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How Trump Gutted Obama’s Pandemic-Preparedness Systems

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Abigal Tracy writes in Vanity Fair:

When the first reported cases of Ebola in Guinea came to light in March 2014, it set off a mad scramble inside the Obama White House to track and contain the spread of the virus, which killed around 50% of the people it infected. Though not nearly as contagious as the current coronavirus, an epidemic, or even a pandemic, seemed possible if the disease weren’t confined to its West African redoubts. The Obama White House had clear protocols and chains of command for these kinds of threats. “The way to stop the forest fire is to isolate the embers,” Beth Cameron, a former civil servant who ran the White House’s National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, told me. Cameron and her colleagues quickly drew up a memo to Susan Rice, the national-security adviser, and Lisa Monaco, the homeland-security adviser, outlining what was known about the outbreak, setting off a chain of action that went up through the Oval Office, then spread through the government.

In the summer of 2018, on John Bolton’s watch, the team Cameron once ran was one of three directorates merged into one amid an overhaul and streamlining of Donald Trump’s National Security Council. And the position Monaco previously held, homeland-security adviser, was downgraded, stripped of its authority to convene the cabinet.

Obama’s team never faced a crisis as serious as the novel coronavirus, a truly unprecedented challenge. But officials who worked on past crises and experts on pandemic response believe that Trump’s dismissal—and in some aspects, wholesale discarding—of the Obama administration’s preparedness structures and principles, and the current administration’s ideas about government—that states could and should take take responsibility, that business could be more effective than government at solving problems at this scale—have left them dangerously unprepared.

“What the administration lacked in February, and still lacks today is articulating an overall strategy for managing this crisis,” a former administration official told me. “There’s a framework in place, we understand what authorities and roles and responsibilities everybody across government has at their disposal to be able to address an emergency. But when you walk through crisis management at a presidential level, the job of the president, first and foremost, is to develop and articulate the end state that we are trying to get to.”

Trump has yet to do this. “President Trump has, throughout this, seemed a little schizophrenic about his role,” Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development who ran USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance in the Obama administration, told me. “On the one hand, he clearly wants all the credit for it when things go right. On the other hand, he has furiously attempted to avoid having to take ownership for the success of the effort…he wants the credit without the accountability.”

The biggest difference between Obama’s approach and Trump has to do with science. “Traditionally, we have had a situation where the response is always scientifically, technically proven,” says a former government official. “Of course there are political considerations. But the options that are presented are fundamentally sound from a scientific perspective.”

In the current situation, the president decides which scientists and governmental organizations are listened to. “We’re seeing that institutions like the FDA and the CDC have been curtailed; their ability to do the right thing has been curtailed,” this person added, noting Food and Drug Administration commissioner Stephen Hahn’s subtle hedge when asked on CNN about Trump’s suggestion that people inject themselves with disinfectants to fight COVID-19. “I certainly wouldn’t recommend the internal ingestion of a disinfectant,” Hahn, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said.

Trump critics are quick to draw contrast between the COVID-19 and Ebola crises. Obama, they assert, was guided by objective facts. “One of the principles [that] President Obama was very clear on when it came to public health crises is you have to be guided by science and facts and speak clearly and consistently and credibly on those issues,” Monaco told me. “That meant, frankly, having public health and medical experts do the communicating.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2020 at 2:13 pm

How Trump Wasted the Best Tool He Had to Fight Coronavirus

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Eric Cortellessa writes in the Washington Monthly:

Out of all the responsibilities President Donald Trump has shirked during the COVID-19 pandemic, from not pressing China for information on the virus in its early weeks to not building up a testing regime in the United States, none has been more derelict than his administration’s failure to provide front-line healthcare workers with the medical and protective equipment they need.

What’s most exasperating is that there was a system in place to provide that equipment: the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile, an integrated collection of secret, federally-controlled warehouses with billions of dollars worth of precisely the kind of critical supplies that were needed in this crisis, such as masks and ventilators.

Once the CIA warned Trump of a coming pandemic in January, his administration should have immediately ordered more such equipment to meet the coming surge. That he didn’t left American hospitals overwhelmed. It left states having to claw to obtain the materials they need to save lives. Of course, it didn’t help that Trump did nothing to replenish or update the stockpile in his first three years in office; by mid-April, it had already distributed 90 percent of the stockpile’s supplies.

The president and his administration then compounded these grievous errors with lies and misinformation. The president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has said the stockpile was for the federal government, not the states. In fact, it was built precisely for states and localities to use in the case of an emergency. Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly blamed his predecessor for leaving him with a depleted stockpile. “Our cupboards were bare,” he told reporters last weekend. Yet the Obama administration, having used the stockpile to deal with the swine flu and the Ebola crises, tried to increase funding for it, but was blocked by Tea Party Republicans and sequestration.

Trump’s mismanagement of the reserve is more than just another case of the administration’s tendency to shift blame and spew lies. It gets at the heart of one of the key roles of any president—to prepare for threats that have not yet happened.

One president who exemplified this foresight was Bill Clinton, who created the Strategic National Stockpile in his second term. For more insight into this, I spoke with Richard Clarke, Clinton’s chief counterterrorism adviser on the National Security Council and the man the president tasked with building the stockpile.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What led to the creation of the national stockpile? It’s been reported that President Clinton came up with the idea after reading a bioterrorism thriller. Is that true? 

There were a lot of novels out. Richard Preston wrote one. The president was a great reader of everything. He stayed up late every night reading. He went through several books a week. I recall getting a couple bounced over to me, with questions like, “Could this really happen?”

But it wasn’t just that he had read novels. There were two events in the mid-1990s that, together, jarred the president: the Oklahoma City bombing, which was done by two Americans with an 18-wheel tractor trailer filled with explosives, and separately, in Tokyo, a fringe group called the Aum Shinrikyo developed their own biological and chemical weapons and tried them out on the Tokyo subway.

This caused the president, among others, to think: What if those two things came together? What if, suddenly, we had large attacks using chemical or biological weapons on our subways? President Clinton asked me to see if we were at all prepared to handle that. We came back to him and said we weren’t. There were no detection capabilities for most of these kinds of attacks. There were no response capabilities in most cities. Nobody was trained, nobody was equipped.

Not only would we not be able to deal with the consequences, we wouldn’t even have detected the attack. There was no detection equipment deployed anywhere. The Army had some for battlefield use, but there was nothing in any cities. There was nothing in the White House. We wouldn’t have known if the White House had been sprayed with a biological weapon.

So we started a program. It was originally designed to deal with bioterrorism. But we also realized that you could use it for a pandemic.

How did you realize that?

Well, in investigating all that, we found a lot of interest from the Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They told us a very similar thing could happen naturally—an emerging infectious disease, like the 1918 flu. We weren’t prepared for that either. What we figured out was, we could set up a nationwide detection system and an international system that would work for both biological attacks from terrorists and emerging infectious diseases.

The president secured money from Congress to put into the Public Health Service and the CDC to create a stockpile. A lot of it was grant money that went down to the state and county level, so they could have labs that would be able to detect and test. They set up a system so that when people came to emergency rooms and reported illnesses, that information would go into a national monitoring system. We realized that if a big event happened in any city, the city would be overwhelmed. So we set up a national stockpile of emergency medical gear that included medicines, hospital beds, ventilators, and put it in warehouses around the country.

We had a plan that when the equipment reached near its expiration date, it would be rotated, either through the Defense Department or Veterans medical systems, so that the equipment would be used before their expiration dates.

How was the stockpile set up so that the government could use it if a real crisis happened? . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 April 2020 at 8:43 am

How Bad Antitrust Enforcers Kill People

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Matt Stoller comments in BIG on a NY Times story I blogged recently:

How A Merger Killed the Ventilator Market

The New York Times had an important story about the ventilator market a few days ago, with Nicholas Kulish, Sarah Kliff and Jessica Silver-Greenberg reporting why a government effort to stock up on the machines after the SARS epidemic failed.

In 2006, in attempt to learn from what might happen should a SARS-like disease hit here, civil servants in government decided to stockpile ventilators. They wanted both more ventilators and better ventilators than were on the market. So government officials found a small innovative corporation called Newport Medical, and contracted with the corporation to design a cheaper and better version.

Ventilators at the time typically went for about $10,000 each, and getting the price down to $3,000 would be tough. But Newport’s executives bet they would be able to make up for any losses by selling the ventilators around the world.

“It would be very prestigious to be recognized as a supplier to the federal government,” said Richard Crawford, who was Newport’s head of research and development at the time. “We thought the international market would be strong, and there is where Newport would have a good profit on the product.”

At first the project seemed on track. Newport built a working prototype, and the government was on track to order 40,000 ventilators to put into the national stockpile. Newport would then be able to sell additional units into the health care market, as well as abroad. But in 2012, Covidien, a large medical device manufacturer and distributor, bought up Newport Medical, canceled the Federal contract, and shut down Newport’s ventilator line of business.

The result, in 2020, is that we don’t have enough ventilators in a pandemic.

There are three failures of policy here. I’ll start with the simplest, which is that the merger should have been blocked.

Antitrust Failure

The merger by any standard was a clear-cut antitrust violation. There are two theories as to why Covidien sought to buy Newport. First, Covidien already had a ventilator product, and didn’t want to compete with a lower priced and better version. Covidien bought Newport to take its competitive product out. That’s called a ‘killer acquisition,’ meaning that the goal is to undermine a potentially innovative or lower prices product line.

The second is that roll-ups were part of a broader consolidation trend in the industry in general. “Manufacturers,” as the Times reported, “wanted to pitch themselves as one-stop shops for hospitals, which were getting bigger, and that meant offering a broader suite of products.”

Both theories are likely true. Covidien from 2008-2014 bought 17 other corporations. Covidien pitched itself not just as a device maker, but as a device distributor to hospitals. It even called itself a platform, saying in its press release bleating about the acquisition that the acquisition would strengthen its “ventilation platform” for patients around the world. In other words, Covidien was both trying to take out a potential competitor *and* strengthen its own bargaining posture against hospital purchasers, who were themselves getting bigger.

The merger should have and could have been blocked on many different grounds, the simplest being the killer acquisition theory. Yet the Federal Trade Commission, led by Jon Leibowitz, just waved the illegal merger through without even asking any questions. Now there are calls, by both FTC Commissioner Rebecca Kelly-Slaughter, and antitrust thinkers across the board, to reexamine this merger. In Congress, Antitrust Committee Chairman David Cicilline made this point on Twitter. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it shows the degree to which the US is out of whack. Later in the column:

The roll-up of device makers that Covidien was pursuing was part of a longstanding consolidation in the medical industry that correlated to consolidation more broadly. Because our antitrust laws focus on low consumer prices, what has happened across the economy is the creation of ‘power buyers.’

Most people look at monopolies who made commodities, say, steel, and believe a monopoly manifests by how much that company can raise the price of what it sells. But monopolies can operate on the buying side too. Walmart is a buying monopoly, able to use its market power to push prices down against suppliers and workers. I mean if you sell a large chunk of your product to Walmart, they can tell you what price to take. The price to consumers may be low, but that’s because Walmart is using market power against the supplier and not the consumer. But because our antitrust enforcers don’t see anything but consumer prices, corporations like Walmart became far more powerful from the 1980s to the 2000s.

As Olivia Webb noted, there was a Walmart-ization of the medical industry as well, as hospitals combined purchasing power in cartels called Group Purchasing Organizations. GPOs buy supplies for hospitals, and they are supposed to get better prices. But they often don’t. In 1986 Congress exempted them from anti-kickback laws, so there are huge conflicts of interest in how they operate. GPOs are also big. In 1996, the Clinton administration basically said GPOs wouldn’t be subject to antitrust prosecution. Today, for context, just four GPOs account for 90% of generic pharmaceutical purchasing. GPOs also handle medical devices.

Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, one of the results of these choices, as well as the refusal to enforce merger law or antitrust, was the concentration in these corporations that sell things to hospitals, everything from syringes to software. During the HIV epidemic, a corporation called Retractable Syringes developed a safer syringe that doctors and nurses wanted to prevent accidental needlesticks, but GPOs prevented them from selling their product to hospitals. None of this went unnoticed. Congress held hearings, to no avail, on all sorts of innovative medical devices that couldn’t make it into hospitals. Retractable won a private antitrust lawsuit, but more recently it lost one on appeal. Without legal redress, much of the medical device industry consolidated. Covidien itself was bought by Medtronic a few years ago.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 April 2020 at 5:36 pm

Example of Trump incompetence: Before Virus Outbreak, a Cascade of Warnings Went Unheeded

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David E. Sanger, Eric Lipton, Eileen Sullivan, and Michael Crowley report in the NY Times:

The outbreak of the respiratory virus began in China and was quickly spread around the world by air travelers, who ran high fevers. In the United States, it was first detected in Chicago, and 47 days later, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. By then it was too late: 110 million Americans were expected to become ill, leading to 7.7 million hospitalized and 586,000 dead.

That scenario, code-named “Crimson Contagion,” was simulated by the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services in a series of exercises that ran from last January to August.

The simulation’s sobering results — contained in a draft report dated October 2019 that has not previously been reported — drove home just how underfunded, underprepared and uncoordinated the federal government would be for a life-or-death battle with a virus for which no treatment existed.

The draft report, marked “not to be disclosed,” laid out in stark detail repeated cases of “confusion” in the exercise. Federal agencies jockeyed over who was in charge. State officials and hospitals struggled to figure out what kind of equipment was stockpiled or available. Cities and states went their own ways on school closings.

Many of the potentially deadly consequences of a failure to address the shortcomings are now playing out in all-too-real fashion across the country. And it was hardly the first warning for the nation’s leaders. Three times over the past four years the U.S. government, across two administrations, had grappled in depth with what a pandemic would look like, identifying likely shortcomings and in some cases recommending specific action.

In 2016, the Obama administration produced a comprehensive report on the lessons learned by the government from battling Ebola. In January 2017, outgoing Obama administration officials ran an extensive exercise on responding to a pandemic for incoming senior officials of the Trump administration.

The full story of the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus is still playing out. Government officials, health professionals, journalists and historians will spend years looking back on the muddled messages and missed opportunities of the past three months, as President Trump moved from dismissing the coronavirus as a few cases that would soon be “under control” to his revisionist announcement on Monday that he had known all along that a pandemic was on the way.

What the scenario makes clear, however, is that his own administration had already modeled a similar pandemic and understood its potential trajectory.

The White House defended its record, saying it responded to the 2019 exercise with an executive order to improve the availability and quality of flu vaccines, and that it moved early this year to increase funding for the Department of Health and Human Services’ program that focuses on global pandemic threats.

But officials have declined to say why the administration was so slow to roll out broad testing or to move faster, as the simulations all indicated it should, to urge social distancing and school closings.

Asked at his news briefing on Thursday about the government’s preparedness, Mr. Trump responded: “Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion. Nobody has ever seen anything like this before.”

The work done over the past five years, however, demonstrates that the government had considerable knowledge about the risks of a pandemic and accurately predicted the very types of problems Mr. Trump is now scrambling belatedly to address.

Crimson Contagion, the exercise conducted last year in Washington and 12 states including New York and Illinois, showed that federal agencies under Mr. Trump continued the Obama-era effort to think ahead about a pandemic.

