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AP IMPACT: Drugmakers’ push boosts ‘murky’ ailment

By MATTHEW PERRONE, AP Business Writer Matthew Perrone, Ap Business WriterSun Feb 8, 11:41 pm ET

WASHINGTON – Two drugmakers spent hundreds of millions of dollars last year to raise awareness of a murky illness, helping boost sales of pills recently approved as treatments and drowning out unresolved questions — including whether it’s a real disease at all.

Key components of the industry-funded buzz over the pain-and-fatigue ailment fibromyalgia are grants — more than $6 million donated by drugmakers Eli Lilly and Pfizer in the first three quarters of 2008 — to nonprofit groups for medical conferences and educational campaigns, an Associated Press analysis found.

That’s more than they gave for more accepted ailments such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Among grants tied to specific diseases, fibromyalgia ranked third for each company, behind only cancer and AIDS for Pfizer and cancer and depression for Lilly.

Fibromyalgia draws skepticism for several reasons. The cause is unknown. There are no tests to confirm a diagnosis. Many patients also fit the criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome and other pain ailments.

Experts don’t doubt the patients are in pain. They differ on what to call it and how to treat it.

Many doctors and patients say the drugmakers are educating the medical establishment about a misunderstood illness, much as they did with depression in the 1980s. Those with fibromyalgia have often had to fight perceptions that they are hypochondriacs, or even faking their pain.

But critics say the companies are hyping fibromyalgia along with their treatments, and that the grantmaking is a textbook example of how drugmakers unduly influence doctors and patients.

“I think the purpose of most pharmaceutical company efforts is to do a little disease-mongering and to have people use their drugs,” said Dr. Frederick Wolfe, who was lead author of the guidelines defining fibromyalgia in 1990 but has since become one of its leading skeptics.

Fredrick Wolfe, Director of the National Databank for Rheumatic Diseases and one AP – Fredrick Wolfe, Director of the National Databank for Rheumatic Diseases and one of the nation’s most … Whatever the motive, the push has paid off. Between the first quarter of 2007 and the fourth quarter of 2008, sales rose from $395 million to $702 million for Pfizer’s Lyrica, and $442 million to $721 million for Lilly’s Cymbalta.

Cymbalta, an antidepressant, won Food and Drug Administration approval as a treatment for fibromyalgia in June. Lyrica, originally approved for epileptic seizures, was approved for fibromyalgia a year earlier.

Drugmakers respond to skepticism by pointing out that fibromyalgia is recognized by medical societies, including the American College of Rheumatology.

“I think what we’re seeing here is just the evolution of greater awareness about a condition that has generally been neglected or poorly managed,” said Steve Romano, a Pfizer vice president who oversees its neuroscience division. “And it’s mainly being facilitated by the fact the FDA has now approved effective compounds.”

The FDA approved the drugs because they’ve been shown to reduce pain in fibromyalgia patients, though it’s not clear how. Some patients say the drugs can help, but the side effects include nausea, weight gain and drowsiness.

Helen Arellanes of Los Angeles was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in September 2007 and later left her job to go on disability. She takes five medications for pain, including Lyrica and Cymbalta.

“I call it my fibromyalgia fog, because I’m so medicated I go through the day feeling like I’m not really there,” Arellanes said. “But if for some reason I miss a dose of medication, I’m in so much pain.”

A single mother of three, Arellanes sometimes struggles to afford all her medications. She said she is grateful that a local Pfizer sales representative occasionally gives her free samples of Lyrica “to carry me through the month.”

The drugmakers’ grant-making is dwarfed by advertisement spending. Eli Lilly spent roughly $128.4 million in the first three quarters of 2008 on ads to promote Cymbalta, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Pfizer Inc. spent more than $125 million advertising Lyrica.

But some say the grants’ influence goes much further than dollar figures suggest. Such efforts steer attention to diseases, influencing patients and doctors and making diagnosis more frequent, they say.

“The underlying purpose here is really marketing, and they do that by sponsoring symposia and hiring physicians to give lectures and prepare materials,” said Wolfe, who directs the National Data Bank for Rheumatic Diseases in Wichita, Kan.

