TBR News February 8, 2013

Feb 08 2013

The Voice of the White House


            Washington, D.C. February 7, 2013: “There is a growing amount of concern in the United States about the drone policy. One part is concerned with a flood of surveillance drones now being used inside the United States to spy on the citizenry and the other part deals with savage attacks by this country on unarmed civilians, determined by anonymous military and intelligence personnel as possible dangers to this country, proven or otherwise. From a CIA memo we take the following information on the control of these drones. This deals with drone control systems:


            ‘The UAVs have two alternative systems for communication.

            Line of sight radio :
            In the military C-Band 500 – 1000 MHz that can be jammed with simple spark-gap radio

            Satellite communication :
            In the Ku-Band between 10.95 – 14.5 GHz, and the satellite can be jammed.
            The Uplink-Band to the satellite is 13.75 – 14.5 GHz
            The Downlink-Band from the satellite is 10.95 – 12.75 GHz
            And you should jam the Uplink frequencies with a jammer directed at the satellite.’



Fragmentation’ leaves Android phones vulnerable to hackers, scammers


February 7, 2013

by Craig Timberg

The Washington Post


In late October, researchers at North Carolina State University alerted Google to a security flaw that could let scam artists send phony text messages to Android phones — a practice called “smishing” that can ensnare consumers in fraud.


Google’s security officials replied in minutes, confirming the flaw and promising to correct it. Within days they had incorporated a fix into the latest version of the Android operating system, Jelly Bean 4.2, and made available a security update for earlier versions.


But for most Android phones, the fix never arrived. For many, it never will.


That is because it is not clear which company — Google, the smartphone maker or the wireless carrier that sells it — bears ultimate responsibility for the costly process of getting security updates to an Android device. Fixes to known security flaws can take many months to reach individual smartphones, if they arrive at all.


The problem, security experts say, has contributed to making the world’s most popular mobile operating system more vulnerable than its rivals to hackers, scam artists and a growing universe of malicious software.


Breaches remain more common on traditional computers than on smartphones, which have been engineered to include security features not found on desktop or laptop machines, experts say.


But outdated software can undermine such protections. If there was a major outbreak of malicious software, the fractured nature of the system for delivering updates could dramatically slow efforts to protect information carried on Android phones — including documents, passwords, contact lists, pictures, videos, location data and credit card numbers.


The risks are particularly serious for businesses and government agencies, whose increasingly popular bring-your-own-device policies have created new potential portals for espionage aimed at secure computer systems.


“You have potentially millions of Androids making their way into the work space, accessing confidential documents,” said Christopher Soghoian, a former Federal Trade Commission technology expert who now works for the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s like a really dry forest, and it’s just waiting for a match.”


Google engineers designed Android to resist hackers and have continually improved it. The company also has worked to purge malicious software from its app store, Google Play, minimizing the risk from one possible route of infection.


“We’ve built the system from Day One to deal with this kind of world,” said Hiroshi Lockheimer, vice president of Android engineering. “The health of the Android ecosystem is really important to us.”


Yet while each new generation of Android delivers improvements that close off newly discovered avenues of attack, the company has struggled to get updated software to smartphones already in the hands of consumers.


The latest version of Android — the one with the “smishing” fix — is used by just 1.4 percent of the more than 500 million Android devices worldwide, according to data compiled by Google. The company says it also released a security patch that could repair the flaw in earlier versions of Android, but neither Google nor the wireless carriers could say how many current phones received the patch.


Ars Technica, a news site covering the technology industry, analyzed the update schedules for dozens of the most popular Android smartphones in December and found that most had received only two updates since consumers bought them, sometimes years earlier.


Apple’s iPhone, the leading competitor to Android smartphones, gets operating-system updates several times a year. A similar update schedule is common for desktop and laptop operating systems and other software, with updates happening automatically — often with users not even knowing it.


What is different about the Android line of smartphones is that there are dozens of devices made by various manufacturers, such as Samsung, LG and HTC, that tailor the software and its updates to their own specifications. Then wireless carriers, such as Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, make their own changes and test each update before sending it to consumers over their wireless networks.


The overall updating process for Android phones typically takes months and happens far less frequently than recommended by security experts, who call the diffusion of responsibility among several companies “fragmentation.” Blame also is spread widely, though it often focuses on the carriers as the most important choke point.


“Supporting five releases of phones is a cost they absolutely don’t want to incur,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, chief technology officer at CrowdStrike, a security company.


Collective interest


Wireless carriers say they seek to release updates promptly, but they acknowledge that the process generally takes months.


“When more than one company is involved in delivering the final product, as is the case with the Android environment, any improvements in the security update process must include all entities involved,” said Ed Amoroso, chief security officer at AT&T. “We intend to coordinate with other providers to see if we can engineer a better solution than the one we have now.”


Verizon Wireless, the largest wireless carrier, and Samsung, the largest Android device maker, both declined to answer detailed questions and said they deliver updates as quickly as possible. Sprint declined numerous interview requests, referring queries to Google.


But security experts say Google, by itself, has little power to get faster updates to phones. It founded the Android Update Alliance in 2011, along with carriers and device makers, but the initiative has produced little.


Last year, Google bought Motorola Mobility, a leading manufacturer of mobile devices, which may eventually lead to faster updates for that company’s products. Google’s record of updating software on its own line of phones and tablets, called Nexus and produced in conjunction with other manufacturers, is better than when phonemakers adopt the Android system, which Google makes and distributes for free.


The extent of risk to smartphones is a subject of debate among security experts. CrowdStrike’s Alperovitch said that most consumers face little danger as long as they buy apps through Google’s store and do not patronize the growing number of third-party stores that have become popular in China and beyond.


Other experts say the risk is real and growing for all Android users. McAfee, the anti-virus company, says it has documented an explosion in the amount of malicious software designed to target the operating system, which runs on three out of four new smartphones worldwide. Some malicious software steals personal information, while some can initiate phony charges that can appear — and often are not detected — on the cellphone bills of consumers.


Trend Micro, another security company, has reported on the spread of Android-based botnets, which could allow remote users to take control of thousands or even millions of devices at a time.


For those looking to hack into smartphones, there are many potential entryways: browsers, text messages, e-mails, cellular signals, WiFi signals, Bluetooth connections and, for the latest smartphones, near-field communication radios. Some powerful spying software, typically used by governments, allows hackers to switch on cameras or microphones, to watch or listen to smartphone users.