But the planning and thinking happened many layers down in the bureaucracy. The knowledge and sense of urgency about the peril appear never to have gotten sufficient attention at the highest level of the executive branch or from Congress, leaving the nation with funding shortfalls, equipment shortages and disorganization within and among various branches and levels of government.

The October 2019 report in particular documents that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including a clear list of lessons learned — and then ignored.

Later in the article:

What is striking in reading Mr. Kirchhoff’s account today, however, is how few of the major faults he found in the American response resulted in action — even though the report was filled with department-by-department recommendations.

There were deficiencies “in personal protective equipment use, disinfection” and “social services for those placed under quarantine.”

There was confusion over travel restrictions, and the need “for a smoother sliding scale of escalation of government response, from local authorities acting on their own to local authorities acting with some federal assistance” to the full activation of the federal government.

The report concluded that “a minimum planning benchmark might be an epidemic an order of magnitude or two more difficult than that presented by the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, with much more significant domestic spread.”

But one big change did come out of the study: The creation of a dedicated office at the National Security Council to coordinate responses and raise the alarm early.

“What I learned most is that we had to stand up a global biosecurity and health directorate, and get it enshrined for the next administration,” said Lisa Monaco, Mr. Obama’s homeland security adviser.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2020 at 1:40 pm

The Other Essential Pandemic Office Trump Eliminated

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Rosa Li writes in Slate:

Much attention has been paid to the Trump administration’s shortsighted elimination of the White House Pandemic Response Team. The frustration with this decision is obvious: In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we should have public health experts working with the federal government to tell us that social distancing is the best thing we can do to prevent infections and slow the strain on our health care system. But we also need behavioral scientists who can help advise on exactly how to get people to actually follow such instructions. The Obama administration created a White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, or SBST, tasked to use “behavioral science insights to better serve the American people” precisely for this reason. Unfortunately for the U.S., the Trump administration got rid of that too.

In its brief existence, the SBST tackled a broad range of issues, from fighting food insecurity to helping people save for retirement, through an evidence-based policy approach that drew inspiration from decision-making research. For example, they encouraged households to make their homes more energy-efficient by highlighting the immediate, concrete benefits of saving money on their power bills, rather than trying to appeal to the abstract, distant goal of slowing climate change. Crucially, SBST programs rarely tried to tell people what to do by throwing a bunch of facts and statistics at them—a current coronavirus-fighting approach that has only worked with a subset of the population. Instead, the SBST found ways to encourage better decision-making by capitalizing on the mental shortcuts we take and the biases that we have.

Though the SBST is no more, findings from decision-making research can still help us understand why people are not taking the threat of coronavirus seriously and how they could be convinced to follow social distancing recommendations. While epidemiologists are trying to model COVID-19’s true fatality rate—is it 3.4 percent? 1 percent?—decision scientists already know that people are generally pretty bad at objectively assessing probabilities. Famous behavioral economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky argued that people “discard events of extremely low probability,” simplifying minuscule percentages to basically zero. In other words, regardless of COVID-19’s true case fatality rate, our human brains are tempted to shortcut it to “super unlikely, so probably not me.”

Of course, even a 1 percent fatality rate means a devastating number of lives lost around the world. Effectively communicating the lethality of COVID-19 is paramount to convincing people to take the threat seriously. One strategy is to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

It’s easy to see why Putin wanted Trump to be president. Moving the US from a state of readiness for emergencies to a state of being completely unprepared weakens the country.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2020 at 1:25 pm

A Group of Agents Rose Through the Ranks to Lead the Border Patrol. They’re Leaving It in Crisis.

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The Border Patrol seems a lot like a gang. Melissa del Bosque reports in ProPublica:

On a Saturday evening in late September, Deputy Chief Scott Luck gathered with family and friends in the crystal-chandeliered ballroom of the Trump National Golf Club, nestled along the shores of the Potomac River in Virginia, to celebrate his retirement after 33 years in the U.S. Border Patrol.

The party was adorned with a who’s who in Border Patrol leadership, past and present. There was the unmistakable figure of Luck’s boss, Chief Carla Provost, tall and broad with her trademark fringe of brown bangs, and her longtime friend Andrea Zortman, who helps oversee foreign operations for the agency. A full contingent of retired former chiefs-turned-consultants were on hand, too, including David Aguilar, 64, who’d headed the Border Patrol as well as its parent, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Michael Fisher, 55, who’d succeeded Aguilar as Border Patrol chief. Rowdy Adams, 59, another retired senior-level CBP official, also attended the celebration.

The guests had kicked in $75 apiece to cover food and a gift for the send-off, but hovering over the party was a mix of weariness and defiance: It wasn’t just the end of Luck’s career, it was the end of an era at the agency — their era. And the widespread critiques currently pummeling the embattled patrol and its more than 19,600 agents would be, implicitly, their legacy.

Unbeknownst to most outsiders, almost all of the immigration honchos at Luck’s party that night were longtime colleagues who’d served as young agents in the remote border town of Douglas, Arizona, when the Border Patrol was just a small, backwater agency.

The group, called “the Douglas mafia” by some agents, began climbing the ranks together after the 9/11 attacks as the Border Patrol nearly tripled in size and budget. They’d ridden two decades of escalating political polarization over immigration to the top of the agency. They brought with them an entrenched us-against-them defiance that they’d fostered in the Arizona desert, when, feeling maligned and misunderstood, they’d forged their own way.

For better or worse, they’d had a hand in shaping virtually every aspect of the agency’s leadership and culture.

But the feeling in the room that night, said some in attendance, was relief that many of them would not be around to lead it much longer. Provost, 50, who’d started as a naive 25-year-old from a rural Kansas police force, had been planning her exit from Washington for months. Sandi Goldhamer, 56, her longtime partner who’d also gotten her start in Douglas, was already at their new home in Texas. Goldhamer had retired quietly last spring as associate chief in charge of national policy after her role in the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, which resulted in thousands of children being separated from their families with no plan to reunify them.

The two women, along with Zortman, 46, had risen to the top despite the agency’s infamous lack of female agents, the least of any federal law enforcement agency.

The group had overseen or witnessed crises in the past — including lawsuits over excessive use of force and revelations of corruption within the patrol’s own ranks. But the last three years, catalyzed by ever-harsher Trump administration policies, had thrust the insular agency into unprecedented turmoil. The arrival of tens of thousands of asylum-seekers at the border had forced agents into new roles, for which they had little training. A series of high-profile scandals had focused scalding attention on the agency: Children died in its custody. Reporters uncovered a racist, misogynist private Facebook page with some 9,500 current and former Border Patrol members, including, at one point, Provost. Misconduct charges rose and a longtime agent was even prosecuted as a serial killer.

The Border Patrol they’d guided was experiencing not just a crisis of confidence among legislators and the public, but from within.

Some senior agents said they can’t help but blame the current state of the Border Patrol on the Douglas agents for fostering a culture that favored loyalty over competency. “I still believe in our mission. But we need restructuring, we need change,” said one longtime senior agent from Texas, who asked to remain anonymous because he’s not authorized to speak to the media. “It’s a group following each other on their coattails with the same ideas, because everyone thinks the same way. And a lot of people skipping rank based on who they know, not on their experience.”

The agent said he’d worked with many of the leaders of the group at Border Patrol’s Washington, D.C., headquarters over the years, and the experience had led him to conclude that many of the agency’s problems were self-inflicted. “We grew too fast,” he said. “And there are people in leadership who are not performing at the levels they should.”

Provost, Goldhamer, Zortman, Luck and Aguilar all declined or did not respond to requests for interviews for this article, as did the Border Patrol.

“I feel like we’re leaving a terrible legacy for those who follow,” the senior agent said. Soon he, like so many others in leadership, would retire, leaving a gap that he believes the agency is ill-equipped to fill. Lately, as the patrol lurches from one crisis to another, the agent said he’s tried to figure out how everything had gone “sideways,” adding, “I’ve been asking myself, ‘Where did we go wrong?’”


In the beginning, they were just a bunch of young, mostly novice agents shunted off to a small outpost two hours southeast of Tucson, Arizona. But the ill-equipped border station in Douglas was on the verge of becoming the largest, and busiest, in the nation.

In July of 2000, Rowdy Adams was sent to Douglas station as the patrol agent in charge to help oversee its rapid expansion. “I’d never dealt with anything that complex or that big,” recalled Adams, whose spiky, once-blonde hair is now streaked with gray. When he arrived, agents were working out of trailers because they’d run out of places to put everyone. “They had a station built for 40 people, and we had something in the neighborhood of 450 or 500 agents,” he said. “I mean, it was crazy, but we made do with what we had.”

Up until the 1990s, the Border Patrol had been little more than a congressional afterthought, with fewer than 4,000 agents nationwide. Then, the North American Free Trade Agreement passed, which, coupled with a crippling peso devaluation in Mexico, helped spur a mass migration of workers north. The number of apprehended border crossers spiked to nearly a million in 1994 and kept on rising. Congress responded by passing the restrictive Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act and doubling down on more border fencing and agents.

The Border Patrol had already been experimenting with extended enforcement operations in San Diego and El Paso, Texas — flooding those areas with armed agents — which reduced traffic, but just like in a game of whack-a-mole, the crossers would surface somewhere else. By 2000, that somewhere else was Douglas, a sleepy borough of 14,000 inhabitants bordering the much larger Agua Prieta, Sonora.

Back then, most migrants were single men from Mexico looking for work. They were processed quickly then sent back across the line, said former agent Kevin Smith, who spent his entire career in Douglas and retired there in 2014. “We were making 1,000 apprehensions a day and not even catching 10%,” he said. “We were so overwhelmed.”

The border town had already gained an outsized infamy after Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who would later lead the Sinaloa Cartel, built his first cross-border drug tunnel there, a 270-foot long engineering marvel that included a hidden door under a hydraulic-lifted pool table. In the ensuing years, a wave of investigations and arrests of U.S. border agents with ties to drug traffickers and human smugglers fed the town’s notoriety. By 1996, the Los Angeles Times noted that Douglas was known as “the most corrupt town on the 1,900-mile U.S.-Mexico border.”

The resources opened up by Congress continued to pour into Douglas anyway. A new station was built on 29 acres of seized property, at a cost of $23 million. By 2003, Douglas station was the largest in the nation, with 550 permanent agents and an additional 100 on rotation from other parts of the country. It had grown so big, so fast that there was little managerial oversight, Adams said. His primary task at the time, he said, was to hire more supervisors and get the organization under control, “to make sure that people were doing what they were supposed to be doing.”

Provost had landed at Douglas in 1995, one of a handful of women in a notoriously macho culture.

“I’d like to say we had maybe 6-7% women at Douglas station,” Adams said. “It’s a tough gig. We’re in remote locations. And if you want to have a family, and all that, it’s going to have an impact.”

Provost, athletic and with a can-do Midwestern pragmatism, was determined to make her mark, recalled Michael Fisher, who first met Provost in Douglas and rose through the ranks as her superior.

Fisher’s first encounter with Provost came late one night while he and a tactical team, clad in black and with their faces covered in black grease paint, were tracking a group of migrants in the desert east of Douglas. “We heard a sound, and all of a sudden I saw this person go by on a bicycle,” Fisher said. “We thought it was a scout or something, so we started running and got into position and flashed our lights and announced that we were Border Patrol agents.”

The bicyclist, Fisher said, doubled back, and he was surprised to see a woman in a Border Patrol uniform on a mountain bike. He said he asked what she was doing in the desert alone in the middle of the night.

“Well, what are you doing here?” the agent shot back, Fisher remembered.

“I told her we were tracking the group,” Fisher said. “And she said: ‘Like hell you are. That’s my group.’ And then she rode off into the desert. And I was like, ‘Wow, who was that?’”

Later, he would find out it was Provost, a supervisor on the Border Patrol’s recently created bike unit. “I was impressed,” he said. “She stood her ground.”

Goldhamer, originally from Tallahassee, Florida, was also determined to succeed in the testosterone-filled workplace. Petite, with long brown hair that she wore in a tight bun, Goldhamer stood out because she was always one of the first to volunteer, Adams said. “She just did what she needed to do. Even if it was the shit job for the evening, she would take that and embrace it without complaint,” he said.

By the early aughts, apprehensions at Douglas were up to 2,400 a day, according to Adams. The station was praised for being one of the first to implement new biometric technology linking its IDENT fingerprint database with other law enforcement databases to screen people for criminal backgrounds. But the Border Patrol was not screening its own agents thoroughly enough. The station had grown too fast, with too few checks and balances in place, to weed out the bad actors within its own ranks. “I’d love to take credit for picking nothing but rock stars,” Adams said of the agents he’d promoted at the time. “But it didn’t always turn out that way.”

In those early years in Douglas, Adams and others said, the agents, including those who would come to be the Douglas mafia, saw firsthand many of the problems that would plague the agency in coming years.

One night in late September 2000, Goldhamer noticed an acting supervisor named Dennis Johnson talking with a Salvadoran woman they’d just apprehended. With several people to process for the return to Mexico, Goldhamer lost sight of them, according to court records. Johnson drove the handcuffed woman into the desert and sexually assaulted her. Then he took her to another port of entry at Naco, 25 miles west of Douglas, and sent her back to Mexico. The assault was only discovered because the woman made a complaint to a Mexican customs agent who then reported it to his U.S. counterpart, the court records show.

Adams, as patrol agent in charge, said he took the call that night from the agent in Naco. He needed to quickly piece together what had happened. Goldhamer helped him identify Johnson’s patrol vehicle. “We quietly seized the vehicle and did the DNA samples,” he said, “and that’s what wound up getting him convicted.” Goldhamer later testified at Johnson’s trial. Johnson’s attorney argued that the woman had initiated oral sex and then made up a the story to stay in the United States, but a jury found him guilty of sexual assault and kidnapping.

But Johnson’s trial was a rare occurrence, then and now.

In 2001, the Justice Department’s inspector general opened an investigation into a sprawling kickback scheme in which numerous agents detailed to Douglas from other stations were furnished with falsified receipts from supervisors, who’d rented them rooms in their homes, or from hotel managers or apartment landlords. Agents claimed the $55-a-day housing allowance when they’d actually paid much less, pocketing the difference. Some also received gym memberships and cash incentives. . .

Continue reading.

It’s a criminal gang operating under the mantle of law enforcement.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2020 at 1:44 pm

The Golden Age of White-Collar Crime

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Michael Hobbs reports in HuffPost Highline:

1 A Slow-Motion Looting

OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS, nearly every institution of American life has taken on the unmistakable stench of moral rot. Corporate behemoths like Boeing and Wells Fargo have traded blue-chip credibility for white-collar callousness. Elite universities are selling admission spots to the highest Hollywood bidder. Silicon Valley unicorns have revealed themselves as long cons (Theranos), venture-capital cremation devices (Uber, WeWork) or straightforward comic book supervillains (Facebook). Every week unearths a cabinet-level political scandal that would have defined any other presidency. From the blackouts in California to the bloated bonuses on Wall Street to the entire biography of Jeffrey Epstein, it is impossible to look around the country and not get the feeling that elites are slowly looting it.

