and secretively. “They’re keeping it all in the dark. It’s not transparent at all,” he said.

By contrast, the European Medicines Agency has provided a public accounting of the science behind all the drugs it has reviewed. Its policy, the EMA said in response to questions, is to make public “all review procedures where the benefit-risk balance of a medicine is under scrutiny.”

Woodcock dismissed comparisons to the EMA. “Europe had a smaller handful of drugs,” she said, “and they may not have engaged in as extensive negotiation and investigations with the company as we did.”

She said the FDA would have disclosed more, including the names of drugs, had it believed there was a risk to public health. “We believe that this did not rise to the level where the public should be notified,” she said. “We felt it would result in misunderstanding and inappropriate actions.”

In a written response to Kessler’s comments, the FDA said, “We’ve been as transparent as possible given the legal protections surrounding an FDA investigation of this or any type. The issue is not a lack of transparency but rather the difficulty of explaining why the problems we identified at Cetero, which on their face would appear to be highly significant in terms of patient risk, fortunately were not.”

Still, the FDA’s secrecy has had other ramifications. Some of Cetero’s suspect research made its way unchallenged into the peer-reviewed scientific literature on which the medical community relies. In one case, a researcher and a journal editor told ProPublica they had no idea the Cetero tests had been called into doubt.

Cetero, in correspondence with the FDA, conceded misconduct. And in an interview, Cetero’s former attorney, Marc Scheineson, acknowledged that chemists at the Houston facility committed fraud but said the problem was limited to six people who had all been fired.

“There is still zero evidence that any of the test results…were wrong, inaccurate, or incorrect,” he said. Scheineson called the FDA’s actions “overkill” and said they led to the demise of Cetero and its successor company.

In 2012, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and emerged with a new name, PRACS Institute. PRACS, in turn, filed for bankruptcy on March 22 of this year. A PRACS spokesperson said the company had closed the Houston facility in October 2012.

Pamidi, the Cetero executive who provided the carts of file boxes, declined to comment.

As for Stone, the former FDA investigator, he said he was disturbed by the agency’s decisions.

“They could have done more,” he said. “They should have done more.”

‘We Should Have Been Told’

Cross-checking U.S. and European public records, including regulatory filings, scientific studies and civil lawsuits, ProPublica was able to identify a few of the drugs that are on the U.S. market because of tests performed at Cetero’s Houston lab (see chart.) There is no evidence that patients have suffered harm from these drugs; the FDA says it has detected no increase in reports of side effects or lack of efficacy among Cetero-tested medications.

To be sure, just because a crucial study is deemed potentially unreliable does not mean that a drug is unsafe or ineffective. What it does mean is that the FDA’s scientific basis for approving that drug has been undermined.

The risks are real, academic experts say, particularly for drugs such as blood thinners and anti-seizure medications that must be given at very specific doses. And generic versions of drugs have been known to act differently from name-brand products (see accompanying story.)

There is no indication the generic ibuprofen gelatin capsules hurt anyone, but their case shows how the FDA left a drug on the market for months without confirmation that the drug was equivalent to the name brand.

The capsules were manufactured by Banner Pharmacaps and carried by Supervalu, a grocery company that operates or licenses more than 2,400 stores across the United States, including Albertson’s, Jewel-Osco, Shop ‘n Save, Save-A-Lot, and Shoppers Food & Pharmacy.

Cetero had performed a key analysis to show that the capsules were equivalent to other forms of the drug. Banner, the drug’s maker, said the FDA first alerted it to the problems at Cetero in August 2011. The FDA required drug companies to redo many of Cetero’s tests, but, a spokesperson for Banner wrote in an email, “We received no directive from FDA to recall or otherwise interrupt manufacture of the product.”

Banner said it repeated the tainted Cetero tests at a different research firm, and the FDA said it received the new data in January 2012 — leaving a gap of at least five months when the FDA knew the drug was on the market without a rock-solid scientific basis.

An FDA spokesperson wrote in an email that the agency found the new studies Banner submitted “acceptable” and told Banner it had no further questions.

A spokesperson for Supervalu told ProPublica it purchased the ibuprofen from a supplier, which has assured the grocery company that “there are no issues with the product.”

According to U.S. and European records, another one of the drugs approved based on research at Cetero’s troubled Houston lab was a chemotherapy drug known as Temodar for Injection.

Temodar was originally approved in 1999 as a capsule to fight an aggressive brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme. Some patients, however, can’t tolerate taking the medication orally, so drug maker Schering-Plough decided to make an intravenous form of the drug.

To get Temodar for Injection approved, the FDA required what it called a “pivotal” test comparing the well-established capsule form of Temodar to the form injected directly into the bloodstream.