“Now they can hack your life, your physical life, not just your cyber-life,” said Tom Kellermann, a Trend Micro vice president and member of President Obama’s commission on cybersecurity.


Such intrusions are difficult and time-consuming, making them unlikely for ordinary users. But security experts warn that such tactics could be used against the most valuable targets, such as business executives or senior government officials, especially if they are running outdated software.


“It’s essentially the weak link in the chain,” said Pat Calhoun, a senior vice president at McAfee, a maker of security software. “The cybercriminals have determined that if they want to get into the enterprise, the best way is through the mobile device.”


The need for fast action


There is little evidence the “smishing” vulnerability — so named because it was a version of “SMS phishing,” meaning it sought to trick users into clicking on malicious link on a phony text message — has spread widely. Xuxian Jiang, the computer science professor who reported the flaw to Google, said he has heard numerous reports of “smishing” attacks in China but few in the United States.


Yet a serious, widespread outbreak could move much faster than the companies involved in updating Android phones are prepared to react, experts say, potentially causing serious breaches for consumers and expenses for carriers that may need to replace phones compromised by malicious programs. “They can sweep the world in a few hours,” said Kevin Mahaffey, chief technology officer for Lookout, a mobile security firm. “Thankfully that hasn’t happened on mobile yet. But I do see this as a potentially billion-dollar problem.”


Google officials say they can act fast when faced with the most serious breaches, as they did in 2011 when a hacking incident enabled the Iranian government to monitor as many as 300,000 Iranians using Gmail, the free e-mail service provided by Google.


All major computer browsers received swift updates, fixing the problem. Google, meanwhile, updated Android to prevent similar issues in the future and delivered the repair to smartphones with unusual speed.


“There’s a lot of moving pieces to the update process, so we evangelize,” said Lockheimer, the Android engineering official.


But that incident was the last that prompted such aggressive action, he said. And even now, almost a year and a half later, Google says that while the repair reached most Android phones, it does not know how many remain vulnerable.



John Malone – ‘Darth Vader’ prepares to resume battle with Rupert Murdoch


Liberty Global’s purchase of Virgin Media is just the latest in a long series of bold business moves by the US billionaire


February 6, 2013

by Mark Sweney



US billionaire John Malone‘s penchant for stitching together multi-billion pound deals in the byzantine world of the US cable industry led former US vice president Al Gore to nickname him “Darth Vader”. Wall Street traders impressed with his cut-throat tactics prefer the moniker “swamp alligator”.


Rupert Murdoch may have a few choice words of his own to add, after Malone on Wednesday reignited a rivalry – sometimes fierce, at other times frenemy-like – to dominate the US and UK pay-TV market stretching back decades, by creating the world’s largest cable TV company with Liberty Global’s $23.3bn (£15bn) acquisition of Virgin Media.


The 71-year-old last crossed swords with Murdoch in the middle of the last decade and is one of the few media moguls who can claim to have got the better of the wily octogenarian and News Corporation founder.


Malone built up a stake of about 18% in News Corp, becoming its second largest shareholder and threatening the Murdoch family’s cast-iron grip on the global media giant. After a two-year stand-off, in 2007 Malone used this stake as leverage in an asset swap that won him Murdoch’s controlling stake in DirecTV, the largest satellite business in the US.


He had a chance to strike again in 2011 when a weakened Murdoch was forced to pull his $8bn offer to take full control of BSkyB as the phone-hacking scandal engulfed News Corp.


However, Malone passed up the opportunity, saying that in previous deals Murdoch had acted with the “greatest integrity” and he did not want to give him a “hard time”.


Nevertheless, Malone has wanted to become a major player in the UK pay-TV market for more than a decade. He was thwarted in his attempt to parlay a 25% shareholding in Telewest into the UK’s biggest cable company by snapping up NTL. A merger of the two eventually formed Virgin Media in 2006 and Malone attempted to hide his true ambitions when it came up for auction a year later.


            “The bottom line issue is can anything flourish under the Death Star?,” he said at the time, using the Star Wars analogy to question BSkyB’s market dominance.


Over the past few years, while he waited for his chance to re-enter the UK market, Malone has astutely used Liberty Global to build a cable empire in 13 countries, clearly targeting western Europe with sell-offs in other countries, including Japan and Australia, a strategy that would always lead to a showdown with Murdoch in the UK.


“We have a long history of co-operative relations with News Corp in its various configurations,” Malone told City analysts, sensing media mogul blood on Wednesday after the Virgin Media deal was confirmed, in a bid to downplay the expectation of a battle of the pay-TV titans.


Malone is a deal junkie who has built up a fearsome reputation building, dismantling and selling several business empires in a 40-year career.


His eclectic range of current investments include bookseller Barnes & Noble, the world’s largest live event company Live Nation, US digital radio giant Sirius, the Atlanta Braves baseball team, TripAdvisor, and shopping channel QVC.


“He is a prolific dealmaker, known for taking advantage of tax structures and making very complex arrangements often where he negotiates voting control well in excess of his equity investment,” said one industry insider. “He is a deal junkie with roots as the ‘King of Cable’.”


Malone was born in 1941 in the New England town of Milford, Connecticut, attended Yale University and took a Phd from Johns Hopkins University in 1967 in operations research.


After starting out at Bell Telephone Laboratories/AT&T, he went on to McKinsey. But it was his gamble in 1972, uprooting his family and moving to Denver to run a small cable company called TCI, that marked the start of the career of the “Cable Cowboy”, the title of a 2002 biography charting his domination of the industry.


Over the next two and a half decades, Malone knitted together cable networks across the US – and bought and sold UK assets including a stake in Flextech, at the time owner of channels including UK Gold – on the way to building America’s largest operator. He was chief executive of TCI for 24 years until 1996, with the company eventually sold to AT&T for $48bn near the height of the tech and telecom boom in 1999.


He has used part of his estimated $5.6bn fortune to become a “conservation activist” and is the largest private landowner in the US. His 2.2m acres puts him just ahead of old friend and business partner Ted Turner, the founder of CNN.


He likes to keep a close eye on his cable and pay-TV rivals, and occasional partners, with minority investments in Time Warner, MTV-owner Viacom and Discovery, which was spun off from Malone’s Liberty Media in 2005.


Malone is an intensely private man whose supposed aversion to flying means his holiday of choice is said to be a family vacation alongside long-time friends in a super-sized Winnebago.