And why wouldn’t they? The criminal justice system has given up all pretense that the crimes of the wealthy are worth taking seriously. In January 2019, white-collar prosecutions fell to their lowest level since researchers started tracking them in 1998. Even within the dwindling number of prosecutions, most are cases against low-level con artists and small-fry financial schemes. Since 2015, criminal penalties levied by the Justice Department have fallen from $3.6 billion to roughly $110 million. Illicit profits seized by the Securities and Exchange Commission have reportedly dropped by more than half. In 2018, a year when nearly 19,000 people were sentenced in federal court for drug crimes alone, prosecutors convicted just 37 corporate criminals who worked at firms with more than 50 employees.

With few exceptions, the only rich people America prosecutes anymore are those who victimize their fellow elites. Pharma frat boy Martin Shkreli, to pick just one example, wasn’t prosecuted for hiking the price of a drug used to treat HIV from $13.50 to $750 per pill. He went to prison for scamming investors in a hedge fund scheme years before. Meanwhile, in 2016, the CEO whose company experienced the deadliest mining disaster since 1970 served less than one year in prison and paid a fine of 1.4 percent of his salary and stock bonuses the previous year. Why? Because overseeing a company that ignores warnings and causes the deaths of workers, even 29 of them, is a misdemeanor.

Construction magnate Bruce Karatz provides an infuriating case study of how the criminal justice system treats wealthy defendants. In 2010, Karatz was convicted of failing to disclose in a financial statement that he had secretly “backdated” his stock options (think Biff with the Sports Almanac in “Back to the Future II”) to boost his pay by more than $6 million. Prior to his sentencing hearing, his lawyer submitted letters of support from former mayor of Los Angeles Richard Riordan and billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad. Prosecutors recommended six-and-a-half-years in prison; the judge gave Karatz five years’ probation and eight months of house arrest in his Bel Air mansion. After two years, the judge terminated the remainder of the sentence. Karatz later received a civic award from The Malibu Times for volunteer work he did to make a good impression for his sentencing hearing.

Country-club nepotism and Gilded Age avarice are nothing new in America, of course. But the rich are enjoying a golden age of impunity unprecedented in modern history. “American elites have become more brazen than they were even five years ago,” said Matthew Robinson, a professor at Appalachian State University and the author of several books on “elite deviance”— all the legal and illegal social harms caused by the wealthy.

Elite deviance has become the dark matter of American life, the invisible force around which the country’s most powerful legal and political systems have set their orbit. Four members of the Sackler family, the owners of Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma, have retained the services of former SEC head Mary Jo White as their personal lawyer. Epstein’s dinner party guest lists included Harvard professors, billionaire philanthropists and members of political dynasties in at least two countries. In 2017, the pharmaceutical company Novartis spent about 14 percent of its annual lobbying budget on payments to a shell company controlled by ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.

And this clubbiness has human costs. Tax evasion, to pick just one crime concentrated among the wealthy, already siphons up to 10,000 times more money out of the U.S. economy every year than bank robberies. In 2017, researchers estimated that fraud by America’s largest corporations cost Americans up to $360 billion annually between 1996 and 2004. That’s roughly two decades’ worth of street crime every single year. As the links between corporations and regulators become increasingly incestuous, the future will bring more crude-soaked coastlines, price-gouging corporate behemoths and Madoff-style Ponzi schemes. More hurdles to suing companies for poisoning their customers or letting bosses harass their employees. And more uniquely American catastrophes like the opioid crisis and the price of insulin.

Perhaps the greatest myth about white-collar crime is that Americans struggle to understand it—as if chemical companies toxifying rivers or insurance executives gouging their customers fail to stimulate our moral intuitions. In fact, surveys consistently show that the vast majority of the population considers white-collar crime more harmful than street crime and powerful offenders more odious than common criminals.

Those intuitions are correct: An entrenched, unfettered class of superpredators is wreaking havoc on American society. And in the process, they’ve broken the only systems capable of stopping them.

2 An Increasingly Desperate Pantomime Of Legal Enforcement

EVERY YEAR, AT BRANDED COCKTAIL receptions and bloated buffet breakfasts, government agents spend two days hobnobbing with the tax-haven attorneys they spend the rest of the year investigating.

The Offshore Alert conference takes place in Miami each spring, in London each fall and in “key offshore jurisdictions” all year round. Officially, participants come to discuss “wealth creation, preservation and recovery.” Less officially, the tax lawyers come to learn what the feds will crack down on next year. The government investigators come to fish for future jobs. Imagine a yearly picnic where sheriffs give drug dealers tips on hiding baggies from pat-downs and leave with a new set of endorsements on LinkedIn.

In person, the conference is even more surreal than it sounds. From across a cologne-scented hotel lobby, I watched tanned attorneys fresh off flights from the Caribbean mingle with ashen IRS agents who bring business cards from Kinko’s because the agency won’t pay to get them printed anymore. I listened to officials from the FBI and SEC lay out enforcement priorities as cryptocurrency investors and Russian bankers took notes. At lunch, I talked “Game of Thrones” with a Senate advisor, a government auditor and a Bahamanian lawyer who later offered to set me up a shell corporation for $5,000.

The finance types were frosty during the day—an investor who appeared to be wearing monogrammed slacks wouldn’t tell me his first name—but they loosened up at the happy hours. An offshore tax advisor bragged that he could take his clients’ tax rates from 49 percent to 15 percent and complained that they were constantly pushing him to go lower. Another told me that most of his clients aren’t trying to hide money from the government but from their second or third wives. “The first one raised their kids so they feel like she’s entitled to something,” he explained. “It’s the trophy wives they want to lock out.”

Jack Albertson is a government investigator—that’s not his real name and he won’t let me get more specific about his job description—who has been coming to Offshore Alert for years. When I ask him how this cops-and-robbers conflagration even exists, he tells me I’m thinking about it the wrong way. He, like all the other investigators here, knows that many of the lawyers who attend are hiding their clients’ money sketchily or outright illegally. He even knows how they’re doing it. The tactics for hiding money from tax authorities are not particularly sophisticated and have barely changed in the last 50 years. Set up a shell company and buy an appreciating asset—Iowa farmland, a London apartment, a New York pizzeria, something common enough that it won’t attract attention.

Contrary to the “Catch Me If You Can” myth, Albertson said, solving financial crimes is not a cat-and-mouse game between cunning investigators and slippery con artists. Most of the time it is simply the blunt application of resources to a series of unimaginably tedious tasks. “Investigators can already crack almost any offshore account if they have enough time and money,” he said. “The problem is that they only get that for a few cases a year.”

Over the last four decades, the agencies responsible for investigating elite and white-collar crime—roughly speaking, the IRS, SEC, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and FBI—have seen their enforcement divisions starved into irrelevance. More than a third of the FBI investigators who patrol Wall Street were reassigned between 2001 and 2008. Enforcement funding at the IRS has fallen by 23 percent over the last decade. And, worst of all, every time a scandal exposes the government’s inadequacy, Congress steps in to squeeze the regulators even harder.

The most instructive case of this deliberate stunting is the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Founded in 1972, the CPSC’s job is to make sure the things you buy won’t pierce, poison or burn you. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan slashed its budget as part of his crusade against bureaucratic waste. In the 1990s, Clinton instructed the agency to produce more data as part of his push for government accountability. No matter which party was in power, every administration gave the CPSC more to do and less money to do it with. By 2007, it had shrunk from its initial 786 employees to just 420.

That same year, Mattel announced a recall of more than 1 million⁠ of its children’s toys that had been contaminated with lead paint. Despite the company’s sophisticated international operations and billions in revenues, it had never bothered to inspect the Chinese sub-contractors. By then, the CSPC had fewer than 100⁠ inspectors to monitor all imports to the United States. The Los Angeles-area ports where a chunk of the tainted toys arrived was overseen by a single part-time inspector.

Congress responded to the scandal by compounding the mistakes that had caused it. Lawmakers agreed to double the CPSC’s budget and increase its staff, but also obligated the agency to carry out dozens of new activities, including the creation of a public database to track safety hazards for every single product sold in the U.S.

The new mandate swallowed up all the agency’s new funding and more. Soon, the CPSC was dedicating nearly all of its time to lead abatement in children’s toys, neglecting millions of products that posed far greater risks to children, like flammable blankets or dangerous table saws. The product database filled up with unconfirmed complaints and spammy comments. Mattel, meanwhile, faced no consequences for manufacturing the lead-tainted toys beyond a $2.3 million fine—roughly 0.006 percent⁠ of its net income. According to Rena Steinzor, the author of “Why Not Jail? Industrial Disasters, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction,” the same cycle has repeated itself across every form of elite deviance, from tax compliance to financial regulation to environmental protection. In 2010, following a series of tax-haven scandals, the IRS set up a “wealth squad” to investigate the ultra-rich —but only staffed it with enough agents to perform 36 audits in its first two years.

After the Enron-led avalanche of corporate bankruptcies in the early 2000s, Congress gave the SEC enough funding to hire 200 new auditing staff. At the same time, however, lawmakers obligated the agency to review the filings of every publicly traded U.S. financial firm every three years—a mandate far larger than the agency’s new staffing levels. Then, after the financial crisis, it happened again: The Dodd-Frank act tasked the SEC with monitoring even more companies and trillions of new assets while increasing its enforcement staff by less than 10 percent.

This cycle has left America’s regulators with no choice but to engage in an increasingly desperate pantomime of white-collar law enforcement. On the outside, they report impressive performance statistics to avoid even more budget cuts. Behind the scenes, they’ve retreated to investigating only the defendants they know are guilty and the crimes they know where to find.

The primary beneficiaries of this shift are American elites. Rich people generate mountains of financial data. Millionaires can have over 100 bank accounts; billionaires’ tax returns run to 800 pages long. For people who earn most of their income from working (i.e. almost everyone), the IRS has an automatic system that compares individuals’ reports to the records submitted by their employers and banks. For the wealthy, who make much of their income from interest and investments, the agency has nothing to compare their reports against. The only way to tell if a rich person is cheating on their taxes is to sit down and go through them line by line.

“Let’s say you get a tip that some billionaire is hiding a bunch of money offshore and not paying taxes on it,” said Arthur VanDesande, who spent 25 years as a criminal investigator for the IRS. “And you manage to narrow the tax evasion down to 20 of his bank accounts. OK, now you have to prepare 20 subpoenas, get them signed by a judge and deliver them to the banks. But when you go to Bank of America, they say, ‘We don’t accept subpoenas at this location, you have to go to our authorized representative in Orlando.’ So then you go to Orlando and and you find out the money is linked to an offshore account. So then you have to write to the embassy…’”

Due to the IRS’ lean resources, VanDesande did most of this legwork himself. “You type your own shit, you make your own copies, you write every single affidavit. Sometimes you feel like, ‘I’m a senior-level person with a college degree. Why am I calling Wells Fargo and sitting on hold for 45 minutes?’”

Only some of this drudgery can be outsourced to lower-level staffers. White-collar cases involve understanding arcane laws, absorbing thousands of pages of documents, traversing international jurisdictions and coordinating a vast array of agencies from the Secret Service to the Post Office. They require investigators to be Jack Ryan, Magnum P.I. and Leslie Knope all at once. Even though auditing millionaires and billionaires is one of the most cost-effective government activities imaginable—an independent report estimated in 2014 that it yielded up to $4,545 in recovered revenue per hour of staff time—the IRS investigated the returns of just 3 percent of American millionaires in 2017.

In addition to reducing their caseload, America’s white-collar enforcement agencies have started prioritizing crimes they can prosecute in bulk. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it provides some insight into why America is failing.

Operation Encore and the Saudi Connection: A Secret History of the 9/11 Investigation

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Tim Golden and Sebastian Rotella report in ProPublica:

On the morning of Sept. 11 last year, about two dozen family members of those killed in the terror attacks filed into the White House to visit with President Donald Trump. It was a choreographed, somewhat stiff encounter, in which each family walked to the center of the Blue Room to share a moment of conversation with Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, before having a photograph taken with the first couple. Still, it was an opportunity the visitors were determined not to squander.

One after another, the families asked Trump to release documents from the FBI’s investigation into the 9/11 plot, documents that the Justice Department has long fought to keep secret. After so many years they needed closure, they said. They needed to know the truth. Some of the relatives reminded Trump that Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama blocked them from seeing the files, as did some of the FBI bureaucrats the president so reviled. The visitors didn’t mention that they hoped to use the documents in a current federal lawsuit that accuses the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — an American ally that has only grown closer under Trump — of complicity in the attacks.

The president promised to help. “It’s done,” he said, reassuring several visitors. Later, the families were told that Trump ordered the attorney general, William P. Barr, to release the name of a Saudi diplomat who was linked to the 9/11 plot in an FBI report years earlier. Justice Department lawyers handed over the Saudi official’s name in a protected court filing that could be read only by lawyers for the plaintiffs. But Barr dashed the families’ hopes. In a statement to the court on Sept. 12, he insisted that other documents that might be relevant to the case had to be protected as state secrets. Their disclosure, he wrote, risked “significant harm to the national security.”

The families were stunned. They knew that the success of their lawsuit might well depend on access to the FBI’s investigation into possible Saudi involvement in the plot by al-Qaida. In a federal courthouse in Manhattan, near where the twin towers once stood, the fight over evidence had already dragged on for more than a year. Now, as the judge prepared to rule on what documents would be disclosed, the Justice Department was digging in.

Daniel Gonzalez wasn’t surprised by the hard line. A former street agent in the FBI’s San Diego field office, he was one of several retired investigators who had signed on to help the families. During the last 15 years of his FBI career, Gonzalez was a central figure in the bureau’s effort to understand Saudi connections to 9/11. But even on the inside, Gonzalez often felt as if his own government wanted no part of what he was finding.

From the day of the attacks, the trail seemed to point to Saudi Arabia. First, there was the inescapable fact that, like Osama bin Laden, 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. The first two flew in to Los Angeles in January 2000 and quickly made their way to a Saudi mosque. When they moved to San Diego a few weeks later, they turned for help to a middle-aged Saudi student whom the FBI suspected of spying for the kingdom.

But as details of the 9/11 plot came into focus, the FBI line on possible Saudi involvement began to shift: When the evidence was assessed, FBI officials reported, there was no solid proof that the Saudi government or any of its senior officials deliberately aided the Qaida terrorists. Low-level Saudis with government ties might have helped the two hijackers in California, the bureau acknowledged, but there was no indication that they knew the men were terrorists — much less planning to murder thousands of Americans.

Gonzalez knew he hadn’t seen all the evidence; he had just a corner of an investigation that stretched around the world. American intelligence agencies surely had pieces of the Saudi puzzle that even senior FBI officials might not be aware of. But what Gonzalez uncovered was troubling, and he knew that bigger questions about the plot were still unanswered. “My head was already flat from banging it against the wall,” he recalled. “But I thought, We’re not done.”

Gonzalez, a tough, affable Texan, pressed on. With a small group of like-minded investigators in New York and California, he hunted down witnesses who had slipped away and circled back to clues that had been missed. The evidence they developed was nearly all circumstantial. But it added to the questions about the role of the Saudi government.