Cetero Houston conducted that test, comparing blood samples of patients who received the capsule to samples of those who got the injection to determine if the same amount of the drug was reaching the bloodstream. This test is crucial, particularly in the case of Temodar, where there was a question about the right dosing regimen of the injectable version. If too little drug gets into the blood, the cancer could continue to grow unabated. If too much gets in, the drug’s debilitating side effects could be even worse.

Cetero performed the test between September 2006 and October 2007, according to documents from the European Medicines Agency, and FDA records indicate that same test was used to win approval in the U.S.

In 2011, the FDA notified Merck & Co., which had acquired Schering-Plough, about the problems with Cetero’s testing. In April 2012, the FDA publicly announced that analyses done by Cetero during the time when it performed the Temodar work would have to be redone. But according to Merck spokesman Ronald Rogers, the FDA has not asked Merck for any additional analyses to replace the questionable study.

The FDA declined to answer specific questions about the Temodar case, saying to do so would reveal confidential commercial information. But Woodcock said that in some cases, drug manufacturers had submitted alternative test results to the FDA that satisfied the agency that no retesting was necessary for specific drugs.

The FDA never removed Temodar for Injection from the market. The European Medicines Agency also kept the injection form of the drug on the market, but the two agencies handled their decision in sharply different ways.

The EMA has publicly laid out evidence — including studies not performed by Cetero — for why it believes the benefits of the injection drug outweigh its risks. But in the United States, the FDA has kept silent. To this day, Temodar’s label — the single most important way the FDA communicates the risks and benefits of medication — still displays data from the dubious Cetero study. (The label of at least one other drug, a powerful pain reliever marketed as Lazanda, also still displays questionable Cetero data.)

Woodcock said the agency hadn’t required manufacturers to alter their labels because, despite any question about precise numerical precision, the FDA’s overall recommendation had not changed.

In a written response to questions, Merck said it “stands behind the data in the TEMODAR (temozolomide) label.” The company said it learned about “misconduct at a contract research organization (CRO) facility in Houston” from the FDA and that it cooperated with investigations by the FDA and its European counterpart. It said that Cetero had performed no other studies for Merck.

Even one of the researchers involved in evaluating injectable Temodar didn’t know that the FDA had flagged Cetero’s analysis as potentially unreliable until contacted by a reporter for this story.

Dr. Max Schwarz, an oncologist and clinical professor at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, treated some brain-cancer patients with the experimental injectable form of Temodar and others with the capsule formulation. Blood from his patients was sent to Cetero’s Houston lab for analysis.

Schwarz said he still has confidence in the injectable form of the drug, but said that he was “taken aback” when a reporter told him that the FDA had raised questions about the analysis. “I think we should have been told,” he said.

Suspect research conducted by Cetero Houston was not only used to win FDA approval but was also submitted to peer-reviewed scientific journals. Aided by the FDA’s silence, those articles remain in the scientific literature with no indication that they might, in fact, be compromised. For example, based on Cetero’s work, an article in the journal Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology purports to show that Temodar for Injection is equivalent to Temodar capsules.

Edward Sausville, co-editor-in-chief of the journal, said in an email that the first he heard that something might be wrong with the Cetero research was when a reporter contacted him for this story. He also said the publisher of the journal would conduct a “review of relevant records pertinent to this case.”

‘There’s Always Something Missing’

During his years of inspecting the Houston lab, the FDA’s Stone said he often had the sense that something wasn’t right. When he went to other contract research firms and asked for data on a trial, they generally produced an overwhelming amount of paper: records of failed tests, meticulous explanations of how the chemists had made adjustments, and more.

Cetero’s records, by contrast, showed very clean, error-free procedures. As Stone and his colleagues dug through the data, though, they often found gaps. When pressed, Cetero officials would often produce additional data — data that ought to have been in the files originally handed over to the FDA.

Stone said, “We should have looked back and said, ‘Wait a minute, there’s always something missing from the studies from here. Why?'”

One reason, the FDA would determine, was that Cetero’s chemists were taking shortcuts and other actions prohibited by the FDA’s Good Laboratory Practice guidelines, which set out such matters as how records must be kept and how tests must be performed.

Stone and his FDA colleagues might never have realized Cetero was engaging in misconduct if a whistleblower hadn’t stepped forward.

Cashton J. Briscoe operated a liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry device, or “mass spec,” a sensitive machine that measures the concentration of a drug in the blood.

He took blood samples prepared by Cetero chemists and used mass specs to perform “runs” — tests to see how much of a drug is in patients’ blood — that must always be performed with control samples. Often those controls show readings that are clearly wrong, and chemists have to abort runs, document the failure, recalibrate the machines, and redo the whole process.