However, holidays are likely to be in short supply if Malone is serious about taking on Murdoch in the UK, particularly if he sets out to make further British acquisitions.


City investors are already salivating at the possibility that Malone might look to acquire ITV, revisiting NTL’s ill-fated attempt to acquire the UK’s largest advertiser-funded broadcaster to bolster its position in the market in 2006.


It was James Murdoch, then chief executive of BSkyB, who thwarted the bid with an audacious move to take a 17.9% blocking stake in ITV, preventing its then biggest pay-TV rival from making a flanking manoeuvre into free-to-air TV. BSkyB was eventually forced to sell down its ITV stake, but still retains a stake of 7.5%.


“What Murdoch has done in satellite [Malone] has done in cable,” said one City source. “If anyone can give Murdoch a run for his money in the pay-TV market, it is Malone, the battle will be priceless.”



325 US soldiers committed suicide in 2012: Army


February 4, 2013



The US Army has said that some 325 American soldiers committed suicide in 2012, showing US military suicides exceeded combat deaths in Afghanistan last year.
            According to a report published by the US military’s Defense Casualty Analysis System, there were 182 potential active-duty suicides last year, 130 of which were confirmed and 52 others still under investigation.

            There also were 143 potential not-on-active-duty suicides in 2012, 117 of them were confirmed while 26 others remained under investigation, the report added.

            The figures exceeded the number of American soldiers (313) died in Afghanistan during the US-led war in the war-ravaged country in 2012.

            Lieutenant General Howard Bromberg, deputy chief of staff, manpower and personnel, said that the figures were “our highest on record.”

            In 2011, there were 283 confirmed or potential suicides, including 165 confirmed active-duty suicides and 118 confirmed not-on-active-duty suicides.

            The figures came despite the military’s efforts to decrease the number of suicides through counseling programs and extensive support.

            Meanwhile, a recent study, performed by a VA researcher, said that nearly 22 war veterans of the country commit suicide per day, almost 20 percent higher than the 2007 rate.

            The study also said that two-thirds of the veterans who kill themselves are 50 year old or older, indicating that the surge in the suicide rate among US veterans is not chiefly shaped by soldiers that recently fought in the US-led war in Iraq and Afghanistan.



The American Lockdown State 
Post-Legal Drones, the Bin Laden Tax, and Other Wonders of Our American World 

by Tom Engelhardt


Consider Inauguration Day, more than two weeks gone and already part of our distant past.  In its wake, President Obama was hailed (or reviled) for his “liberal” second inaugural address.  On that day everything from his invocation of women’s rights (“Seneca Falls”), the civil rights movement (“Selma”), and the gay rights movement (“Stonewall”) to his wife’s new bangs and Beyoncé’s lip-syncing was fodder for the media extravaganza.  The president was even praised (or reviled) for what he took pains not to bring up: the budget deficit.  Was anything, in fact, not grist for the media mill, the hordes of talking heads, and the chattering classes?


One subject, at least, got remarkably little attention during the inaugural blitz and, when mentioned, certainly struck few as odd or worth dwelling on.  Yet nothing better caught our changing American world.  Washington, after all, was in a lockdown mode unmatched by any inauguration from another era — not even Lincoln’s second inaugural in the midst of the Civil War, or Franklin Roosevelt’s during World War II, or John F. Kennedy’s at the height of the Cold War.


Here’s how NBC Nightly News described some of the security arrangements as the day approached:


“[T]he airspace above Washington… [will be] a virtual no-fly zone for 30 miles in all directions from the U.S. capital.  Six miles of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers will be shut down, with 150 blocks of downtown Washington closed to traffic, partly out of concern for car or truck bombs… with counter-snipers on top of buildings around the capital and along the parade route… [and] detectors monitoring the air for toxins… At the ready near the capital, thousands of doses of antidotes in case of a chemical or biological attack… All this security will cost about $120 million dollars for hundreds of federal agents, thousands of local police, and national guardsmen from 25 states.”


Consider just the money.  It’s common knowledge that, until the recent deal over the renewal of the George W. Bush tax cuts for all but the richest of Americans, taxes had not been raised since the read-my-lips-no-new-taxes era of his father.  That’s typical of the way we haven’t yet assimilated the new world we find ourselves in.  After all, shouldn’t that $120 million in taxpayer money spent on “safety” and “security” for a single event in Washington be considered part of an ongoing Osama bin Laden tax?


Maybe it’s time to face the facts: this isn’t your grandfather’s America. Once, prospective Americans landed in a New World.  This time around, a new world’s landed on us.


Making Fantasy Into Reality


Bin Laden, of course, is long dead, but his was the 9/11 spark that, in the hands of George W. Bush and his top officials, helped turn this country into a lockdown state and first set significant portions of the Greater Middle East aflame.  In that sense, bin Laden has been thriving in Washington ever since and no commando raid in Pakistan or elsewhere has a chance of doing him in.


Since the al-Qaeda leader was aware of the relative powerlessness of his organization and its hundreds or, in its heyday, perhaps thousands of active followers, his urge was to defeat the U.S. by provoking its leaders into treasury-draining wars in the Greater Middle East.  In his world, it was thought that such a set of involvements — and the “homeland” security down payments that went with them — could bleed the richest, most powerful nation on the planet dry.  In this, he and his associates, imitators, and wannabes were reasonably canny.  The bin Laden tax, including that $120 million for Inauguration Day, has proved heavy indeed.


In the meantime, he — and 9/11 as it entered the American psyche — helped facilitate the locking down of this society in ways that should unnerve us all.  The resulting United States of Fear has since engaged in two disastrous more-than-trillion dollar wars and a “Global War on Terror” that shows no sign of ending in our lifetime. (See Yemen, Pakistan, and Mali.)  It has also funded the supersized growth of a labyrinthine intelligence bureaucracy; that post-9/11 creation, the Department of Homeland Security; and, of course, the Pentagon and the U.S. military, including the special operations forces, an ever-expanding secret military elite cocooned within it.


Given the enemy at hand — not a giant empire, but scattered jihadis and minority insurgencies in distant lands — all of these institutions, which make up the post-9/11 National Security Complex, expanded in ways that would have boggled the minds of previous generations (as would that most un-American of all words, “homeland”).  All of this, in turn, happened in a poisonously paranoid atmosphere in Washington, and much of the rest of the country.