The FBI has disputed the idea that foreign-policy considerations significantly influenced its investigation. In interviews, current and former bureau officials and federal prosecutors insisted to us that they never would have hesitated to pursue any Saudi who could have been solidly linked to the 9/11 plot, even if that person never faced trial in the United States. (Saudi Arabia does not extradite its citizens.) “I have never been privy to discussions about not charging someone for 9/11 because we need to maintain a better relationship with the Saudis,” Jacqueline Maguire, a special agent in charge in New York who was closely involved in the case from the beginning, told us. “I have never heard charges be questioned for that reason.”

But others who worked on the matter, including some at the FBI’s highest levels, say that the United States’ complex and often-troubled relationship with the Saudi regime was an unavoidable fact throughout their investigations. Even as the Saudi authorities became more cooperative with the United States in fighting al-Qaida after 2003, they were minimally and grudgingly helpful when it came to the 9/11 inquiry. According to current and former officials, requests for assistance that might rattle the Saudi security agencies were frequently balanced against FBI and CIA needs for Saudi help against continuing terror threats.

How such considerations might also weigh against the appeals of the 9/11 families for a fuller record of what happened remains an open question. If anything, the transactional nature of America’s relationship with the Saudi kingdom has become more overt. In December, following the terrorist shooting by a Saudi Air Force officer that killed three Americans and wounded eight others on a Florida naval base, Trump tweeted what he said were assurances from King Salman that “this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people.” Earlier last year, addressing the Saudi government’s murder of a Saudi columnist for The Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi, Trump argued that such offenses should be seen in a broader context. “I’m not like a fool that says, ‘We don’t want to do business with them,’” he told NBC News.

Washington’s efforts to keep secrets about possible Saudi connections to 9/11 have also intensified. Former FBI agents who have made court statements in support of the 9/11 families have been warned by the bureau that they risk violating secrecy laws. Kenneth Williams — a retired agent who wrote a prescient memo before 9/11 about radical Arab students taking flying lessons in possible preparation for hijackings — said in a sworn declaration for the plaintiffs that an FBI lawyer told him that the Trump administration did not want him to help them because it could imperil “good relations with Saudi Arabia.” (The FBI declined to comment.)

The full story of the FBI’s investigation into Saudi links to the 9/11 attacks has remained largely untold. Even the code name of the case — Operation Encore — has never been published before. This account is based on interviews with more than 50 current and former investigators, intelligence officials and witnesses in the case. It also draws on some previously secret documents as well as on the voluminous public files of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission.

The Encore investigation exposed a bitter rift within the bureau over the Saudi connection. It illuminated a series of missed opportunities to resolve questions about links between one of Washington’s closest allies and the deadliest attack in the nation’s history. Richard Lambert, who led the FBI’s initial 9/11 investigation in San Diego, as the assistant special agent in charge there, says he believes that even if the FBI’s evidence of possible Saudi involvement in the case is not conclusive, it is significant enough that it should be fully disclosed. “The circumstantial evidence has mounted,” he says. “Given the lapse of time, I don’t know any reason why the truth should be kept from the American people.”


Images of the World Trade Center’s collapse were still looping on television sets in the FBI’s San Diego field office when a lead came in from Dulles International Airport, outside Washington. A blue 1988 Toyota Corolla had been found in a parking lot; it was registered to one of the suspected hijackers of American Airlines Flight 77, which took off for Los Angeles the previous morning before crashing into the Pentagon, killing 64 people on board and 125 inside the building. The hijacker, Nawaf al-Hazmi, listed a San Diego address.

Gonzalez caught the lead. At 42, he had been in the office for a decade, building a reputation as a shrewd, instinctive agent with a gift for getting people to talk. He had worked very effectively against Mexican drug traffickers and corrupt border-control agents, and he pivoted easily to the new target. “He was a phenomenal agent,” Lambert says, “what you would want to see if an agent knocked on your door. He just kept going and going.”

The address from Dulles led Gonzalez to a plain, white, two-story house in the working-class suburb of Lemon Grove. The listed owner was a 65-year-old Indian immigrant, Abdussattar Shaikh, who had taught English as a second language at local community colleges and helped establish the Islamic Center of San Diego, the city’s largest mosque. Gonzalez hurried back to prepare a search warrant at the FBI office, where snipers had taken up positions on the roof. “It was chaos,” recalls William D. Gore, who was then the special agent in charge in San Diego. “Nobody knew where the next attack would be.”

When Gonzalez returned to the Lemon Grove house the next day, a small army was mustering: an evidence-collection team, computer experts and a SWAT team with protective gear and a battering ram. Before they could get to the door, however, the professor politely opened it for them. It would be more than a week before anyone told Gonzalez that Dr. Shaikh, as he liked to be called, was in fact a long-time informant for the FBI field office.

Shaikh’s FBI handler would later acknowledge to Justice Department investigators that the professor had mentioned the two hijackers to him — but only by their first names, noting casually that they were the latest in a line of young Muslim men who rented his spare bedroom. Even had the agent dug further, he might not have discovered that Shaikh’s boarders, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, were known Qaida operatives whose names were in the databases of both the CIA and the National Security Agency. While CIA officials placed the two men under surveillance in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in early January 2000 and learned that at least one of them later flew to Los Angeles, the agency did not alert the FBI to their presence until August 2001, a few weeks before the attacks.

As the raid proceeded, Gonzalez escorted one of Shaikh’s new boarders outside. The young man got to know Hazmi a bit at a Texaco gas station where Hazmi briefly worked washing cars. But the guy whom Gonzalez should try to find, the boarder said, was another young immigrant who was especially close to the two Saudi men. His name was Mohdar Abdullah.

Gonzalez set up 24-hour surveillance on the Texaco station and began searching for Abdullah. The next day, as Abdullah drove into a student parking lot at San Diego State University, Gonzalez pulled up alongside him and identified himself as FBI. “What took you so long?” Abdullah asked. “I thought you’d be all over me sooner.”

Gonzalez and another agent invited Abdullah for breakfast at a Denny’s just east of the campus. The diner was one of the spots that Abdullah liked to go to with the two hijackers. Just up the hill, on Saranac Street, was the two-bedroom apartment they rented, where they often whiled away their days with Abdullah and a rotating crew of young Muslim men. Nearby was a small mosque where the three men worshipped under the guidance of Anwar al-­Awlaki, the Yemeni-American imam who would emerge as an important Qaida leader before being killed in Yemen by a United States drone strike in 2011.

Over the next three days, Abdullah, then 22, sketched a picture of the hijackers’ California lives — praying daily at the mosque, going for pizza at Little Caesars, playing pickup soccer. Abdullah translated for the two Saudis, drove them on errands and registered them for English classes. He also tried to arrange flying lessons for the pair. At a San Diego airfield in May 2000, they told the instructor they wanted to skip past the single-engine Cessna and learn to fly Boeing jets. He broke off their training after the second lesson and advised them to come back when they could speak better English.

Mihdhar, who was 24, left for Yemen in June 2000 to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

I’ve always been disturbed by how the George W. Bush administration helped Saudi citizens flee the US after the attacks.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2020 at 4:50 pm

Boeing Employees Mocked F.A.A. in Internal Messages

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Accountability is no more. Natalie Kitroeff reports in the NY Times:

Boeing sent Congress more than a hundred pages of documents on Thursday that included internal communications between company employees mocking the Federal Aviation Administration and bragging about getting the regulator to approve the 737 Max with little new training required for pilots.

Among the most damaging messages included conversations among Boeing employees about software issues and other problems with flight simulators for the Max. The employees appear to discuss instances in which the company concealed such problems from the F.A.A. during the regulator’s certification of the simulators.

“I still haven’t been forgiven by God for the covering up I did last year,” one of the employees says in messages from 2018, apparently in reference to interactions with the regulator.

“Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t,” one employee said to a colleague in another exchange. “No,” the colleague responded.

“These communications contain provocative language, and, in certain instances, raise questions about Boeing’s interactions with the F.A.A. in connection with the simulator qualification process,” Boeing said in a statement to Congress. “Having carefully reviewed the issue, we are confident that all of Boeing’s Max simulators are functioning effectively.”

“We regret the content of these communications, and apologize to the F.A.A., Congress, our airline customers, and to the flying public for them,” Boeing added. “The language used in these communications, and some of the sentiments they express, are inconsistent with Boeing values, and the company is taking appropriate action in response. This will ultimately include disciplinary or other personnel action, once the necessary reviews are completed.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 January 2020 at 6:02 pm

Inside the U.S. military’s raid against its own security guards that left dozens of Afghan children dead

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Brett Murphy reports in USA Today:

ZIZABAD, Afghanistan – Once the Americans left, the survivors started digging.

There were too many dead and not enough shovels, so a local politician brought in heavy machinery from a nearby construction site. He dug graves deep enough to fit mothers with children, or children with children. Some were still in their pajamas, their hands inked with henna tattoos from the party preparations the night before.

Villagers picked through the rubble of what had been an entire neighborhood, looking for remains to wrap in white linens for burial. A boy clutching a torn rug walked in a daze on top of the ruins. A young man collapsed in grief by a pile of mud bricks where his home once stood – where his wife and four children had been sleeping inside.

The local doctor recorded a cellphone video to document the dead faces, freckled with shrapnel and blood, coated with dust and debris. Some were Afghan men of fighting age, but most – dozens of them – were women and children. Taza was 3 years old. Maida was 2. Zia, 1.

The hot summer wind kicked up dust, smoke and the smell of gunpowder as villagers tried to make sense of why their remote village was demolished by an American airstrike in the middle of the night.

A clue was found near several of the dead Afghan fighters: ID badges from the private security company at the American-controlled airfield up the road.

Why had a team of U.S. soldiers and Marines battled its own paid security detail?

After more than a decade, those who buried their families still don’t know.


U.S. military officials publicly touted the August 22, 2008, Azizabad raid – Operation Commando Riot – as a victory. A high-value Taliban target had been killed; the collateral damage was minimal; the village was grateful.

None of it was true.

The Taliban commander escaped. Dozens of civilians were dead in the rubble, including as many as 60 children. The local population rioted.

It remains one of the deadliest civilian casualty events of the Afghan campaign. But the story of how the operation turned tragic has been largely hidden from the public.

USA TODAY spent more than a year investigating the Azizabad raid and sued the Department of Defense to obtain almost 1,000 pages of investigative files previously kept secret because it had been deemed “classified national security information.” The records included photographs of the destruction in Azizabad and sworn testimony from the U.S. forces who planned and executed the operation.

USA TODAY also obtained Afghan government records, evidence collected by humanitarian groups, including the Red Cross, and a confidential United Nations investigation into the incident.

In addition, a reporter traveled to western Afghanistan to interview government officials, investigators, first responders, witnesses and the villagers who survived.

Together, the records and interviews tell the story of a disaster that was months in the making as military and company officials ignored warnings about the men they had hired to provide intelligence and security. The records also reveal that the Defense Department has for years downplayed or denied the fatal mistakes surrounding the tragedy.

The problems began in 2007 when ArmorGroup, a private security company working on a Pentagon subcontract, hired two local warlords on the U.S. intelligence payroll to provide armed guards at an airfield on the western edge of Afghanistan.

Those warlords fought each other for control of the weapons and money ArmorGroup was giving out. The tangle of espionage and tribal infighting eventually drew in the very same military units that had helped empower the warlords in the first place.

The breakdowns in the U.S. military intelligence machine culminated with the raid itself. Some troops were never warned of Azizabad’s civilian population, and the special operation commanders who did know unleashed devastating force from the air anyway. Ground troops directed an American gunship to demolish house after house where at least one insurgent took cover, without knowing who else was inside.

“If they fled into the building, we were asking him to basically drop the building,” a Marine who was coordinating with the gunship testified. Most of the names were redacted from the military investigation.

Much about the mission in Azizabad remains in dispute, but this much is clear: The architects behind this corner of the war – and those profiting from the security contract – did not understand the difference between who they were supposed to be fighting, employing and protecting.

There still is no definitive death toll. After initially insisting that only five to seven civilians died, Pentagon officials were forced to adjust that figure to 33 after photos and videos of the carnage proved the official account wrong. Separate reviews by the Afghan government, Red Cross, United Nations and Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission put the civilian deaths over 70.

After two Pentagon investigations, the U.S. military denied any wrongdoing. Defense Department officials declined to comment for this story.

A 2010 Senate Armed Services Committee inquiry laid blame with both ArmorGroup and the Defense Department for doing business with the warlords. In response to the Senate report, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued a letter recognizing problems with contract oversight, which he pledged to fix.

Yet in the aftermath of the Azizabad raid, records show, military leaders sought to present an image of success and mask evidence of a civilian casualty disaster. The false version of events was amplified by Oliver North – a former Marine commander and a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal of the late 1980s – who was embedded as a Fox News contributor with the forces conducting the raid. North’s segment, which presents the mission as a success and the Taliban commander “confirmed dead,” is still available on the Fox News website.

North did not respond to multiple interview requests. In an email, Fox News spokeswoman Caley Cronin did not address North’s segment and directed questions to North, “who is no longer a contributor with the network,” she wrote.

Lt. Colonel Rachel E. VanLandingham, a retired officer with the Judge Advocate General’s Corps and the chief of international law at Central Command’s headquarters during the Azizabad raid, said the commanders responsible for investigating the incident seemed to ignore the failures instead of learning from them. She did not know the details of the operation or the military’s response until contacted by USA TODAY.

“The CENTCOM investigation seemed more worried about looking good than being good,” VanLandingham, now a law professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, said in an interview. “Everyone who deploys in Afghanistan should know this incident.”

G4S, the largest private security company in the world, purchased ArmorGroup in 2008 – after the company had signed its contract with the Pentagon to provide security at the airfield but before the Azizabad raid. The company’s role has remained virtually unknown other than a literal footnote in the Senate inquiry.

Executives at ArmorGroup, which G4S dissolved into another subsidiary it later sold in 2014, considered their decisions at the time to be the best option to keep those inside the base safe under difficult circumstances, according to emails collected by Senate investigators.

“Without the leadership and management” of company staff, the “worst could have caused the project to fail long before the August tragedy,” one said.

G4S declined to comment for this story, except to state that ArmorGroup is a former G4S subsidiary that wasn’t under the direct control of the parent company.

But some of the employees who were operating the air base contracts near Azizabad agreed to speak out publicly for the first time.

“It was wholesale slaughter,” David McDonnell, a former ArmorGroup director who oversaw mine clearing projects in Afghanistan, said in a recent interview. “And it didn’t need to be.”

His colleague, Tony Thompson, worked with some of the villagers killed in the raid. Thompson told USA TODAY he has spent much of the past decade wrestling with the truth kept secret all this time.

“Their families died, and they still don’t know why,” he said. “You’ll never bring them back. But you need to know how and why it happened.”
chapter1.png” alt=”I. The Airfield” />

I. The Airfield

The Shindand District air base, on the southern border of Afghanistan’s Herat Province, was first built by the Soviets in the 1960s. A graveyard of abandoned Russian aircraft and land mines spread across open fields on both sides of the perimeter fence. The base is a 9-square-mile campus in a remote but strategic location between Iran’s eastern border and the Ring Road, which circles all of Afghanistan.