Similar criticisms have dogged drugmakers’ marketing of medicines for overactive bladder and restless legs syndrome.

Many of the grants go to educational programs for doctors that feature seminars on the latest treatments and discoveries.

Pfizer says it has no control over which experts are invited to the conferences it sponsors. Skeptics such as Wolfe are occasionally asked to attend.

The drug industry’s grants also help fill out the budgets of nonprofit disease advocacy groups, which pay for educational programs and patient outreach and also fund some research.

“If we have a situation where we don’t have that funding, medical education is going to come to a screeching halt, and it will impact the kind of care that patients will get,” said Lynne Matallana, president of the National Fibromyalgia Association.

Matallana founded the group in 1997 after she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. A former advertising executive, Matallana said she visited 37 doctors before learning there was a name for the crushing pain she felt all over her body.

A decade later, her patient advocacy group is a $1.5 million-a-year operation that has successfully lobbied Congress for more research funding for fibromyalgia. Forty percent of the group’s budget comes from corporate donations, such as the funds distributed by Pfizer and Eli Lilly.

Pfizer gave $2.2 million and Lilly gave $3.9 million in grants and donations related to fibromyalgia in the first three quarters of last year, the AP found. Those funds represented 4 percent of Pfizer’s giving and about 9 percent of Eli Lilly’s.

Eli Lilly, Pfizer and a handful of other companies began disclosing their grants only in the past two years, after coming under scrutiny from federal lawmakers.

The message in company TV commercials is clear. “Fibromyalgia is real,” proclaimed one Lyrica ad. Researchers who’ve studied the condition for decades say it’s not that simple.

Since the 1970s, Wolfe and a small group of specialists have debated the condition in the pages of medical journals. Depending on whom you ask, it is a disease, a syndrome, a set of symptoms or a behavior disorder.

The American College of Rheumatology estimates that between 6 million and 12 million people in the U.S. have fibromyalgia, more than 80 percent of them women. It’s not clear how many cases are actually diagnosed, but Dr. Daniel Clauw of the University of Michigan said pharmaceutical industry market research shows roughly half are undiagnosed. People with fibromyalgia experience widespread muscle pain and other symptoms including fatigue, headache and depression.

After 30 years of studying the ailment, rheumatologist Dr. Don Goldenberg says fibromyalgia is still a “murky area.”

“Doctors need labels and patients need labels,” said Goldenberg, a professor of medicine at Tufts University. “In general, it’s just more satisfying to tell people, ‘You have X,’ rather than, ‘You have pain.'”

While Goldenberg continues to diagnose patients with fibromyalgia, some of his colleagues have stopped, saying the condition is a catchall covering a range of symptoms.

Dr. Nortin Hadler says telling people they have fibromyalgia can actually doom them to a life of suffering by reinforcing the idea that they have an incurable disease.

“It’s been shown that if you are diagnosed with fibromyalgia, your chances for returning to a level of well-being that satisfies you are pretty dismal,” said Hadler, a professor at the University of North Carolina, who has occasionally advised health insurers on how to deal with fibromyalgia.

Hadler said people labeled with fibromyalgia are indeed suffering, not from a medical disease but from a psychological condition. Instead of drugs, patients should receive therapy to help them “unlearn” their predicament, he said.

Research by the University of Michigan’s Clauw suggests people with fibromyalgia experience pain differently because of abnormalities in their nervous system. Brain scans show unusual activity when the patients experience even minor pain, though there is no abnormality common to all.

Clauw’s work, however, illustrates the knotty issues of drug company funding. He has done paid consulting work for the drugmakers, and he’s received research funding from the National Fibromyalgia Research Association, which receives money from the drugmakers.

While Clauw acknowledges that Lyrica and Cymbalta do not work for everyone, he has little patience for experts who spend more time parsing definitions than helping patients.

“At the end of the day I don’t care how you categorize this — it’s a legitimate condition and these people are suffering,” Clauw said.