Even if you ignore that Inauguration Day no-boating zone or the 30-mile no-fly zone (the sort of thing the U.S. once imposed on enemy lands and now imposes on itself), consider those “thousands of doses of antidotes in case of a chemical or biological attack.”  Just about nothing on this planet is utterly inconceivable, but it’s worth noting that, as far as we know, the national security bureaucracy made no preparations for an unexpected tornado on Inauguration Day.  Given recent extreme weather events, including tornado warnings for Washington, that would at least have been a plausible scenario to consider.


Certainly, a biological or chemical attack is a similarly imaginable possibility.  After all, it actually happened in Tokyo in 1995, when followers of the Aum Shinrikyo cult set off Sarin gas in that city’s subway system, killing 11.  But the likelihood of any conceivable set of Islamic terrorists attacking those inaugural crowds with either chemical or biological weapons was, to say the least, microscopic.  As something to protect Washington visitors against, it ranked at least on a par with the (nonexistent) post-9/11 al-Qaeda sleeper cells and sleeper-assassins so crucial to the plot of the TV show “Homeland.”


And yet, in these years, what might have remained essentially a nightmarish fantasy has become an impending reality around which the national security folks organize their lives — and ours.  Ever since the now largely forgotten anthrax mail attacks that killed five soon after 9/11 — the anthrax in those envelopes may have come directly from a U.S. bioweapons laboratory — all sorts of fantastic scenarios involving biochemical attacks have become part and parcel of the American lockdown state.


In the Bush era, for instance, among the apocalyptic dream scenes the president and his top officials used to panic Congress into approving a much-desired invasion of Iraq were the possibility of future mushroom clouds over American cities and this claim: that Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein had drones (he didn’t) and the means to get them to the East Coast of the U.S. (he didn’t), and the ability to use them to launch attacks in which chemical and biological weaponry would be sprayed over U.S. cities (he didn’t).  This was a presidentially promoted fantasy of the first order, but no matter.  Some senators actually voted to go to war at least partially on the basis of it.


As is often true of ruling groups, Bush and his cronies weren’t just manipulating us with the fear of nightmarish future attacks, but themselves as well.  Thanks to New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer’s fine book The Dark Side, for instance, we know that Vice President Dick Cheney was always driven around Washington with “a duffel bag stocked with a gas mask and a biochemical survival suit” in the backseat of his car.


The post-9/11 National Security Complex has been convulsed by such fears.  After all, it has funded itself by promising Americans one thing: total safety from one of the lesser dangers of our American world — “terrorism.”  The fear of terrorism (essentially that bin Laden tax again) has been a financial winner for the Complex, but it carries its own built-in terrors.  Even with the $75 billion or more a year that we pump into the “U.S. Intelligence Community,” the possibility that it might not discover some bizarre plot, and that, as a result, several airliners might then go down, or a crowd in Washington be decimated, or you name it, undoubtedly leaves many in the Complex in an ongoing state of terror.  After all, their jobs and livelihoods are at stake.


Think of their fantasies and fears, which have become ever more real in these years without in any way becoming realities, as the building blocks of the American lockdown state.  In this way, intent on “taking the gloves off” — removing, that is, all those constraints they believed had been put on the executive branch in the Watergate era — and perhaps preemptively living out their own nightmares, figures like Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld changed our world.


The Powers of the Lockdown State


As cultists of a “unitary executive,” they — and the administration of national security managers who followed in the Obama years — lifted the executive branch right out of the universe of American legality.  They liberated it to do more or less what it wished, as long as “war,” “terrorism,” or “security” could be invoked.  Meanwhile, with their Global War on Terror well launched and promoted as a multigenerational struggle, they made wartime their property for the long run.


In the process, they oversaw the building of a National Security Complex with powers that boggle the imagination and freed themselves from the last shreds of accountability for their actions.  They established or strengthened the power of the executive to: torture at will (and create the “legal” justification for it); imprison at will, indefinitely and without trial; assassinate at will (including American citizens); kidnap at will anywhere in the world and “render” the captive into the hands of allied torturers; turn any mundane government document (at least 92 million of them in 2011 alone) into a classified object and so help spread a penumbra of secrecy over the workings of the American government; surveil Americans in ways never before attempted (and only “legalized” by Congress after the fact, the way you might backdate a check); make war perpetually on their own say-so; and transform whistleblowing — that is, revealing anything about the inner workings of the lockdown state to other Americans — into the only prosecutable crime that anyone in the Complex can commit.


It’s true that some version of a number of these powers existed before 9/11.  “Renditions” of terror suspects, for instance, first ramped up in the Clinton years; the FBI conducted illegal surveillance of antiwar organizations and other groups in the 1960s; the classification of government documents had long been on the rise; the congressional power to make war had long been on the wane; and prosecution of those who acted illegally while in government service was probably never a commonplace. (Both the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals, however, did involve actual convictions or guilty pleas for illegal acts, followed in some of the Iran-Contra cases by presidential pardons.)  Still, in each case, after 9/11, the national security state gained new or greatly magnified powers, including an unprecedented capacity to lockdown the country (and American liberties as well).


What it means to be in such a post-legal world — to know that, no matter what acts a government official commits, he or she will never be brought to court or have a chance of being put in jail — has yet to fully sink in.  This is true even of critics of the Obama administration, who, as in the case of its drone wars, continue to focus on questions of legality, as if that issue weren’t settled.  In this sense, they continue to live in an increasingly fantasy-based version of America in which the rule of law still applies to everyone.


In reality, in the Bush and Obama years, the United States has become a nation not of laws but of legal memos, not of legality but of legalisms — and you don’t have to be a lawyer to know it.  The result?  Secret armies, secret wars, secret surveillance, and spreading state secrecy, which meant a government of the bureaucrats about which the American people could know next to nothing.  And it’s all “legal.”


Consider, for instance, this passage from a recent Washington Post piece on the codification of “targeted killing operations” — i.e. drone assassinations — in what’s now called the White House “playbook”: “Among the subjects covered… are the process for adding names to kill lists, the legal principles that govern when U.S. citizens can be targeted overseas, and the sequence of approvals required when the CIA or U.S. military conducts drone strikes outside war zones.”