In a district that has . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Military “honor” is a curiously flexible concept. And we still are at war in Afghanistan — and the military is still lying about it, as the Washington Post has discovered through a massive FOIA request.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 January 2020 at 2:23 pm

Interesting comparison of Obama v. Trump

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Also, Obama was taller.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 December 2019 at 7:49 pm

Why the Media Are Ignoring the Afghanistan Papers

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Alex Shephard writes in the New Republic:

This week, The Washington Post published the Afghanistan Papers, an extensive review of thousands of pages of internal government documents relating to the war in Afghanistan. Like the Pentagon Papers, which showcased the lies underpinning the Vietnam War, the Post’s investigation shows that U.S. officials, across three presidential administrations, intentionally and systematically misled the American public for 18 years and counting. As Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1974, told CNN earlier this week, the Pentagon and Afghanistan Papers revealed the same dynamic: “The presidents and the generals had a pretty realistic view of what they were up against, which they did not want to admit to the American people.”

The documents are an indictment not only of one aspect of American foreign policy, but also of the U.S.’s entire policymaking apparatus. They reveal a bipartisan consensus to lie about what was actually happening in Afghanistan: chronic waste and chronic corruption, one ill-conceived development scheme after another, resulting in a near-unmitigated failure to bring peace and prosperity to the country. Both parties had reason to engage in the cover-up. For the Bush administration, Afghanistan was a key component in the war on terror. For the Obama administration, Afghanistan was the “good war” that stood in contrast to the nightmare in Iraq.

The Afghanistan Papers are, in other words, a bombshell. Yet the report has received scant attention from the broader press. Neither NBC nor ABC covered the investigation in their nightly broadcasts this week. In other outlets, it has been buried beneath breathless reporting on the latest developments in the impeachment saga, Joe Biden’s purported pledge to serve only one term, and world leaders’ pathological envy of a 16-year-old girl.

The relentless news cycle that characterizes Donald Trump’s America surely deserves some blame: This isn’t the first time that a consequential news story has been buried under an avalanche of other news stories. But one major reason that the Afghanistan Papers have received so comparatively little coverage is that everyone is to blame, which means no one has much of an interest in keeping the story alive. There are no hearings, few press gaggles.

George W. Bush started the Afghanistan War and botched it in plenty of ways, not least by starting another war in Iraq. But Barack Obama, despite his obvious skepticism of the war effort, exacerbated Bush’s mistakes by bowing to the Washington foreign policy blob and authorizing a pointless troop surge. Now, although both Democrats and Donald Trump seem to be on the same page about getting the U.S. out of Afghanistan, there has been little progress with peace talks. The pattern across administrations is that any movement toward resolution is usually met with a slow slide back into the status quo, a.k.a. quagmire.

The political press loves the idea of bipartisan cooperation, which plays into a notion of American greatness and its loss. It also thrives on partisan conflict, because conflict drives narrative. It doesn’t really know what to do with bipartisan failure.

During the impeachment hearings, news outlets gleefully covered the conflict between Trump and members of the foreign policy establishment, holding up the latter as selfless bureaucrats working tirelessly and anonymously on behalf of the American interest, in contrast with the feckless and narcissistic head of the executive branch. The Afghanistan Papers don’t provide that kind of easy contrast; they demand a kind of holistic condemnation, in which Trump and those bureaucrats are part of the same problem.

The media also has a long-standing bias toward “new” news. The Afghanistan War has been a catastrophic failure for nearly two decades. Because little changes, there is little to report that will excite audiences. (Though the Afghanistan Papers are startling, they are hardly surprising.) Given that the president is the greatest supplier of “new” news in recent history—his Twitter feed alone powers MSNBC most days—more complex stories, like the situation in Afghanistan, are often buried in favor of the political equivalent of sports sideline reporting.

The result is that this massive controversy receives disproportionately little coverage. Despite wasting thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, everyone in the U.S. government gets off scot-free. . .

Continue reading.

It is increasingly difficult to see how the US can get back on track. Too many different forces have motivation to stay the current course, which leads directly over a cliff.

On the Tragedy of Paul Volcker

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Matt Stoller writes at Big:

Today I’m going to do a quick recap of Paul Volcker’s life. Volcker, who died yesterday, was one of the most important men in finance in the last fifty years.

Volcker was an honest man, in many ways a great man, but one whose actions nonetheless helped shatter the American middle class. This wasn’t his intent, but it was what he accidentally wrought. Volcker’s life is a tragedy, not for him, but for the rest of us.

The Volcker Rule

In 2009, when the world was falling apart, a lot of people were asking new President Barack Obama to turn to Paul Volcker, the tall and prestigious former central banker whose reputation was of near God-like stature. Obama did, asking Volcker for advice. But Larry Summers, key advisor to Obama, sabotaged the relationship. Volcker encouraged Obama to stop banks from gambling with internal hedge funds, but Summers wanted banks to keep gambling with internal hedge funds. Summers won the bureaucratic fight.

Volcker’s titanic reputation was by then decades old. But so too was Volcker pursuing honesty in finance, and getting pushed out because of it. In 1986, Ronald Reagan essentially fired Volcker from his position as the head of the Federal Reserve because Paul Volcker was trying to crack down on the junk-bond fueled mergers craze that was clearly corrupting America’s savings and loan banks. Felix Rohatyn, a Democratic fixer and Lazard investment banker, pleaded with the Republicans, “if we sacrifice Paul Volcker for the junk-bond mania, we will clearly show the world that we’ve lost any sense of financial responsibility.”

Here’s a story from 1986, at the height of the frenzy.

Volcker lost the battle at the Fed, and ultimately Alan Greenspan, who was on the payroll of one of the largest corrupt savings and loan banks, took over. Volcker, in pursuing financial rectitude, had no allies except the ‘respect’ of the financial world, which, as it turns out, isn’t worth much at all. And the reason, ironically, is because Volcker killed his greatest would-be allies.

I first ran into Volcker’s career while researching Penn Central, the train system that went bankrupt in 1970 in the greatest then-collapse in American history. It was like the Enron of its time. The Nixon administration tasked the conservative Volcker with overseeing the fiasco, and he was a fairly honest broker. He tried, not very hard, to get a bailout, but when Congressman Wright Patman said no, that was that.

In 1979 Jimmy Carter nominated Volcker to be the head of the Fed. Carter’s advisor warned him that Volcker was the “candidate of Wall Street.” In an era of red-hot inflation, Volcker’s goal was to cut the growth of prices, with the ultimate end of keeping the dollar strong globally. He had popular backing, Americans saw inflation as the most pressing economic problem. Volcker went straight at the auto sector, the unionized pace setting industry which set the informal wage growth patterns of the entire country since the 1950s.

His goal was to crush wages, straight out. To give you a sense of how strongly he felt about this goal, consider that during this period, from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, Volcker walked around with a card of union wages in his pocket to remind himself that his goal was to crush the middle class. Volcker even angered Reagan officials by keeping interest rates too high for too long. When they complained, he would pull “out his card on union wages” and note that inflation would not come down permanently until labor “got the message and surrendered.” Volcker said that the prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s was a “hall of mirrors” and that the “standard of living of the average American must decline.”

Volcker was a deeply conservative, but not corrupt, official. I think the speech that best exemplifies how he thought was one he gave in 1981 before the Economic Club of New York, lauding the bankruptcy and turnaround of the city.

Five years ago, when I last addressed the Economic Club, the preoccupation of the day was the acute financial distress of this great City and State. That big black headline in the Daily News—”Ford to New York: Drop Dead”—was not quite accurate. But in its bold and brazen way, it did carry an essential message. Any lasting solution to our economic problems would have to begin, and end at home.

A month or so ago, I was struck by another headline, this time in a Wall Street Journal editorial: “The Supply Side Saves New York.” Somehow, in five years, New York had become an example for the rest of the country to follow.”

Volcker, in other words, was an ardent fan of austerity. And in his speech, he explicitly noted that New York City had no printing press to get out of the fiscal jam it had been in. That was, as Volcker put it, “fortunate.” Instead, the city had to slash expenditures, particularly on the poor. Volcker hoped that the America would take this lesson to heart nationally, and since he ran the printing press, that’s what he made sure happened. He also believed strongly in slashing taxes, government spending, and in deregulation, as he said to businessmen in Kansas City that year.

Volcker raised interest rates radically, crushing small businesses, farms, banks, and credit unions. To many of his fans, and even his opponents, this was simply what had to be done to get inflation out of the system. But there was a brief experiment, if forgotten, experiment in trying a different path, In the spring of 1980, Jimmy Carter encouraged Volcker not to raise interest rates, but to place “credit controls” onto consumer borrowing. Credit controls are direct public rules on specific lending institutions that make it more or less expensive to lend or borrow, and were a major mechanism to keep inflation out of the system during World War Two and the Korean War. And the Fed had the authority to make it more expensive for banks and financial institutions to issue credit cards and lend money to consumers.

Volcker used these tools incredibly poorly, clumsily even, with some suspecting he was intending to sabotage the use of regulatory tools he didn’t like. Inflation collapsed, as did interest rates and the economy slid rapidly. Within a few months, Volcker and the bankers got rid of credit controls. Inflation and interest rates jumped right back up, and Volcker was able to discredit credit controls. He then inflicted massive pain on the middle class instead of the banking system by using interest rates and monetary policy, instead of explicitly telling big banks to stop lending.

At the same time as Volcker was destroying unions, small banks, small farms, and small businesses, he was structuring the Too Big to Fail model of finance. In 1980, Nelson and Bunker Hunt, two oil billionaire heirs, tried to corner the silver market in league with Arab interests. Volcker organized a bailout. By 1980, Wall Street had gotten the message. Economist Albert Wojnilower explained, “It is now everywhere taken for granted that no monetary authority will allow any key financial actor to fail.”

In the middle of the 1980s, Volcker’s strategy looked like a success. Inflation was gone, the economy was growing, technology seemed to be restructuring society, and the workforce had largely been de-unionized. But there was a something of a mirage, as a bubble in financial leverage through savings and loan banks and junk bonds emerged. Volcker tried to crack down on this bubble, to block the use of junk bonds for certain kinds of seedy transactions. He knew a scumbag when he saw one, and the junk bond peddlers and M&A artists were scum. But by then, his allies against financial corruption, notably the small banks, small business, and unions, were dead or dying. So it was Paul Volcker and all his vaunted respect, versus an army on Wall Street.

There was no contest. The predatory bankers won, as they did again in 2009.

Towards the end of his life, Volcker railed against the corruption he saw everywhere. But he never connected the dots between . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 December 2019 at 1:23 pm

The Daily 202: The Afghanistan Papers show the corrosive consequences of letting corruption go unchecked

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A lesson the US should heed for itself. James Hohmann writes in the Washington Post:

THE BIG IDEA: A toxic mix of U.S. government policies, under the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, directly contributed to Afghanistan’s descent into one of the world’s most corrupt countries.

U.S. leaders said publicly that they had no tolerance for corruption in Afghanistan, but that was one of several topics related to the war effort on which they systematically misled the public, according to a trove of confidential government interviews obtained by The Washington Post.

American representatives often looked the other way at egregious and brazen graft, so long as the offenders were considered allies. Congress appropriated vast sums of money, which was handed out with little oversight or recordkeeping. The ensuing greed and corruption undermined the legitimacy of the nascent government and helped make the ground more fertile for the Taliban’s resurgence.

“The basic assumption was that corruption is an Afghan problem and we are the solution. But there is one indispensable ingredient for corruption — money — and we were the ones who had the money,” said Barnett Rubin, a former senior State Department adviser and a New York University professor.

The adage is as true in Afghanistan as America: Follow the money.

“Our biggest single project, sadly and inadvertently, of course, may have been the development of mass corruption,” said Ryan Crocker, who twice served as the top U.S. diplomat in Kabul, in 2002 and again from 2011 to 2012. “Once it gets to the level I saw, when I was out there, it’s somewhere between unbelievably hard and outright impossible to fix it. … The corruption was so entrenched and so much a part of the lifestyle of the establishment writ broadly…”

Crocker told interviewers from the government that he felt “a sense of futility”: “I was struck by something [then-president Hamid] Karzai said and repeated a number of times during my tenure, which is that the West, led by the U.S., in his clear view, had a significant responsibility to bear for the whole corruption issue,” he explained. “I always thought Karzai had a point, that you just cannot put those amounts of money into a very fragile state and society, and not have it fuel corruption. … You just can’t.”

— The comments from Crocker and Rubin are included among more than 2,000 pages of previously private notes from research conducted by U.S. government investigators. More than 400 people who played a direct role in the war, from generals to diplomats and aid workers, were questioned about what went wrong. The interviews were conducted by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction between 2014 and 2018 for a “Lessons Learned” project. A report outlined the conclusions in broad brushstrokes in 2016, but a lot of the most noteworthy material was held back. The Post has fought a three-year legal battle, which is ongoing, to get these documents out under the Freedom of Information Act so that the American people can see for themselves what’s been going on.

John Sopko, the head of the federal agency that conducted the interviews, acknowledged in an interview with Craig Whitlock that the records show “the American people have constantly been lied to.” Whitlock has written a six-part series dissecting all the documents. (You can start with Part One here.)

— A key theme underlying many of the most candid interviews is that a short-term focus on maintaining security led to compromises that started small but became bigger and bigger. It’s a cautionary tale that can be cross-applied to a host of other challenges facing the United States.

Gert Berthold, a forensic accountant who served on a military task force in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2012, analyzed 3,000 Defense Department contracts worth $106 billion. He said they calculated that about 40 percent of the money ended up in the pockets of insurgents, criminal syndicates or corrupt Afghan officials. But former government ministers told them it was higher. Berthold said few U.S. officials wanted to hear about the evidence they uncovered: “No one wanted accountability,” he said. “If you’re going to do anti-corruption, someone has got to own it. From what I’ve seen, no one is willing to own it.”

Christopher Kolenda, a retired Army colonel who deployed to Afghanistan several times and advised three U.S. generals in charge of the war, said the Afghan government led by Karzai had “self-organized into a kleptocracy” by 2006. “I like to use a cancer analogy,” the colonel told his government interviewers. “Petty corruption is like skin cancer; there are ways to deal with it and you’ll probably be just fine. Corruption within the ministries, higher level, is like colon cancer; it’s worse, but if you catch it in time, you’re probably ok. Kleptocracy, however, is like brain cancer; it’s fatal.

— A lot of important information is still being concealed by the government. While the agency has turned over previously unpublished notes and transcripts from 428 of more than 600 interviews that were conducted, these documents identify only 62 of the people who were interviewed by their names. The names of 366 others are blacked out. A decision by a federal judge is pending in response to a motion to disclose the other names. But The Post chose to publish what it has now, instead of waiting for the judge to rule on the rest, because these records could contribute to the civic discourse over President Trump’s negotiations with the Taliban and the debate over whether to withdraw the 13,000 U.S. troops who remain in Afghanistan, which has become a flashpoint in the 2020 campaign.

The Post attempted to contact for comment everyone whom it was able to identify as having given an interview as part of the project. (Their responses are compiled here.)

— Here are five of the most striking quotes about corruption from people whose identities are still redacted in the interview summaries:

1. An unnamed senior U.S. diplomat said the early years were “a dark space” with “not much documentation” about who we were giving cash. “We had partnerships with all the wrong players,” this diplomat lamented during an interview in August 2015. “The U.S. is still standing shoulder-to-shoulder with these people, even through all these years. It’s a case of security trumping everything else.”