But Cetero paid its Houston chemists based on how many runs they completed in a day. Some chemists doubled or even tripled their income by squeezing in extra tests, according to time sheets entered as evidence in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Houston by six chemists seeking overtime payments. Briscoe thought several chemists were cutting corners — by using the control-sample readings from one run in other runs, for example.

Attorney Scheineson, who represented Cetero during the FDA’s investigation, acknowledged that the Houston lab’s compensation system was “crappy” and that a handful of “dishonest” chemists at the Houston facility committed fraud.

In April 2009, Briscoe blew the whistle in a letter to the company written by his lawyer, reporting that “many of the chemists were manipulating and falsifying data.” Soon thereafter, Briscoe told the company that he had documented the misconduct. According to Stone and documents reviewed by ProPublica, Briscoe had photographic evidence that mass spec operators had switched the quality control samples between different runs; before-and-after copies of documents with the dates and other material changed; and information about a shadow computer filing system, where data from failed runs could be stored out of sight of FDA inspectors.

On June 5, apparently frustrated with Cetero’s response, Briscoe went a step further and called the FDA’s Dallas office. He agreed to meet Stone the following Monday, but never showed. Stone called him, as did other FDA officials, but Briscoe had changed his mind and clammed up.

Still, Stone’s brief phone conversation with Briscoe reminded the agent of all those suspiciously clean records he had seen at Cetero over the years. “Now that you have a bigger picture,” Stone recalled, “you’re like, ‘Oh, some of this stuff is cooked.'”

Two days after Stone’s aborted meeting with Briscoe, Cetero informed the FDA that an employee had made allegations of misconduct and that the company had hired an outside auditor to review five years’ worth of data. That led to months of back-and-forth between the agency and Cetero that culminated when Stone and his inspectors arrived in Houston in May 2010.

Two teams of FDA investigators eventually confirmed Briscoe’s main allegations and cited the company for falsifying records and other violations of Good Laboratory Practice. The net effect of the misconduct was far-reaching, agency officials wrote in a July 2011 letter:

“The pervasiveness and egregious nature of the violative practices by your firm has led FDA to have significant concerns that the bioequivalence and bioavailability data generated at the Cetero Houston facility from April 1, 2005, to June 15, 2010 … are unreliable.”

Bioequivalence studies measure whether a generic drug acts the same in the body as the name-brand drug; bioavailability studies measure how much drug gets into a patient’s system.

The FDA’s next step was to try to determine which drugs were implicated — information the agency couldn’t glean from its own records.

“We couldn’t really tell — because most of the applications we get are in paper — which studies were actually linked to the key studies in an application without asking the application holders,” the FDA’s Woodcock said. “So we asked the application holders,” meaning the drug manufacturers.

In the interim, the FDA continued to investigate processes and procedures at Cetero.

“We put their operations under a microscope,” said Woodcock. A team of clinical pharmacologists, statisticians and IT experts conducted a risk analysis of the problems at Cetero, she said, and they “concluded that the risk of a misleading result was very low given how the studies were done, how the data were captured and so forth.”

In April 2012, nearly three years after Briscoe first alerted the FDA to problems at Cetero, and nearly two years after Cetero handed over its documentation to inspectors, the FDA entered into a final agreement with the company. Drug makers would need to redo tests conducted at the company’s Houston facility between April 1, 2005 and Feb. 28, 2008, if those studies had been part of a drug application submitted to the FDA. If stored blood samples were still usable, they could be reanalyzed. If not, the entire study would need to be repeated, the FDA said. The agency set a deadline of six months.

Cetero tests done between March 1, 2008 and Aug. 31, 2009 would be accepted only if they were accompanied by an independent data integrity audit.

Analyses done after Sept. 1, 2009 would not require retesting. The FDA said that Cetero had issued a written directive on Sept. 1, 2009, ordering one kind of misconduct to stop, which was why it did not require any action on Cetero Houston studies after that date. According to public documents, however, the agency’s inspectors “found continued deficiencies” that persisted into December 2010.

In response to questions, the FDA said the problem period “was subsequently narrowed as more information regarding Cetero’s practices became available.”

A year after concluding its final agreement with Cetero, the FDA’s review is still not finished. “Without the process being public it’s hard to know, but it seems that this has been going on for too long,” said Kessler, the former FDA chief.

“The process has been long,” the FDA said, “because of the number of products involved and our wish to be thorough and accurate in both our requests for and our review of the data.”

Cetero’s attorney Scheineson said the FDA scaled back its requirements because it finally talked with company officials. He noted that Cetero had tried repeatedly to talk with the FDA before the agency issued its strongly worded July 2011 letter, and that more than 1,000 employees have since lost their jobs.