Those “legal principles” are, of course, being written up by lawyers working for people like Obama counterterrorism “tsar” John O. Brennan; that is, officials who want the greatest possible latitude when it comes to knocking off “terrorist suspects,” American or otherwise.  Imagine, for instance, lawyers hired by a group of neighborhood thieves creating a “playbook” outlining which kinds of houses they considered it legal to break into and just why that might be so.  Would the “principles” in that document be written up in the press as “legal” ones?


Here’s the kicker.  According to the Post, the “legal principles” a White House with no intention of seriously limiting, no less shutting down, America’s drone wars has painstakingly established as “law” are not, for the foreseeable future, going to be applied to Pakistan’s tribal borderlands where the most intense drone strikes still take place.  The CIA’s secret drone war there is instead going to be given a free pass for a year or more to blast away as it pleases — the White House equivalent of Monopoly’s get-out-of-jail-free card.


In other words, even by the White House’s definition of legality, what the CIA is doing in Pakistan should be considered illegal.  But these days when it comes to anything connected to American war-making, legality is whatever the White House says it is (and you won’t find their legalisms seriously challenged by American courts). 


Post-Legal Drones and the New Legalism


This week, during the Senate confirmation hearings for Brennan’s nomination as CIA director, we are undoubtedly going to hear much about “legality” and drone assassination campaigns.  Senator Ron Wyden, for instance, has demanded that the White House release a 50-page “legal” memo its lawyers created to justify the drone assassination of an American citizen, which the White House decided was far too hush-hush for either the Congress or ordinary Americans to read.  But here’s the thing: if Wyden got that bogus document, undoubtedly filled with legalisms (as a just-leaked 16-page Justice Department “white paper” justifying drone killings is), and released it to the rest of us, what difference would it make?  Yes, we might learn something about the vestiges of a guilty conscience when it comes to American legality in a White House run by a former “constitutional law professor.”  But we would know little else. 


Once upon a time, an argument over whether such drone strikes were legal or not might have had some heft to it.  After all, the United States was once hailed, above all, as a “nation of laws.”  But make no mistake: today, such a “debate” will, in the Seinfeldian sense, be an argument about nothing, or rather about an issue that has long been settled.


The drone strikes, after all, are perfectly “legal.”  How do we know?  Because the administration which produced that 50-page document (and similar memos) assures us that it’s so, even if they don’t care to fully reveal their reasoning, and because, truth be told, on such matters they can do whatever they want to do.  It’s legal because they’ve increasingly become the ones who define legality.


It would, of course, be illegal for Canadians, Pakistanis, or Iranians to fly missile-armed drones over Minneapolis or New York, no less take out their versions of bad guys in the process.  That would, among other things, be a breach of American sovereignty.  The U.S. can, however, do more or less what it wants when and where it wants.  The reason: it has established, to the satisfaction of our national security managers — and they have the secret legal documents (written by themselves) to prove it — that U.S. drones can cross national boundaries just about anywhere if the bad guys are, in their opinion, bad enough.  And that’s “the law”!


As with our distant wars, most Americans are remarkably unaffected in any direct way by the lockdown of this country.  And yet in a post-legal drone world of perpetual “wartime,” in which fantasies of disaster outrace far more realistic dangers and fears, sooner or later the bin Laden tax will take its toll, the chickens will come home to roost, and they will be able to do anything in our name (without even worrying about producing secret legal memos to justify their acts).  By then, we’ll be completely locked down and the key thrown away.


Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.


Justice Dept. document justifies killing Americans overseas if they pose ‘imminent threat’


February 5, 2013

by Karen DeYoung,

The Washington Post


The United States can lawfully kill a U.S. citizen overseas if it determines the target is a “senior, operational leader” of al-Qaeda or an associated group and poses an imminent threat to the United States, according to a Justice Department document published late Monday by NBC News.


The document defines “imminent threat” expansively, saying it does not have to be based on intelligence about a specific attack since such actions are being “continually” planned by al-Qaeda. “In this context,” it says, “imminence must incorporate considerations of the relevant window of opportunity” as well as possible collateral damage to civilians.


It says that such determinations can be made by an “informed, high-level official of the U.S. government.”


NBC said the document was provided by the Obama administration last summer to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees as a summary of a classified memo on targeted killings of U.S. citizens prepared by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.


The memo was written months prior to a September 2011 drone strike in Yemen that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Muslim cleric accused of helping al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate plan attacks against the United States. Three other Americans, including Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, have also been killed in U.S. strikes in Yemen.


The Obama administration, in decisions upheld in federal court rulings, has repeatedly denied demands by lawmakers, civil rights groups and the media to release the memo and other information on targeted killings — or even to acknowledge their existence. Senators are expected to closely question John O. Brennan, President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, on drone strikes, the memo and the Awlaki killing during Brennan’s confirmation hearing Thursday on his nomination to become Obama’s new CIA director.


Justice officials could not be reached for comment on the document, which NBC posted on its Web site. The 16-page document is titled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen Who Is a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaeda or An Associated Force.”


In announcing Awlaki’s death, Obama described him as the leader of “external affairs” of Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.


The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday night called the document a “profoundly disturbing” summary of “a stunning overreach of executive authority — the claimed power to declare Americans a threat and kill them far from a recognized battlefield and without any judicial involvement before or after the fact.”


The ACLU sought the original Justice Department memo as part of a case dismissed last month by a federal judge in New York. Last Friday, the ACLU filed a notice of appeal in that case.


“Needless to say, the white paper is not a substitute for the legal memo. But it’s a pretty remarkable document,” ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said.


US drone strikes: Memo reveals case for killing Americans


February 5, 2013

BBC News


The legal basis for using drone strikes to kill US citizens has been disclosed in a leaked justice department memo.


US officials can authorise the killing of Americans abroad if they are leaders of al-Qaeda or its allies, according to the document obtained by NBC News.


Lethal force is lawful if they are judged to pose an “imminent threat” and their capture is not feasible, it adds.


US drone strikes against militant suspects in countries such as Yemen and Pakistan are deeply controversial.


Under President Barack Obama the US has expanded its use of drones to kill hundreds of al-Qaeda suspects, arguing that it is acting in self-defence in accordance with international law.


Critics argue the drone strikes amount to execution without trial and cause many civilian casualties.


Legal framework


The undated 16-page Department of Justice white paper published by NBC gives more details of the justification for the use of drones outside recognised war zones.


It says sovereignty is not deemed to have been violated if the host nation gives its consent, or is unwilling or unable to suppress the threat posed by the individual targeted.