2. From another unnamed senior U.S. official: “Our money was empowering a lot of bad people. There was massive resentment among the Afghan people. And we were the most corrupt here, so had no credibility on the corruption issue.”

3. From a former National Security Council staffer: “In the beginning, the military kept saying that corruption was an unfortunate short-term side effect then toward the end the feeling was ‘Oh, my God, this could derail the whole thing.’”

4. An unnamed State Department official said that U.S. officials were “so desperate to have the alcoholics to the table, we kept pouring drinks, not knowing [or] considering we were killing them.” This person said that the Americans “had no red lines” for cutting off corrupt partners. “We didn’t spend the money effectively and didn’t consider the implications,” this person told government interviewers. “We wanted to keep the country afloat, not to let the country be a safe haven for the Taliban and al Qaeda.”

5. An unidentified government contractor said his job was to distribute $3 million in taxpayer money each day for projects in an Afghan district roughly the size of a U.S. county. He recalled asking a visiting congressman whether the lawmaker could responsibly spend that kind of money back home: “He said hell no. ‘Well, sir, that’s what you just obligated us to spend and I’m doing it for communities that live in mud huts with no windows.’”

— So often, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Chapter four of Whitlock’s six-part series is a narrative, as told through these interviews, of how Afghanistan became consumed by corruption: “About halfway into the 18-year war, Afghans stopped hiding how corrupt their country had become. Dark money sloshed all around. Afghanistan’s largest bank liquefied into a cesspool of fraud. Travelers lugged suitcases loaded with $1 million, or more, on flights leaving Kabul. … Karzai won reelection after cronies stuffed thousands of ballot boxes. He later admitted the CIA had delivered bags of cash to his office for years, calling it ‘nothing unusual.’ … According to the interviews, the CIA, the U.S. military, the State Department and other agencies used cash and lucrative contracts to win the allegiance of Afghan warlords in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. …

In 2002 and 2003, when Afghan tribal councils gathered to write a new constitution, the U.S. government gave ‘nice packages’ to delegates who supported Washington’s preferred stance on human rights and women’s rights, according to a U.S. official who served in Kabul at the time. ‘The perception that was started in that period: If you were going to vote for a position that [Washington] favored, you’d be stupid to not get a package for doing it,’ the unnamed official told government interviewers. By the time Afghanistan held parliamentary elections in 2005, that perception had hardened. Lawmakers realized their votes could be worth thousands of dollars to the Americans, even for legislation they would have backed anyway … ‘People would tell each other, so-and-so has just been to the U.S. Embassy and got this money. They said ‘ok now I need to go,’’ the U.S. official said. ‘So from the beginning, their experience with democracy was one in which money was deeply embedded.’”

On Aug. 20, 2009, Afghans went to the polls to choose a president. … Right away, reports surfaced of electoral fraud on an epic scale — ghost voting, official miscounting, ballot-box stuffing, plus violence and intimidation at the polls. Initial results showed Karzai, the incumbent, had won. But his opponents, and many independent observers, accused his side of trying to steal the election. A U.N.-backed panel investigated and determined Karzai had received about 1 million illegal votes, a quarter of all those cast. The outcome put Obama administration officials in a box. They had said corruption was intolerable but also had promised to respect Afghan sovereignty and not interfere with the election. Moreover, they did not want to completely alienate Karzai. If there was another vote, many saw him as the likely victor anyway. In the end, the Obama administration brokered a deal in which Karzai was declared the winner after he agreed to share some power with his main rival. …

Peter Galbraith, a Karzai critic who served as a deputy U.N. envoy to Afghanistan in 2009, was removed from his post after he complained that the United Nations was helping cover up the extent of the election fraud. An American, Galbraith told government interviewers that the U.S. government also stood by when Karzai appointed cronies to election boards and anti-corruption posts.”

It got worse in 2010: “Kabul Bank, the country’s biggest, nearly collapsed under the weight of $1 billion in fraudulent loans — an amount equal to one-twelfth of the country’s entire economic output the year before. The Afghan government engineered an emergency bailout to stem a run on the bank as angry crowds lined up to withdraw their savings. Investigators soon determined Kabul Bank had falsified its books to hide hundreds of millions of dollars in unsecured loans to politically connected business executives, including the president’s brother Mahmoud Karzai and the family of Fahim Khan, the warlord then serving as the country’s first vice president. ‘On a scale of one to 10, it was a 20 here,’ an unnamed U.S. Treasury Department official posted to Kabul as an Afghan government adviser told interviewers. ‘It had elements that you could put into a spy novel, and the connections between people who owned Kabul Bank and those who run the country.’ …

“At first, in public and in private, the Obama administration leaned on Karzai to fully investigate the Kabul Bank scandal — not only to recover the stolen money but also to demonstrate to the Afghan people that no one was above the law. … For about a year after the scandal became public, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, led by then-Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, made the case a top priority and pressed Karzai to take action, three former officials told government interviewers. But they said the embassy backed off after Eikenberry was replaced by Ryan Crocker in July 2011. … Crocker, as well as U.S. military commanders and others in Washington, did not want to risk alienating Karzai, because they needed his support as tens of thousands of additional U.S. soldiers arrived in the war zone. They also said Crocker and his allies did not want Congress or international donors to use the bank scandal as an excuse to cut off aid to Kabul.” . ..

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 December 2019 at 1:07 pm

At War With the Truth in Afghanistan

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Craig Whitlock has a special report in the Washington Post:

A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.

The documents were generated by a federal project examining the root failures of the longest armed conflict in U.S. history. They include more than 2,000 pages of previously unpublished notes of interviews with people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials.

The U.S. government tried to shield the identities of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project and conceal nearly all of their remarks. The Post won release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year legal battle.

In the interviews, more than 400 insiders offered unrestrained criticism of what went wrong in Afghanistan and how the United States became mired in nearly two decades of warfare.

With a bluntness rarely expressed in public, the interviews lay bare pent-up complaints, frustrations and confessions, along with second-guessing and backbiting.

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction . . . 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added, blaming the deaths of U.S. military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department. “Who will say this was in vain?”

Since 2001, more than 775,000 U.S. troops have deployed to Afghanistan, many repeatedly. Of those, 2,300 died there and 20,589 were wounded in action, according to Defense Department figures.

The interviews, through an extensive array of voices, bring into sharp relief the core failings of the war that persist to this day. They underscore how three presidents — George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump — and their military commanders have been unable to deliver on their promises to prevail in Afghanistan.

With most speaking on the assumption that their remarks would not become public, U.S. officials acknowledged that their warfighting strategies were fatally flawed and that Washington wasted enormous sums of money trying to remake Afghanistan into a modern nation.

The interviews also highlight the U.S. government’s botched attempts to curtail runaway corruption, build a competent Afghan army and police force, and put a dent in Afghanistan’s thriving opium trade.

The U.S. government has not carried out a comprehensive accounting of how much it has spent on the war in Afghanistan, but the costs are staggering.

Since 2001, the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development have spent or appropriated between $934 billion and $978 billion, according to an inflation-adjusted estimate calculated by Neta Crawford, a political science professor and co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University.

Those figures do not include money spent by other agencies such as the CIA and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is responsible for medical care for wounded veterans.

“What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth $1 trillion?” Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy SEAL and White House staffer for Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. He added, “After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan.”

The documents also contradict a long chorus of public statements from U.S. presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that they were making progress in Afghanistan and the war was worth fighting. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

The US has been betrayed by its leaders.

The sidebar has useful links:

THE AFGHANISTAN PAPERS: At war with the truth

INTERVIEWS AND MEMOS – Key insiders speak bluntly about the failures of the longest conflict in U.S. history

POST REPORTS – Hear candid interviews with former ambassador Ryan Crocker and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn<

THE FIGHT FOR THE DOCUMENTS – It took three years and two federal lawsuits for The Post to pry loose 2,000 pages of interview records

PART 1 – U.S. officials constantly said they were making progress. They were not, and they knew it.

PART 2 – Bush and Obama had polar-opposite plans to win the war. Both were destined to fail.

PART 3 – Despite vows the U.S. wouldn’t get mired in “nation-building,” it has wasted billions doing just that

PART 4 – The U.S. flooded the country with money — then turned a blind eye to the graft it fueled

PART 5 – Afghan security forces, despite years of training, were dogged by incompetence and corruption

PART 6 – The U.S. war on drugs in Afghanistan has imploded at nearly every turn

Interviewees respond

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 December 2019 at 12:53 pm

How Joe Biden Empowered China’s Censorship of the NBA

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Matt Stoller writes at BIG:

Over the weekend, the Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey posted a tweet favorable to Hong Kong protesters, a tweet that said “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” Twitter is banned in China, and the tweet would have ordinarily been ignored. But Chinese politics is changing; Xi Jinping, having consolidated power using nationalistic rhetoric, has unleashed Cultural Revolution-style pressure inside Chinese bureaucracies. Any bureaucrat who doesn’t ramp up volume aggressively against even a perceived slight to Chinese honor could be undermined or even imprisoned.

There are many examples of this hyper-nationalism; earlier this year, the Chinese government denied visas to German lawmakers who criticized the country’s human rights record. In this case, the offending party was just a basketball team executive. Yet, the CCP can apparently brook no resistance, anywhere.

China’s state-owned top broadcaster said it would stop showing team events, and Chinese tech giant Tencent announced it would no longer live-stream games or carry team news. China’s consulate general in Houston said the team should clarify its views, and the Chinese Basketball Association, led by former NBA player Yao Ming, cut all ties with the Rockets.

The National Basketball League Kowtows

The Rockets are a popular team in China, and China is an important market for the NBA. It would be hard to convey the level of sycophancy to the Chinese that business leaders in America immediately adopted. Morey deleted his tweet and apologized, top NBA player and Adidas spokesperson James Harden said sorry to the Chinese, and the NBA issued two statements, a mild one in English and a harsh condemnation of Morey in Chinese. The billionaire owner of the Rockets, Tilman Fertitta, criticized his own employee.

Most amusingly, the billionaire owner of the Nets, Chinese tech giant Alibaba co-founder and prominent Yale Law donor Joseph Tsai, wrote an essay condemning Morey’s comments, bringing up 19th century Opium Wars as one rationale for why all 1.4 billion people were immediately offended at the comments of someone posting on a platform banned in China.

Why does China have so much leverage?

The Chinese market is massive, both as an importer and exporter. We can see it use its power to attempt to bully U.S. politicians over agricultural products in hopes of gaining leverage in the trade war. This NBA situation is no different.

Among the nearly 1.4 billion people who call China home, 640 million of them watched some kind of NBA programming over the course of the 2017-2018 season, per league figures. That’s nearly twice the population of the entire United States.

“When global partners are looking at the NBA, I think for them the two big markets are really the U.S. and China,” Chang said. “And in some respects for some of these guys, they start to look at China as almost a bigger opportunity going forward.”

The National Basketball Association, like most American producers of goods and services, sees the potential for eye-popping profits in China. Of course, it’s a trade-off that comes with steep costs, like censorship. And it will ultimately collapse because the CCP is not interested in trade, it is interested in dominance.

Since the 1980s, the Chinese have used a simple set of strategies to take over industrial capacity. First, use imports and foreign financing/know-how to learn the business, then gradually replace foreign businesses with domestic ones, and finally subsidize the Chinese producers abroad until they dominate the global market. The Chinese have done this across many different sectors, most prominently the telecommunications equipment space, with Huawei causing a global national security crisis as it is now the best value for telecom equipment buyers in the world.

It’s not obvious how the Chinese could learn how to replace the NBA or international soccer, which is also quite popular in China. China is investing in youth sports, but my guess is that it won’t replace foreign sports starts with its own stars, because there’s no real strategic need to do so. The CCP will simply impose conditions on global sports, ensuring that, like with Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok, sports becomes a zone where politics are not allowed. It is increasingly doing that in Hollywood, as the U.S. government noted in 2015.

A lot of people are saying that the NBA is greedy, willing to sacrifice human rights for profits. And in some sense, that is true. But what just happened to the NBA is a result of signals the U.S. government has been sending to the American business community for years, that commercial relationships with autocracies – however compromised they may appear – ultimately help lead to democracy.

Bill Clinton pioneered this policy framework. The idea was called ‘engagement’ with China, and many Western China watchers, in an orientalist fantasy world, sought to ‘shape’ China as a great power compatible with the liberal international order. As I wrote in June, this policy was part of a “a global utopian view, peddled most aggressively by Thomas Friedman in his 1999 book The Lexus and the Olive Tree and his 2005 The World is Flat…. China would become a democratic state, slowly, because its people wanted McDonald’s and X-Boxes, and McDonald’s and X-Boxes turned countries democratic.” Clinton’s policies sent large chunks of the U.S. industrial base and American factories to China. Under Clinton, U.S. businesses exported capital and technology and even armed the Chinese state, accidentally transferring missile machining tools to the Chinese military.

George Bush and Barack Obama continued this policy architecture. Bush oversaw the main years of the ‘China shock’, when Wall Street, private equity, and China cooperated to rip the economic guts out of the midwest. During the Obama administration, despite some rhetoric of a ‘pivot to Asia’ to deal with China, this policy architecture largely dominated D.C. One very clear example is that of how Joe Biden sought to sell American entertainment product while Vice President.

Joe Biden’s China Deal

In 2012, Hollywood studios were increasingly frustrated at their inability to get into the Chinese market. China had maintained a system whereby American studios could sell only 20 films a year into their fast growing theater chains, and often wouldn’t make decisions until after the movies were made. This created a situation where studios would preemptively censor their own creative work in the hopes that their films would be imported by China.

The Obama administration, pursuing the strategy of engagement, or deepening trade ties, sought to loosen this restriction. And they sent Joe Biden to cut the deal, as Cecilia Kang reported.

During a luncheon [in 2012] in Los Angeles, Vice President Biden convinced China’s vice president to agree to a deal that would unlock new fortunes for Hollywood. Biden asked Xi Jinping to relax China’s quota of allowing only 20 foreign films to be shown at a time and to increase distribution fees for Hollywood firms.

China had been reluctant to change its decades-old restrictions meant to control the flow of non-Chinese films into the nation that could hinder its own arts industry. But Biden pressed his Chinese counterpart during those last hours of Xi’s five-day U.S. visit.

“By the end of the luncheon, we had a handshake,” Biden said Friday at the Creativity Conference hosted by the Motion Picture Association of America, Microsoft and ABC News. As a result, “your share of box office revenues doubled,” Biden told the crowd of network executives, studio heads and technology lobbyists.

Part of this deal was straightforward aid to a U.S. industry, Biden doing the bidding of former Senator Chris Dodd, who had since become the head of the Motion Picture Association of America.

Biden joked there were rumors in the Senate that Dodd “controlled me,” adding that he left a meeting with Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to speak at the MPAA event.

But this deal also signaled to American entertainment executives, including those at the NBA, that U.S. government policy was to encourage more trade with China, no matter what. If they sought to sell their product in China, the U.S. would back them with geopolitical muscle. What Biden and the United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk didn’t consider was the leverage over studio output that that increased dependency on the Chinese market gave to the Chinese government.

Such leverage has already been an important part of China’s exporting power. For decades, . . .

Continue reading.