UC admits misleading public about buyout-taker

Monday, February 9, 2009

(02-08) 18:25 PST — UC Berkeley officials have acknowledged misleading the public in the controversial case of a high-paid executive aide who left her job at the university’s headquarters and the next day began a new job on the Cal campus – qualifying for a $100,202 severance check along the way.

In November, when the severance payment became public, The Chronicle asked for an explanation of how Linda Morris Williams could get a buyout for leaving her $200,400-a-year headquarters job in Oakland and starting her new job paying the same salary in the office of UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau.

Williams and UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof released a statement suggesting that the Berkeley job opportunity had developed coincidentally after she had applied for the buyout.

“At the time of my Voluntary Separation Program application, the associate chancellor position on the Berkeley campus was not open and therefore played no role whatsoever in my decision making,” Williams said at the time.

In their latest statement, Williams and Mogulof apologized “for our initial statement that unintentionally created an impression” that Williams was unaware of the possibility of future employment at the Berkeley campus.

“We sacrificed clarity and detail for the sake of brevity,” Mogulof said in an interview. “We had no reason to be intentionally misleading.”

A review of documents and e-mails obtained under the state Public Records Act showed Williams was well aware of the UC Berkeley job when she filed for the buyout on Jan. 22, 2008 – including talks with Birgeneau.

E-mails show she had been virtually assured by Birgeneau’s close aides that the job was hers and was even placed on a UC Berkeley organizational chart five days before she applied for the buyout.

Linda Williams started a new job at UC Berkeley one day a... (U.C. Berkeley) 

Williams was one of 155 former employees in the UC president’s office to receive severance payments under a voluntary termination program designed to shrink the headquarters’ payroll.

Under the program created by then-UC President Robert Dynes, 16 headquarters employees got severance checks and landed other UC jobs. Williams collected the most.

She had previously come to the public’s attention during the university’s salary scandal in 2006 after Dynes waived some rules and gave her some benefits, including a $44,000 relocation allowance and a low-interest $832,500 home loan, for which she was not otherwise entitled.

In her new position at Berkeley, Williams oversees whistle-blower complaints and public records requests, along with crisis management duties as associate chancellor – government, community and campus liaison.

Williams and Birgeneau declined to be interviewed and directed all inquires to the campus’ main spokesperson, public affairs Executive Director Mogulof.

Although apologizing for Williams’ earlier, misleading statement, Mogulof insisted that it was not false.

Mogulof said that Williams’ prospective job at UC Berkeley was not a “done deal” when she applied for the buyout because Birgeneau’s request to hire her without advertising the opening had not yet been approved; she had not yet received a formal offer letter; and her salary had not yet been set.

“Linda Williams acted in complete compliance with the letter and spirit of the UC Voluntary Separation Program set up by the Office of the President to reduce staff in those offices,” Birgeneau told The Chronicle in December. “She applied for the severance program before the associate chancellor position on the Berkeley campus became available and before I offered her the position.”

Williams’ severance was paid in November, but the series of events leading up to it began at least a year earlier, on Nov. 7, 2007.

That was the day, UC officials said, Birgeneau met with Williams to discuss her taking the associate chancellorship, a position still in the conceptual stage. Just the day before, the chancellor’s staff had drafted an outline of the position’s responsibilities.

E-mails show that job talks between Williams and high-ranking UC Berkeley officials continued during the 11 weeks leading up to the Jan. 22, 2008, date when she applied for the buyout from her job as a senior adviser to Dynes. On that same day, the chancellor sent a letter to his human resources office saying Williams was “an ideal candidate” for the associate chancellor slot.

In that letter, the chancellor proposed to appoint Williams at her then-current annual salary of $200,400, requesting permission to expedite her hiring.

Just four days before filing her buyout application, Williams sent an e-mail to a soon-to-be UC Berkeley colleague urging that her hiring be publicly announced.

“Thanks for moving things forward,” she wrote. “The ‘news’ is all over the place … someone, or multiple people, congratulates me daily. However, getting the announcement out will be helpful.”

On Feb. 1, 2008, the chancellor’s request for a hiring waiver was granted, based on Williams’ special skills and the hardship of conducting a full search during UC’s budget crisis and the need for a smooth transition.