It also sets out a “legal framework” for the use of lethal force against US citizens in foreign countries.


It concludes that such killings do not violate the US Constitution as long as:


An informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US


Capture is infeasible and the US continues to monitor whether capture becomes feasible


The operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles


The paper adopts a broad definition of “imminent threat”, saying it is not necessary to produce evidence that a specific attack is being planned if the target is generally engaged in plotting against the US.


‘Remarkable document’


It also asserts that courts should not play a role in reviewing or controlling such decisions.


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the white paper was a “pretty remarkable document”.


Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, said in a blog post the paper revealed “both the recklessness of the government’s central claim and the deficiencies in the government’s defense” of its drone strike policy.


“This sweeping authority is said to exist even if the threat presented isn’t imminent in any ordinary sense of that word, even if the target has never been charged with a crime or informed of the allegations against him, and even if the target is not located anywhere near an actual battlefield,” Mr Jaffer added.


The ACLU has helped the relatives of three Americans who died in drone strikes sue the Pentagon and CIA. Their lawsuit claims the deaths were unconstitutional.


Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaeda suspect born in the US state of New Mexico, was killed by an unmanned plane in September 2011.


Samir Khan, a naturalised US citizen who produced an online magazine promoting al-Qaeda’s ideology, died in the same missile strike.


Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, who was born in Colorado, was killed a month later.



The Obama administration has been under growing pressure from politicians in Congress to share more details of its drone strike programme, including secret legal documents.


Last month the UN launched an inquiry into the impact of drone strikes on civilians.


Are we in the end times of trust in government?


February 7, 2013

by Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake

Washington Post


It’s no secret that the American public views its elected officials with some combination of disgust, disappointment and distrust. Congress’s approval rating is in used-car-salesman territory, and with every legislative crisis it dips, somewhat amazingly, lower.


But, as bad things are, there is a tendency to assume that the current attitude toward the federal government is sort of how it always has been. Except that it hasn’t always been like that.


This chart is taken from a broader interactive project from the Pew Research Center that aims to document public attitudes toward the federal government from 1958 to the present day. It documents the percentage of people who said they trust the government in Washington either “just about always” or “most of the time.”


There are any number of interesting storylines in the chart  – for much of the 1960s, more than seven in 10 people expressed considerable trust in the government in Washington! — but what struck us most was how the current low period of government trust is, unlike past periods of distrust, seemingly unconnected to an obvious event or events.


When public trust in government collapsed from 53 percent in 1972 to 36 percent in November 1974, it made sense. The Watergate investigation, which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, was just the sort of ugly — and prolonged — episode to make public perception of government erode in a relatively rapid manner.


Ditto the historically low trust ratings reached in Pew polling in the early 1990s, as a series of congressional scandals — with the House Bank scandal being the most prominent — produced large amounts of media coverage focused on what the heck politicians were doing in the nation’s capital.


But the recent drop, which began in earnest after the goodwill toward Washington surrounding its actions in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks wore off, seems disconnected to any single notable event. There have been a fair share of legislative standoffs and scandals in recent years, but nothing nearly as heavily covered or broad as Watergate or the House bank.


Instead, it appears to be a political death — or at least bloodletting — by a thousand cuts. No one event is to blame. Rather, something even more corrosive to government appears to be happening — a steady and growing belief that politicians in Washington are simply not to be trusted.


(It’s worth noting that this decline in trust in government has corresponded with a decline in trust in other major pillars of American life — from the financial sector to sports. Thanks a lot Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire!)


The depressing reality of Pew’s long-term trend on trust in government is that there is no obvious cure for what ails the body politic these days. Without a clear cause, a sure solution isn’t available. It’s possible that we are simply in a new era in which trust in institutions like our government simply won’t ever approach — or come close to approaching — its historic highs.


The end times of trust in government may well be upon us.




Compounding pharmacies have been linked to deaths, illnesses and safety failures for years

February 8, 2013

by Kimberly Kindy, Lena H. Sun and Alice Crites,

The Washington Post


Shoddy practices and unsanitary conditions at three large-scale specialty pharmacies have been tied to deaths and illnesses over the past decade, revealing that the serious safety lapses at a Massachusetts pharmacy linked to last fall’s deadly meningitis outbreak were not an isolated occurrence, records and interviews show.


The series of safety failures happened long before national attention focused on the New England Compounding Center, whose contaminated steroid shots were linked to 45 deaths and 651 illnesses.


A Washington Post analysis found that state and federal authorities did little to systematically inspect and correct hazards posed by specialty pharmacies, which custom-mix medications for individual patients, hospitals and clinics. In the lightly regulated industry, pharmacies were rarely punished even when their mistakes had lethal consequences.


The Post reviewed hundreds of records, including lawsuits and Food and Drug Administration documents, and interviewed dozens of government and industry officials. The review found serious problems at three of 15 large-scale compounding pharmacies that dominate the industry. These multimillion-dollar companies mass-produce medications and ship them across state lines, often without individual patient prescriptions.


Three of the firms, in addition to the NECC, have experienced significant safety problems over the past decade that were tied to at least 39 illnesses. Two companies’ missteps were linked to at least six deaths. The problems included medications that were too potent or laced with bacteria.


            One of the three firms identified by The Post — the California-based Central Admixture Pharmacy Services — is under investigation at its Massachusetts facility by the FDA, according to industry and government officials.


Executives at CAPS, a pioneer and among the largest manufacturing-style compounders, declined to comment on the investigation, which has not been previously disclosed. Federal officials would not discuss the probe, which was triggered by their ongoing investigation of the NECC and a sister company, Ameridose.


Illinois-based PharMEDium Services and Texas-based ApotheCure also had serious deficiencies, records show.


Officials at CAPS, PharMEDium and ApotheCure said their companies produce high-quality products and are continuously upgrading operations to make them safe.


But when regulators have visited the firms after patient illnesses or deaths, they have sometimes found alarming conditions.


“The things they saw, they would chill your bones,” said cardiologist John Armitage, regarding the FDA’s 2005 investigation of several CAPS facilities after some of his patients died or became gravely ill.


Today, compounders supply about 40 percent of all intravenous medications used in hospitals, up from 16 percent a decade ago, according to industry estimates. They make some of the highest-risk drugs available, including steroid injections like the ones linked to the meningitis outbreak. Yet they are not required to follow the safety rules that apply to commercial drugmakers.