He also mentions his

. . . upcoming book, Goliath: The Hundred Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy. A few years ago, I feel like I lucked into a learning about the secret history of political economy and power in the 20th century. The book, and this newsletter, are the result. If you pre-order it, the book gets on various lists and gets more promotion from fancy people, which then leads to more exposure, and more lists and promotion, etc. That means that the ideas you and I care about – democracy in commerce – get to a wider audience.

It’s already causing trouble. So far, Ed Luce at the Financial Times attacked my arguments about fascist Chinese power, and Farhad Manjoo in the NYT used the book to recast the Obama era in a way that generated bitter pushback from senior Obama officials. This is the debate we need to have as a society. So pre-order it! If you like this newsletter, you will love Goliath: The Hundred Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 October 2019 at 6:12 pm

The Opioid Crisis Is About More Than Corporate Greed

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Zachary Siegel reports in the New Republic:

“Just like Doritos keep eating. We’ll make more.”

“It’s like people are addicted to these things or something. Oh, wait, people are…”

These lines are from emails sent between opioid manufacturers and distributors, recently pried loose by attorneys general suing Big Pharma for its role in fueling a massive wave of overdose deaths. Similar to the damning internal memos revealing that Big Tobacco knew that cigarettes indeed caused cancer, these emails appear to show that Big Pharma knew that a significant share of their product was landing in the street, feeding addiction. And yet they kept shipping out obscene quantities to rural towns across America, creating even more demand.

Nearly every step of the pharmaceutical supply chain is implicated in the soaring death rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription opioids killed 218,000 people from 1999 to 2017. Many of the companies—from Johnson & Johnson to obscure distributors like Cardinal Health—are listed as defendants in hundreds of lawsuits filed by nearly every state in the country. The government thinks these corporations should pay up and treat the addiction their products caused. But the companies claim to have been acting legally and in compliance with federal regulators like the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Was it all, technically, legal?

What the opioid crisis illustrates is not that there are a few bad apples in the pharmaceutical industry, but that the country’s entire health care system is driven by profit at the expense of public health and safety. Drug manufacturers, pharmacy chains, drug distributors, and insurance companies got rich while people, especially people lower down the income ladder, suffered—and the DEA, through neglect or incompetence or a mix of both, watched it all happen.


While there are significant similarities between Big Pharma and Big Tobacco, there is also a key difference that makes today’s story of corporate malfeasance even worse: namely, that the supply chain for tobacco is much simpler than opioids, which are, theoretically, tightly controlled substances that pass through a dizzying array of actors and regulators.

First, a doctor must write a prescription, which must be filled at a pharmacy, and is likely paid for by an insurance company. Depending on the needs of their customers, pharmacies place orders for these drugs (customers, it turns out, need a lot of them). Shipping companies then go between the pharmacy and the drug manufacturers. Overseeing this entire system is the DEA, which sets the quota for how many opioids a company is allowed to manufacture, and tracks where those pills go.

While politicians are making hay out of Big Pharma’s wanton greed and recklessness, far less attention has been paid to the DEA. Attorneys general suing Big Pharma recently unearthed a database that both the corporations and the government—each for their own self-interested reasons—fought to keep sealed, called the Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS). Mammoth in size and granular in detail, ARCOS tracks the shipments of every single controlled substance, from the company that manufactured it, to the company that shipped it, to the pharmacy that received it. It is the world atlas for how the opioid crisis began.

All told, from 2006 to 2012, roughly 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills criss-crossed America, according to a Washington Post analysis. While many of these pills went to legitimate patients, millions more were showered on troubled communities with a voracious thirst for pain relief. While drug manufacturers produced more and more opioids (approved by the DEA), and distributors shipped those pills to pharmacies all over the country (tracked by the DEA), drug companies saw record profits—and America’s overdose death rate soared off the charts.

“I think this [database] brings home what we all knew,” says Corey Davis, an attorney and public health expert at the Network for Public Health Law. “This wasn’t just incompetence on the part of the DEA and the Department of Justice, it was knowing and intentional failure to do what most people think is their jobs.”

What is the DEA’s job, exactly? Its first task, and the one most associated with the agency, is the Sicario-esque disruption of illicit flows of drugs coming into the U.S. from abroad, like intercepting speedboats filled with cocaine. Its other major responsibility is controlling licit pharmaceuticals. “The whole goal of the prescription system is to make sure that patients are getting their medications, and that medications are not going to those who aren’t patients,” which is called “diversion,” says Bryce Pardo, a drug policy researcher at the RAND Corporation. “That’s the whole point of the system, which was invented a hundred years ago. Clearly, the system broke. The system failed.”

Pardo points out, in the DEA’s defense, the story of a so-called DEA whistle-blower blaming a pharma-backed piece of legislation passed by Congress in 2016, which prevented agents from stopping suspicious shipments of opioids, and stunted investigations into the very corporations that are now being villainized and sued. Just as DEA agents were working their way up the pharmaceutical supply chain, much as they would in a case against any transnational crime organization, Congress hamstrung their enforcement efforts.

Or so the story goes—but that’s not the whole of it. “These companies, often times acting legally, were asking for preclearance from the DEA to go about their business,” says Leo Beletsky, a professor of law and health sciences at Northeastern University (where I’m currently a journalism fellow). “Now, the DEA is saying their hands were tied when, in fact, their hands were not tied. They were completely asleep at the wheel. And by the time the DEA began constricting the [prescription] supply and targeting certain doctors and distributors, it was too late.”


In drug policy scholarship, there is a concept called the “balloon hypothesis.” When one end of a balloon gets squeezed, the air inside, rather than disappearing, rushes to fill the other end of the balloon. The balloon hypothesis is used to describe, often critically, America’s drug enforcement strategy. If cocaine production in Colombia is stamped out, production will shift to, say, Peru. If the Dark Web’s Silk Road gets shut down, a new Dark Web market pops up. The air has to go somewhere.

The balloon hypothesis also applies to the ever-shifting demand for drugs. “Over a period of 20 years, the DEA provided the green light to a 39-fold increase in the oxycodone quota and a 12-fold increase in the hydrocodone quota, even as our opioid epidemic unfolded,” Senator Dick Durbin wrote in a letter to the editor to The Washington Post. 

In other words, the prescription balloon expanded, under the DEA’s watch, big time. But starting in 2011, the prescription market finally began to shrink after Purdue Pharma reformulated its blockbuster drug OxyContin with so-called abuse deterrent technology, and pill mills serving the black market were shut down. The supply was squeezed. The air still had to go somewhere, and it rushed to deadlier opioids like heroin spiked with illicit fentanyl. With enforcement focused on prescription opioids, the overdose crisis got worse.

Dan Ciccarone, a physician-researcher at the University of California, San Francisco who studies heroin use, says the crisis unfolded in three waves:  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including some pertinent observations on reducing demand (which ultimately is the only solution).

Mick Mulvaney’s Master Class in Destroying a Bureaucracy From Within

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Nicholas Confessore reports in the NY Times:

One rainy afternoon early in February 2018, a procession of consumer experts and activists made their way to the headquarters of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington to meet Mick Mulvaney, then the bureau’s acting director. The building — an aging Brutalist layer cake, selected by the bureau’s founders for the aspirational symbolism of its proximity to the White House, one block away — was under renovation, and so each visitor in turn trudged around to a side entrance. Inside the building, Mulvaney had begun another kind of reconstruction, one that would shift the balance of power between the politically influential industries that lend money and the hundreds of millions of Americans who borrow it.

Three months earlier, President Trump installed Mulvaney, a former congressman from South Carolina, as the C.F.P.B.’s acting director. Elizabeth Warren, who helped create the agency in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, envisioned it as a kind of economic equalizer for American consumers, a counter to the country’s rising structural inequality. Republicans had come to view her creation as a “rogue agency” with “dictatorial powers unique in the American republic,” as the party’s 2016 platform put it. In Congress, Mulvaney had established himself as an outspoken enemy of the bureau, describing it, memorably, as a “joke” in “a sick, sad kind of way” and sponsoring legislation to abolish it.

Some of those invited to the meeting in February had picketed outside the bureau’s headquarters on Mulvaney’s first day at work. Their unease had only grown as Mulvaney ordered a hiring freeze, put new enforcement cases on hold and sent the Federal Reserve, which funds the C.F.P.B., a budget request for zero dollars, saying the bureau could make do with the money it had on hand. Within weeks, Mulvaney announced that he would reconsider one of the bureau’s major long-term initiatives: rules to restrict payday loans, products that are marketed to the working poor as an emergency lifeline but frequently leave them buried in debt. “Anybody who thinks that a Trump-administration C.F.P.B. would be the same as an Obama-administration C.F.P.B. is simply being naïve,” Mulvaney told reporters. “Elections have consequences at every agency.”

Mulvaney was also aware that appearances have consequences. For agency heads, it is important to appear open to all points of view about their regulatory decisions, especially if they end up having to defend them in court. In February, he agreed to meet with his critics in person. Thirty or so people gathered around a conference table as rain lashed the windows. Mulvaney, who is 51, has close-cropped hair and a bulldog countenance that befits his manner. A founder of the House’s hard-line Freedom Caucus, he can be sarcastic, even withering, in hearings and speeches. But Mulvaney struck a placating tone with his guests. He kept his opening remarks brief, according to six people who attended the meeting. Important things at the bureau would not change, he reassured them. “I’m not here to burn the place down,” he insisted. Mulvaney said he did not intend to discuss his plans for the payday-loan rule with them but encouraged everyone to share their views.

Many of Mulvaney’s guests came from advocacy groups, like Americans for Financial Reform and the Center for Responsible Lending, that often did battle with Washington’s powerful financial-industry lobby. But the meeting also included a dozen religious leaders, among them officials from national evangelical and Baptist organizations, whose members tend to be among Trump’s most loyal supporters. These leaders viewed payday lending as not only unfair but also sinful, and they had fought against it across Trump country — in deep-red South Dakota, on the same day Trump won the presidency, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure effectively banning payday loans. The ministers had planned carefully for their moment with Mulvaney, and for 20 minutes they took turns detailing the harm that payday lending had inflicted on their neighborhoods and congregations. Eventually they gave the floor to the Rev. Amiri B. Hooker, who led an African-American church near Mulvaney’s old congressional district.

“I told him I was from Kershaw County,” Hooker told me recently, recalling his exchange with Mulvaney. “He smiled and asked how were the good folks from Kershaw.” When Hooker pastored in Lake City, an hour away from Kershaw, a quarter of his congregation either had taken out payday loans themselves or knew someone who had. He told Mulvaney about an 84-year-old congregant in Lake City whom, during a week that she was so sick that she missed services, he saw hobbling toward him down the street. “She said, ‘I had to go pay my bill,’ ” Hooker recalled. The woman had taken out a $250 loan almost three years earlier to cover her granddaughter’s heating bill. She was still paying it off, Hooker told Mulvaney, at a cost of $75 a month, rolling over the loan into a new one each time.

Despite his earlier reticence, Mulvaney seemed eager to offer his own view of how the bureau ought to operate. It wasn’t up to the federal government to stop people from taking the kind of credit that suited them, he suggested: “There’s no reason people should be taking these loans — but they do.” He pointed out that there wasn’t anyone in the room from North Carolina, where payday lending was illegal. They should plead their case to state officials. “You have a place to go to address payday loans, and it’s not me,” he said, according to multiple attendees. As the C.F.P.B.’s acting director, he wouldn’t stop enforcing the law as written. He only wanted a more efficient bureau, he explained, one steeped in evidence-based decision-making, one that educated consumers to make good decisions on their own. Mulvaney provided few details about how it would all look, but he promised the pastors he would follow up to let them know which way he decided to go on payday-loan regulation. “I’ve never heard from him,” Hooker says.

In the months that followed, Mulvaney’s vision for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would become clearer. This account of Mulvaney’s tenure is based on interviews with more than 60 current or former bureau employees, current and former Mulvaney aides, consumer advocates and financial-industry executives and lobbyists, as well as hundreds of pages of internal bureau documents obtained by The New York Times and others. When Mulvaney took over, the fledgling C.F.P.B. was perhaps Washington’s most feared financial regulator: It announced dozens of cases annually against abusive debt collectors, sloppy credit agencies and predatory lenders, and it was poised to force sweeping changes on the $30 billion payday-loan industry, one of the few corners of the financial world that operates free of federal regulation. What he left behind is an agency whose very mission is now a matter of bitter dispute. “The bureau was constructed really deliberately to protect ordinary people,” says Lisa Donner, the head of Americans for Financial Reform. “He’s taken it apart — dismantled it, piece by piece, brick by brick.”

Mulvaney’s careful campaign of deconstruction offers a case study in the Trump administration’s approach to transforming Washington, one in which strategic neglect and bureaucratic self-sabotage create versions of agencies that seem to run contrary to their basic premises. According to one person who speaks with Mulvaney often, his smooth subdual of the C.F.P.B. was part of his pitch to Trump for his promotion to White House chief of staff — long one of the most powerful jobs in Washington. Mulvaney’s slow-rolling attack on the bureau’s enforcement and regulatory powers wasn’t just one of the Trump era’s most emblematic assaults on the so-called administrative state. It was also, in part, an audition.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau emerged from a liberal concern that the American political economy was increasingly defined by inequality and consumer debt. As a young academic in the 1980s, Warren began studying how and why some Americans ended up taking on more debt than they could handle. The act of borrowing money, she learned, was growing increasingly risky and complex. As the consumer-credit industry grew, credit-card companies and mortgage lenders began to design their products to appear cheaper than they actually were. Unlike most things people buy, financial products became defined by their ever-lengthening terms and conditions: mandatory arbitration, reverse amortization, interest-rate calculations that can change at a whim, cross-default clauses and two-cycle billing, mysterious credit scores that emanate from Equifax and Experian as if from the temples of an obscurantist cult. “The real money was in the fine print,” Warren told me recently.

Warren, who is now a senator from Massachusetts and a Democratic candidate for president, spoke to me by phone as she was making her way to New Hampshire for a campaign swing. On the trail and off, Warren depicts the rise of the consumer financial industry as part of an elemental structural shift in American life. Wealthy people and big corporations were not just eating up a growing share of the pie; they had rigged the marketplace to help them do it. All that fine print didn’t just shift billions upon billions of dollars into the hands of lenders, Warren argued. It shifted power. Lenders could more safely harvest a few dollars in fees from the checking account of each customer, even when doing so broke the law, when mandatory arbitration clauses in the fine print prohibit customers from joining together in a class action to get their money back. Brokers could more easily push a family to a higher-cost mortgage, even when they qualified for a cheaper one, if the family believed they were getting the best possible deal. The increase in debt-financed consumption helped paper over the stagnating wages of the middle class and the growing gap between the rich and everyone else. But it was also driving an epidemic of social misery: bankruptcy and lost homes, anxiety and shame.

In her research, Warren found that people got in over their heads not because they were greedy or lacked self-discipline, but because they were being outmatched by a sophisticated and often predatory industry of lenders. Warren recalled being struck by “the number of people who said, in our interviews, ‘I never understood my payment would go up on that’ or ‘I didn’t understand I owed more on my house than I paid for it,’ ” she told me. “Even after they had seen a lawyer and declared bankruptcy, they still didn’t understand what had happened.” In a 2007 article titled “Unsafe at Any Rate,” Warren proposed the creation of a new regulatory agency to oversee consumer-credit products. When she lobbied lawmakers on Capitol Hill after the financial crisis, Warren would take them a selection of credit-card agreements. “I’d lay three of them down on the table, and I’d say, ‘Tell me which one is the cheapest credit card.’ ” None could.