“If you would get an honest assessment from the leaders of the agency,” he said, “I think in retrospect they would have argued that this was overkill here and that they should have had input from the company before essentially going public with that death sentence.”

“I’m not sure what is meant by ‘death sentence,'” an FDA spokesperson wrote in response, “but our first priority was and is patient safety and we proceeded to conduct the investigation toward that objective.”

‘Should I Be Proud of This?’

The FDA’s Stone draws little satisfaction from unraveling the problems at Cetero.

There are thousands of bioequivalence studies done every year, he pointed out, with each study generating thousands of pages of paper records. “Do you really think we’re going to look at 100 percent of them? We’re going to look at maybe 5 percent if we’re lucky,” he said. “Sometimes 1 percent.”

Still, given how often he and other FDA teams had inspected the Houston lab, he thinks regulators should have spotted Cetero’s misconduct sooner.

“In hindsight I look back and I’m like, ‘Wow, should I be proud of this?'” he said. “It’s cool that I was part of it, but it’s crap that we didn’t catch it five years ago. How could we let this go so long?”

Rob Garver can be reached at rob.garver@propublica.org, and Charles Seife can be reached at cgseife@nasw.org.

Research assistance for this story was contributed by Nick Stockton, Christine Kelly, Lily Newman, Joss Fong and Sarah Jacoby of the Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program at NYU.

April 17, 2013 Posted by | Deception | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Columnist Clarence Page Spoke at Rally for Iranian Militant Group

By Justin Elliott | ProPublica | July 2, 2012

Late last month,  syndicated columnist Clarence Page appeared at a rally in Paris in support of the Mujahadin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian group that has been lobbying Washington to be removed from the U.S. government’s list of designated foreign terrorist organizations.

Before a huge crowd waving portraits of MEK leaders Maryam and Massoud Rajavi as well as Iranian flags, Page called for the MEK to be removed from the official terrorist organization list.

Contacted about the appearance by ProPublica, Page said he has decided to give back his speaking fee for the event, as well as reimburse the cost of travel to and from France, which was paid for by a group called the Organizing Committee for Convention for Democracy in Iran.

“I thought they were simply a group of Iranian exiles who were opposed to the regime in Tehran,” Page said. “I later found out they can be construed as a MEK front group, and I don’t think it’s worth it to my reputation to be perceived as a paid spokesman for any political cause.”

Page said he was paid a fee of $20,000 and travel expenses and that he attended the June 23 event during vacation time. He said he just arrived back at work from vacation and has not yet given back the money. He did not have the text of the speech he delivered, but he told ProPublica he spoke in favor of the MEK being removed from the list of  terrorist organizations, a move he expects to occur shortly.

The MEK, which fiercely opposes the current regime in Iran, has  mounted a high-priced lobbying and legal battle to get off the terrorist list in recent years. The group was placed on the list in 1997 by the Clinton Administration, which cited its record of attacks against Iranian targets.  The group also “assassinated several U.S. military personnel and U.S. civilians working on defense projects in Tehran” in the 1970s when the U.S. was allied with the Shah, according to the State Department. The MEK says it has renounced violence. A federal appeals court last month ordered the State Department to decide within four months whether the MEK should remain on the list.

Groups supporting the MEK have paid millions of dollars to attract former officials and retired military officers to appear at events supporting the group in recent years. But because the MEK is an officially designated terrorist organization, it is illegal for Americans to accept money from the MEK itself. NBC reported in March that former officials had received subpoenas as part of a federal probe “focused on whether the former officials may have received funding, directly or indirectly, from the [MEK].”

Besides Page’s role as a columnist whose work is distributed by Tribune Media Services, he is also a member of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board. Page has not written about Iran in his  column recently, but the Tribune editorial board regularly weighs in on foreign policy. Last month, the paper called on the Obama administration to “ratchet up the economic pressure” on Iran in the dispute over the country’s nuclear program. A spokeswoman for the Tribune did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Organizers assert  that 100,000 people attended the Paris event last month, but that figure has not been independently verified. In a speech, Maryam Rajavi hailed the “unparalleled bipartisan coalition which has challenged the official policy” that labels the MEK a terrorist group.

Others attending the event last month include Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, former Bush administration official John Bolton, and several former high-ranking military officers.

“When I got involved with it, I saw the stellar list of VIPs who were also on the program, and I saw this to be another conference with another speech,” Page said.

Page said the invitation to the event last month came through his agent Janet LeBrun Cosby and Bethesda-based Speakers Worldwide.

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Video of Newt Gingrich speech at the event:

July 3, 2012 Posted by | Corruption, Video | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Columnist Clarence Page Spoke at Rally for Iranian Militant Group