Government regulators have failed to rein in reckless operators. State pharmacy boards, which have the primary responsibility for policing the industry, have an uneven enforcement record.


The FDA’s attempts to use its power have been thwarted by companies relying on gaps in the law and conflicting court rulings. The companies have fought enforcement orders and kept the agency out of their facilities. Some members of Congress have sought to beef up the agency’s authority, but the industry has successfully killed those efforts.


“You are seeing a bunch of people trying to do their best in a system that is legally and factually complicated,” said Howard Sklamberg, director of compliance for the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.


The FDA is again pressing Congress for greater powers.




In 1991, health-care entrepreneur Jim Sweeney became one of the original architects for the modern compounding industry when he persuaded a Southern California hospital to outsource some of its pharmacy work to him.


Across the country, nurses had made fatal errors mixing solutions in patients’ rooms, and hospital pharmacies were struggling with bacterial growths in their own drug therapies. Hospitals adopted new safety standards, but they were costly. At the City of Hope hospital, officials turned to Sweeney and CAPS “strictly to save money,” said Dale Adams, chief pharmacy officer.


Sweeney outfitted a double-wide trailer in the hospital parking lot, hired a team of pharmacists and began making intravenous nutritional supplements for its cancer patients. Before long, CAPS was expanding to other hospitals and making intravenous drugs.


“We typically would approach hospitals and ask, ‘What are the high-risk things you are making? How would you like us to do that for you?’ ” said Eric Steen, whom Sweeney hired from the drugmaker Baxter and made president. Sweeney sold the company in 1994.


One of the drugs in big demand was cardioplegia, a solution used in open-heart surgery to stop and restart the heart. The drug often is made from ingredients that are not sterile, so compounders must successfully sterilize them so it can be safely injected into the coronary arteries.


The pharmacies, however, cannot be compelled to test each lot or batch to check for sterility and proper potency.


In 2004, the company’s Pittsburgh facility prepared cardioplegia for Alycia Hartzell, a 2-year-old who was undergoing open-heart surgery. According to a 2007 lawsuit filed against CAPS by Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the active ingredients and the sodium strengths were too strong and “the use of the CAPS cardioplegia solution led to a brain bleed, and severe permanent injuries.”


Daniel Stefko, a lawyer for the hospital, said the FDA never investigated the episode. “I remember being sort of surprised to find that there was this phenomenon out there, where if I ordered something from Pfizer, it was FDA-regulated, but if I ordered basically the same thing from a compounding pharmacy, the rules were not there.”


CAPS settled with Children’s Hospital for an undisclosed amount. The Hartzell family, which sued the hospital, settled with it for an undisclosed amount. The girl’s mother, Amanda Hartzell, said she could not comment because of a confidentiality agreement. CAPS and parent company B. Braun Medical declined to comment.


A year later, CAPS shipped batches of cardioplegia from its facility in Lanham, Md., to Mary Washington Hospital, a hospital in Fredericksburg, records show.


Shortly thereafter, two patients who had undergone open-heart surgery had a devastating infection and died. Nine other heart patients ended up in the intensive-care unit for extended stays.


“It’s normal for people to have an inflammatory response following open-heart surgery, but to have a severe response that results in multi-organ failure — that’s rare,” said John Armitage, who ran the cardiac unit and now lives in Oregon. “We started changing everything we could think of. Nothing seemed to work.”


In September 2005, cardiovascular specialists staged a mock surgery and found the cardioplegia was contaminated with bacteria, according to a hospital analysis.


They repeated the mock surgery to make sure no other factors were contributing to the crisis. This time, the full cardiac team joined in, scrubbing their hands, slipping on sterile gowns, masks and gloves as they walked through each step of an operation while the hospital’s infection-control staff watched. The only thing missing was a patient.


The cardioplegia seemed to be the only problem, the state health department concluded.


When the FDA was notified, Armitage said, it took days for investigators to arrive, and they wouldn’t tell the hospital what they were finding out about the CAPS Lanham facility.


They said, ‘We are not a police agency,’ ” Armitage said. The hospital filed a Freedom of Information Act request and received the FDA inspection report about six months later.


The FDA found 17 safety violations at the Lanham facility. Cardioplegia was tainted with the species of bacteria that matched those found at Mary Washington. Internal tests showed “the presence of bacteria in a water container used for cleaning. . . . Likewise, sterility testing demonstrated similar bacteria in its drug products.” The Maryland Board of Pharmacy suspended the Lanham facility’s license for two months.


The FDA also found dozens of problems at CAPS’s facilities in Alabama, Pennsylvania and Missouri.


Steen, who left CAPS last year to start his own medical consulting firm, said the cause of the illnesses remains a “mystery.” He noted that the facility sent the drug to a number of other hospitals that didn’t have any problems.


That might have been because Mary Washington had ordered a special formula, said Diane Woolard, director of the Division of Surveillance and Investigation with the Virginia Health Department. “It may have been a contaminated element in those ingredients,” she said.


Officials at CAPS, which has 25 locations and $500 million in annual sales, would not comment on the 2005 event. In an e-mail statement, Mike Koch, a vice president, said, “CAPS is committed to offering the highest quality admixture service to our customers and their patients.”


In 2007, a team of investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an unusually blunt warning to hospitals and doctors: Compounded drugs had a higher risk of contamination than commercially manufactured drugs, and compounding pharmacies had “generally lower quality-control standards than pharmaceutical manufacturers.”


The warning, which appeared in a medical journal, stemmed from a 2005 multi-state outbreak involving another big compounder, PharMEDium Services of Lake Forest, Ill.


In January 2005, six cardiac patients at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center came down with a rare bacterial infection. Doctors suspected contaminated magnesium sulfate made by PharMEDium. The intravenous solution is widely used to steady the heartbeat after surgery and to treat a life-threatening condition of pregnancy called pre-eclampsia.


But neither the hospital nor PharMEDium’s Houston plant that made the drug had any solution left to test. Compounders are not required to keep samples for testing later on in case patients get sick.


Federal officials were stymied until they learned five heart patients in New Jersey had developed the same infection, also after receiving magnesium sulfate made by PharMEDium. The New Jersey hospital had bags of solution left, and tests confirmed the rare bacterial strain in the bags matched that of all patients in Los Angeles and New Jersey.


“It was almost luck that we were able to make this match,” said Esther Tan, part of the CDC team that investigated the outbreak.