Warren and other consumer advocates argued that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 April 2019 at 11:04 am

How PG&E Ignored California Fire Risks in Favor of Profits

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The opening graphic of this report is stunning, and the report itself shows the Achilles’ heel of capitalism: that the structure of the capitalistic endeavor works to focus a company’s attention and efforts totally on increasing profits, and any measures that take away from profits must be curtailed—including, for example, spending any money at all to make the workplace safer (cf. coal mines). That’s why the government and its agencies must closely monitor and regulate private corporations—for example, by having Congress pass the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and then by having the Executive branch see that companies act in accordance with the Act. And that effort must be stead and vigorous because companies are driven to increase profits and are willing to do anything to achieve that goal, including (as we have repeatedly see, in example after example) things that are immoral, unethical, and illegal. It helps that such crimes rarely lead to any company personnel being imprisoned. The typical punishment is a fine, and surprisingly often the fine is small compared to the profits realized. And the pressure to increase profits is always there. Naturally, then, companies start to view fines as a cost of doing business, and if the net effect is that profits increased, so what?

The tragedy of the wildfires caused by PG&E’s deliberate decisions not to do maintenance is a good example. Maintenance is expensive, and if the company discontinues it, profits will increase.

Ivan Penn, Peter Eavis, and James Glanz report for the NY Times:

Tower 27/222 looms almost 100 feet tall in the Sierra Nevada foothills, a hunk of steel that has endured through 18 United States presidents. The transmission lines that it supports keep electricity flowing to much of California.

On the morning of Nov. 8, a live wire broke free of its grip. A power failure occurred on the line, affecting a single customer. But 15 minutes later, a fire was observed nearby. Within hours, flames engulfed the region, ultimately killing 85 and destroying the town of Paradise.

The equipment belonged to the state’s biggest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric. To the company’s critics, the tower and its vulnerability reflect a broken safety culture.

Five of the 10 most destructive fires in California since 2015 have been linked to PG&E’s electrical network. Regulators have found that in many fires, PG&E violated state law or could have done more to make its equipment safer.

Long before the failure suspected in the Paradise fire, a company email had noted that some of PG&E’s structures in the area, known for fierce winds, were at risk of collapse. It reported corrosion of one tower so severe that it endangered crews trying to repair the tower. The company’s own guidelines put Tower 27/222 a quarter-century beyond its useful life — but the tower remained.

In January, the company sought bankruptcy protection, saying it might face more than $30 billion in wildfire liabilities. Its financial straits could hamper its preparations for the next wildfire season, and those beyond, even as weather patterns increase the fire risk.

“There is a climate change component to this,” said Michael W. Wara, director of the climate and energy policy program at Stanford University and a member of a state commission examining the cost of wildfires. “But there’s also a failure of management and a failure of vision.”

Another major utility in the state, San Diego Gas & Electric, has added hundreds of weather stations, cameras and satellite technology in recent years to reduce fire risk. PG&E is now trying to catch up.

Beyond wildfires, PG&E has a broader history of safety problems. A 2010 explosion of a PG&E gas pipeline killed eight people and destroyed a suburban neighborhood, prompting state and federal officials to investigate PG&E’s safety practices. Regulators ultimately fined the utility $1.6 billion, and a federal jury convicted it of violating a pipeline safety law and obstructing an investigation. The company is still under court-supervised probation.

PG&E executives acknowledge that the company has made mistakes. “We have heard the calls for change and are committed to taking action by focusing our resources on reducing risk and improving safety throughout our system,” John Simon, PG&E’s interim chief executive, said in a recent statement.

But Gov. Gavin Newsom said the company’s record made it hard to take its promises seriously.

“They have simply been caught red-handed over and over again, lying, manipulating or misleading the public,” Mr. Newsom said in an interview. “They cannot be trusted.” . . .

Continue reading. There is much more.

Speaking of companies that absolutely cannot be trusted, I offer Facebook as a prime example. How many times more will Mark Zuckerberg apologize and promise to do better? Answer: As many times as needed. He’s not going to change, and Facebook is not going to change. Government intervention is required.

I do understand that government can also go bad, with regulatory agencies in effect taken over by the industries that they are supposed to regulate—just look at the Trump administration, or how the Obama administration refused to take any serious action to regulate Wall Street. (The Obama administration did create the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau—actually, Elizabeth Warren created it—but now that agency is defunct: Trump allowed the payroll lending industry to destroy it.)

Obviously, the government itself must be watched carefully, and that is the job of the free press and investigative journalism—like this report.

Later in the article:

. . . “Some people believe that you run equipment to failure,” Catherine Sandoval, a former California regulator who has been pushing for improved maintenance of electrical poles and towers. “They believe ‘run to failure’ to save money. This is the danger of run to failure.”

In December 2012, five other aging towers on the same stretch, the Caribou-Palermo line, collapsed in a storm. In July 2013, Brian Cherry, PG&E’s vice president for regulatory affairs at the time, notified state regulators that the company would replace the five fallen towers and one more, but not 27/222.

A 2014 company email that has come to light in the bankruptcy proceedings said that “the likelihood of failed structures happening is high.” But PG&E determined that if the structures failed, the cause would probably be heavy rain, precluding a wildfire risk. PG&E said this week that the structures in question were temporary wooden poles that had since been replaced.

In April 2016, PG&E made another request to regulators: to install fresh wires on the Caribou-Palermo line. But the company said it would not replace any of the line’s remaining nearly century-old towers.

That October, during painting work on a lattice tower on the line, a piece of hardware called a J hook broke when a contract worker grabbed it while repositioning himself. A PG&E report said workers had determined that corrosion — the reason for the painting — was enough of a problem that “crews working on these towers need to use caution.”

The company said that tower had a different design from Tower 27/222’s. But it would not comment on why it didn’t replace 27/222 given its age. It said it considered many factors when making decisions on maintenance and repairs. . .

It makes my blood boil. The executives who made these cost-cutting decisions should face very long prison terms. Here’s why:

. . . The deadly 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, a San Francisco suburb, was PG&E’s second in a two-year period. The ensuing investigations and litigation produced an alarming picture of the company’s practices and priorities.

In court depositions, employees said supervisors routinely ignored their concerns about the company’s use of faulty analysis and outdated equipment. The state’s Public Utilities Commission, which regulates PG&E, concluded that the company was more concerned with profit than with safety.

The commission’s safety and enforcement division found in 2012 that PG&E’s gas and transmission revenues exceeded what it was authorized to collect by $224 million in the decade leading up to the explosion. But capital spending fell $93 million short of its authorized budget between 1997 and 2000. PG&E also spent millions less on operations and maintenance than it was supposed to.

“There was very much a focus on the bottom line over everything: ‘What are the earnings we can report this quarter?’” said Mike Florio, a utilities commissioner from 2011 through 2016. “And things really got squeezed on the maintenance side.”

Five years after the explosion, a PG&E line started the Butte Fire, which scorched more than 70,000 acres, killing two people and destroying nearly a thousand homes and other buildings.

State investigators said workers should have known that when they had cleared a stand of trees for PG&E, they had exposed a gray pine weak enough to be blown into a power line. On Sept. 9, 2015, strong winds knocked that tree into the line, igniting the fire.

State officials also blamed PG&E equipment for starting 17 of 21 major fires in 2017 that ripped through Northern California, including wine-growing Napa and Sonoma Counties.

2017 report commissioned by state regulators determined that PG&E often made improvements only after a disaster. The report, which was produced by NorthStar Consulting, also found that the transmission and distribution side of the company had less robust safety policies than its gas and power generation divisions. . .

As soon as safety reduces profit, safety is sacrificed. Companies can do good—from later in the article:

. . . State officials say there is a good template elsewhere in California for what PG&E should be aiming for: the practices of San Diego Gas & Electric.

The San Diego utility keeps data on every utility pole and transmission tower in its service territory, which is smaller than PG&E’s but has a higher proportion of overhead lines in areas at high fire risk. It uses nearly 177 stations to monitor temperature, humidity and wind speeds in an area roughly the size of Connecticut and records video from 100 high-definition cameras. It uses satellites to track how green or dry the grass is and employs the state’s largest water-dropping helicopter to douse fires quickly. When data indicates a high wildfire threat, the utility cuts off power to some areas.

San Diego Gas & Electric upgraded its fire-prevention efforts after residents sued it for causing a devastating wildfire in 2007. In recent years, it has been responsible for far fewer fires than PG&E. “We want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to mitigate ignition,” said Scott Drury, the utility’s president. . .

They can, but the systemic pressures to increase profit means that more often they will do anything to grow profit.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2019 at 3:59 pm

Did the FDA ignite the opioid epidemic?

with 5 comments

Bill Whittaker writes for 60 Minutes:

We have reported on the causes and effects of the opioid epidemic for several years — interviewing government whistleblowers, doctors, and Americans who’ve grown dependent on the powerful pain pills. We have not had a high-ranking executive from the pharmaceutical industry sit before our cameras, until now. Tonight, Ed Thompson, a drug manufacturer who spent decades managing and producing opioids for Big Pharma, breaks ranks to denounce his industry and its federal regulator, the Food and Drug Administration, which he says opened the floodgates on the crisis with a few little changes to a label.

Ed Thompson: The root cause of this epidemic is the FDA’s illegal approval of opioids for the treatment of chronic pain.

Bill Whitaker: The FDA ignited this opioid crisis?

Ed Thompson: Without question, they start the fire.

Ed Thompson told us when the top selling opioid, Oxycontin, was first approved in 1995, it was based on science that only showed it safe and effective when used “short-term.” But in 2001, pressured by Big Pharma and pain sufferers, the FDA made a fateful decision and, with no new science to back it up, expanded the use of Oxycontin to just about anyone with chronic ailments like arthritis and back pain.  

Ed Thompson: So this is what a package insert looks like.

Bill Whitaker: Wow

The FDA did it by simply changing a few words on the label, that lengthy insert no one ever reads. Today the label says the powerful pain pills are effective for “daily, around-the-clock, long-term… treatment.” And that small label change made a big change in the way drug companies would market all opioids, allowing them to sell more and more pills at higher and higher doses.

Ed Thompson: A drug’s label is the single most important document for that product. It determines whether somebody can make $10 million or a billion dollars.

Bill Whitaker: How so?

Ed Thompson: Because it allows you to then promote the drug based on the labeling.

Ed Thompson owns PMRS, a successful Pennsylvania pharmaceutical company that manufactures drugs for Big Pharma. It’s made him a rich man. But now he’s putting his livelihood at risk. He’s doing what no other drug maker has ever done, he’s suing the FDA in federal court to force it to follow the science and limit the opioid label to short term use.

“There are no studies on the safety or efficacy of opioids for long-term use.”

Thompson is challenging the FDA to start with his newest opioid. It’s Thompson’s creative way to sabotage the system. He may lose money rolling out his new drug, but if he is successful, it would set a precedent. Other manufacturers would be forced to change their labels and limit their marketing.

Bill Whitaker: A decision going in your direction could pull down a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Ed Thompson: Correct. Probably somewhere between $7 and $10 billion a year would come off the market. We made a decision to stop selling snake oil to U.S. citizens in 1962.

Bill Whitaker: Snake oil?

Ed Thompson: Yes, sir. You’re using high-dose, long-duration opioids when they’ve never been designed to do that. There’s no evidence that they’re effective. There’s extreme evidence of harms and deaths when you use them.

Brandeis professor Dr. Andrew Kolodny is one of the country’s most-recognized addiction specialists and has been an expert witness in litigation against Big Pharma, including Purdue, the maker of Oxycontin. He has been trying to get the FDA label changed since 2011 to make clear opioids are not for everyone.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny: These are essential medicines for easing suffering at the end of life and when used for a couple of days after major surgery or a serious accident. If you’re taking them around the clock every day, quickly, you become tolerant to the pain-relieving effect. In order to continue getting pain relief, you’ll need higher and higher doses. As the doses get higher, the treatment becomes more dangerous and the risk of death goes up.

Bill Whitaker: That sounds exactly like heroin addiction.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny: It’s essentially the same drug.

To understand how this began we traveled to this small courthouse in Welch, West Virginia, where we uncovered the minutes of secret meetings in 2001 between Purdue Pharma and the FDA. The files were part of the state’s lawsuit against Purdue for deceitful marketing.

60 Minutes got a court order to obtain these documents. They reveal it was at those secret meetings the FDA bowed to Purdue Pharma’s demands to ignore the lack of scientific data, and changed the label to, “around the clock…for an extended period of time.”

Ed Thompson: I can’t think of anything more harmful taking place that took place then. It opened the floodgates. It was the decision of no return for the FDA.

Purdue told us Oxycontin always was approved for long-term use. But an internal document shows the company was jubilant about the labeling change.  Quote: “The action by the FDA…has created enormous opportunities” to expand the market. The drug company’s ads soon extolled the virtues of Oxycontin’s effectiveness and sales tripled.

Dr. David Kessler: It was a marketing tsunami.  And the agency didn’t catch it.

60 Minutes has called on former FDA commissioner David Kessler many times for his expertise on drug safety issues. He ran the FDA in the 1990s when Oxycontin was first approved, but he left before the labeling change. Today, he’s been retained by cities and counties suing Big Pharma for the opioid crisis. After reviewing the documents we obtained, and checking on his own, he says changing the label to long-term use was a mistake.

Dr. David Kessler: There are no studies on the safety or efficacy of opioids for long-term use.

Bill Whitaker: But there’s a law that says that a drug cannot be promoted as safe and effective unless it’s proven to be safe and effective. But yet, with FDA sanction, these opioids are being used in that way that you say have not been proven.

Dr. David Kessler: That’s correct. The rigorous kind of scientific evidence that the agency should be relying on is not there.

The label change was a blank check – one the drug industry cashed in for billions and billions of dollars. Now, Big Pharma had a green light to push opioids to tens of millions of new pain patients nationwide.

Bill Whitaker: Let me remind you of some of the words that you have used to describe the pharmaceutical industry, your industry.

Ed Thompson: Yeah?

Bill Whitaker: Corrupt.

Ed Thompson: Yeah.

Bill Whitaker: Immoral?

Ed Thompson: Yes.

Bill Whitaker: Depraved?

Ed Thompson: Yes. They’re appropriate for the behavior that’s taken place.

Bill Whitaker: You are a drug executive. You manufacture drugs.

Ed Thompson: Many drugs.

Bill Whitaker: Are you at fault in this epidemic in any way?

Ed Thompson: I wish I was smart enough to have seen this epidemic before– before I got three or four years into it. Absolutely. But once you find out that it’s not correct, you have to do the right thing. Is there anything more important?

Emily Walden: My son wanted to fight for his country. His country failed him. . .

Continue reading.

There’s much more, and it is damning. The US government should start doing things to protect its citizens and stop protecting the corporations that destroy their lives. It’s not right.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 February 2019 at 12:19 pm

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