Williams left her old job on April 30 and began her new one on May 1. On Nov. 20, 2008, the UC Board of Regents discussed Williams’ $100,202 payout in closed session, then approved it as the last item on the board’s agenda.

Five days after The Chronicle reported on the payout to Williams, the new president of the University of California system, Mark Yudof, announced that employees in his office no longer will be allowed to collect full severance checks and then be rehired at other UC locations.

Linda Williams’ new job

2007

Nov. 7: UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau discusses an associate chancellorship job with Linda Williams.

Nov. 19: UC Office of the President in Oakland, where Williams worked, announces employee buyout program.

2008

Jan. 17: A draft UC Berkeley organizational chart shows Williams as an associate chancellor.

Jan. 18: A UC Berkeley official e-mails the chart to Williams, who thanked the official for “moving things forward.”

Jan. 22: Williams applies for a $100,202 severance payment from the UC Office of the President.

Jan. 22: Birgeneau requests a waiver to hire Williams without advertising the job.

Jan. 30: Williams’ buyout application is approved by the UC Office of the President.

Feb. 1: Birgeneau gets the wavier to hire Williams.

Feb. 8: Birgeneau sends a letter offering the job to Williams.

Feb. 10: Williams accepts the offer.

Feb. 12: Birgeneau announces the hiring of Williams.

April 30: Williams’ last day with the UC Office of the President.

May 1: Williams’ first day at UC Berkeley.

Nov. 20: UC Board of Regents approves Williams’ $100,202 severance payment.

Sources: UC documents, e-mails and interviews with officials

E-mail Jim Doyle at jdoyle@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page B – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Savings lost to Madoff, elderly forced back to work

 

 

Friday Feb 6, 2009Photo

By Jason Szep

BOSTON (Reuters) – After losing his entire life’s savings to disgraced fund manager Bernard Madoff, 90-year-old Ian Thiermann abandoned retirement and now works the aisles of a grocery store to make ends meet.

 Handing out fliers hawking avocados and pork ribs at a supermarket in Ben Lomond, California, Thiermann is one of many facing dramatic lifestyle changes after losing their savings in Madoff’s suspected $50 billion Ponzi scheme.

 Thiermann wasn’t even aware he had invested with Madoff until December 15, when a friend who managed his investments called him on the telephone. “He said, ‘I’ve lost everything and you have lost everything.'” For Thiermann, that meant $750,000.

 Days after the release of a list of thousands of Madoff customers — from Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Sandy Koufax to actor John Malkovich — a picture is emerging of a scandal that has reverberated far beyond America’s still-wealthy to those who have lost nearly everything.

 elderlyAnd swept up in the pain are many who should be savoring the twilight of their lives in peaceful retirement rather than scrambling for a living.

 Thiermann, owner of a pest-control company in Los Angeles before retiring 25 years ago, enjoyed returns of 10 to 12 percent each year on his savings for about 15 years regardless of whether markets rose or fell. He lived on those returns, devoting much time to nonprofit work.

 “We don’t have any cash reserves now. And we still owe money on our houses,” he said in a telephone interview. He learned of his losses while shopping in a local grocery store with his wife, Terry.

 “The store manager who we know very well said, ‘What’s wrong?’ We said, ‘Have you heard about this Madoff?’ And he said, ‘Oh my god!” Thiermann explained. “I now work there as a beginner and I deeply appreciate it.”

 About 2,490 miles to the east in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Maureen Ebel has also surrendered a comfortable retirement, and works as a cleaner after losing her family savings of $7.3 million to Madoff.

 On December 17, six days after learning of her losses, the 60-year-old widow found work cleaning the home of a friend and caring for a 93-year-old woman. Ebel’s husband, a doctor, died in 2000 at age 53. The former nurse is also selling her luxury Lexus SUV and a winter home in Florida.

 “I HELD ONTO MY DOG AND I CRIED”

 “On the first day I went to work, after pushing that vacuum cleaner around, I came home and said to myself ‘this is what my life has come to,’ and I held onto my dog and I cried,” Ebel said in a telephone interview.