Investigators said the contamination could have come from the hands of technicians who made the bags of solution. No source was identified.


One patient, Joe Chacon, a heavy-equipment operator in Los Angeles, said he was infected Jan. 12, 2005, at the Kaiser hospital during heart surgery. He became feverish, required a ventilator to breathe and eventually needed to have his pacemaker removed because of concerns about a recurrence of infection, according to his civil suit against PharMEDium.


“I was in the hospital for quite a while,” said Chacon, now 59. He said he wasn’t able to go back to work. The company settled for $25,000, his wife, Rachelle Chacon, said.


All told, at least 18 people in five states were sickened.


From 2005 to 2011, hospitals and patients raised other concerns about PharMEDium medications. In 2006, the company recalled pain medication after human error led to mislabeled drugs at its Mississippi plant, according to FDA records and company officials. An Arizona man lost consciousness after receiving morphine sulfate rather than the less powerful fentanyl citrate. In 2009, a similar incident occurred at the same plant, according to FDA records.


After the bacterial outbreak, the FDA inspected the Houston plant and found staff had failed to fully investigate nine instances in the months before the outbreak where PharMEDium’s own monitoring showed higher-than-
allowed levels of “viable microorganisms,” according to FDA records.


The company increased environmental testing and training, officials said in an interview. The firm also developed a special bar-code-scanning technology to minimize manual errors, the company said. The company said that it’s not practical to keep samples because it makes small batches of drugs with short expiration dates.


Founded in 2003, PharMEDium has four plants and annual sales of more than $100 million, officials said. The company says it uses only sterile, FDA-approved ingredients for the intravenous and epidural medications it supplies to more than 2,000 hospitals, including Johns Hopkins Hospital.


Company President Rich Kruzynski said the incidents are a fraction of the “tens of thousands of batches” provided to hospitals. The record, he said, demonstrates PharMEDium’s commitment to be the industry’s “gold standard” for quality, patient safety and regulatory compliance.




While many compounding pharmacies were focusing on hospitals, others were catering to physicians who practiced experimental medicine.


One of the rising stars was Texas-based ApotheCure, which was cited by celebrity Suzanne Somers in her 2005 bestselling book, “The Sexy Years,” which extolled the anti-aging benefits of customized hormone therapies.


About the same time, ApotheCure’s owner, Gary Osborn, was quoted in alternative magazines and wrote on his company’s Web site about the benefits of using gout medication for pain relief and using lipids in “fat-dissolving” solutions. He also promoted chelation therapy, which removes heavy metals from the body, as a treatment for autism.


As ApotheCure branched out, nearly doubling its $6 million in annual sales during the mid- to late 2000s, patients began getting ill after using some of its products. FDA records from a 2007 inspection show ApotheCure did not alert the agency about many of the incidents.


However, the FDA was notified by local health officials about a 2004 episode in which nine people in Pennsylvania got sick after receiving infusions of an ApotheCure solution that the pharmacy said would dissolve fat, records show. Symptoms included abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and renal complications, according to state health records.


When FDA officials showed up to investigate the Dallas facility that had made the solution, owner Osborn turned them away, saying they needed an inspection warrant, FDA and court records show. They never returned with one, the records show.


FDA officials said that although they did not secure a warrant, they worked with Texas State Board of Pharmacy officials who inspected the facility. The state board did not take any disciplinary actions, said Allison Benz, the board’s director of professional services.


In 2005, a 5-year-old autistic boy died after being treated with ApotheCure’s chelation compound. Using this treatment for autism “is not evidence-based, and it has the potential for being very toxic and fatal,” said FDA’s Janet Woodcock, director of the agency’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.


The company kept promoting chelation therapy, records show. Osborn did not make any public statements about the incident at the time and did not respond to The Post’s requests for comment.


Two years later, three patients at an Oregon pain clinic died after injections of ApotheCure-compounded colchicine, a medication for gout marketed by alternative compounding pharmacies for neck and back pain. The solution was eight times as strong as what was ordered by the treating physician, records show.


The Oregon state attorney general’s office investigated the company after the three deaths. David Hart, who prosecuted the case against ApotheCure for the attorney general’s office, said he thinks the FDA missed a critical opportunity in 2004 when it didn’t get the search warrant.


“Arguably, if action had been taken earlier by the FDA, this could have been prevented,” he said.


When the FDA was notified of the 2007 deaths, this time the agency got a warrant for the facility. The agency identified 13 deficiencies and Texas authorities found 80 deficiencies and violations, records show.


In its report, the FDA noted that products were not tested for potency prior to shipping — something that could have prevented the deaths. But that didn’t violate the law because testing for potency and sterility is not required of compounders, noted ApotheCure attorney James J. Doyle III in a written comment.


The agency’s and state board’s findings became the backbone for state complaints in Texas and Oregon and a Justice Department lawsuit filed against Osborn and his company, state and federal records show.


At the time of the fatal incidents, Osborn told the Associated Press that the colchicine mishap was due to “human error.” Osborn declined interview requests from The Post. His attorney, Lawrence J. Friedman, said he thinks his client was unfairly singled out.


“They decided to make an example out of ApotheCure,” Friedman said.


After the 2007 incident, Friedman said, his client hired consultants and “doubled, even tripled,” safety precautions.


However, a Dec. 20, 2010, internal audit of ApotheCure, obtained by The Post, showed that three years after the FDA investigated, the pharmacy was still riddled with unsanitary conditions.


Insect body parts were found in “clean rooms” where sterile products were compounded. A suspended ceiling, with exposed pipe, wiring and duct work, allowed “contaminants to flow over the sterile suite and fall through the suspended ceiling.”


The Texas pharmacy board returned last year and found a few minor problems. All of them have since been corrected, said Gay Dodson, the board’s executive director.


In 2012, Osborn pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal violations of the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act for the colchicine-related deaths. Osborn was ordered to pay a combined $400,000 in fines to settle the DOJ, Texas and Oregon complaints directed at him and his company. The terms of settlements with victims’ families are confidential.



Osborn’s company — which has about $10 million in annual sales — is still in operation.

“People make mistakes, but there is nobody watching over these people,” said Christopher Long, whose 56-year-old mother died after receiving the toxic colchicine made by ApotheCure. “The regulatory piece of this, nothing has changed. I realize it takes a long time to rein things in, but my mother is dead, ApotheCure is still in operation and people have died again.”

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