 In Pompano Beach, Florida, 73-year-old Irwin Salbe also expects to return to work after losing about 75 percent of his investment portfolio to Madoff, who according to court documents confessed to his sons on December 10 that the firm’s investment-advisory business was “basically a giant Ponzi scheme.”

 Such schemes use money from new investors to pay distributions and redemptions to existing investors.

 Salbe said his family investments with Madoff date back to the 1960s, although he declined to say exactly how much. 

“We were pretty heavily in it with my children and my grandchildren. They all had accounts with mine. We’re all in it and it’s substantial,” he said.

 “Now we’re downsizing. I had two cars. We’ve gotten rid of one. I’ve canceled some trips. I’ve reduced my expenses with every opportunity. We don’t eat out like we did. If we go out, we got to a neighborhood place like for a pizza,” he said.

 “I used to get my income from there. Now, there’s no more expensive dinners. I don’t hug my kids anymore like I used to,” he said. “The image of Madoff’s main clientele is of rich people. That’s not true. A lot of people have been devastated like me,” said Salbe, who had met Madoff several times.

 Salbe, a general manager for a newspaper and magazine distribution company in New York before retiring in 1991, inherited the Madoff investments when his father died in 1984. Over the years, he poured in his own money and eventually parked his entire retirement savings with Madoff.

 “I’m going to definitely have to go back to a part-time job,” he said.

 EVAPORATED SAVINGS

 In Wisconsin, Abby Frucht ponders the fate of her parents, whose $1 million in life’s savings seemingly evaporated with the collapse of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, Madoff’s investment-advisory business. Her parents lived off the money in a retirement home in Sante Fe, New Mexico.

 “My dad is 85 and my mom is 79. We don’t know how long they can stay there. We’re working that out now,” she said.

 Her father suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and may not fully comprehend what’s happening, she said in a telephone interview. “They are very elderly and can’t possibly go back to work. They are very comfortable and happy where they are.”

 Her parents have enough savings to stay in New Mexico another two months. After that, they may have no choice but to move in with her in Wisconsin. “My sisters and I have power of attorney over them so we have been putting our heads together to try and find a way to keep our parents comfortable.”

 Some want industry regulators or the government to pay.

 After losing money to Madoff, Lawrence Velvel, dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, said both the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority could be held liable for investors’ losses.

 “The brokerage industry is responsible for this because these are the people that caused all of this,” he said.

 (Reporting by Jason Szep; editing by Richard Chang)

 

(jason.szep@thomsonreuters.com; +1 617 856 4343; Reuters Messaging: jason.szep.reuters.com@reuters.net)

 

(For more on the Madoff scandal, please visit here)

Flashmob of ATM crooks scores $9 million in 49 cities

A global flashmob of ATM thieves netted $9 million in fraud against ATMs in 49 cities around the world. Can anyone find the message-board where this one was cooked up?

These people in the photos are believed to be “cashers,” low-level players, in a scheme devised from some mastermind — a dangerous computer hacker or hacking ring authorities fear could strike again.Here’s how it all came down, according to information Fox obtained from the FBI and law enforcement sources:

The computer system for a company called RBS WorldPay was hacked. One service of the company is the ability for employers to pay employees with the money going directly to a card, called payroll cards, a lot like a debit card that can be used in any ATM. The hacker was able to infiltrate the supposedly secure system and steal the information necessary to duplicate or clone people’s ATM cards.

“We’ve never seen one this well coordinated,” the FBI said.

Then shortly after midnight Eastern Time on November 8, the FBI believes that dozens of the so-called cashers were used in a coordinated attack of ATM machines around the world.

“Over 130 different ATM machines in 49 cities worldwide were accessed in a 30-minute period on November 8,” Agents Rice said. “So you can get an idea of the number of people involved in this and the scope of the operation.”

FBI Investigates $9 Million ATM Scam (via Beyond the Beyond)

Pentagon Spending Billions on PR to Sway World Opinion

Associated Press finds that over the past five years, the money the military spends on winning hearts and minds at home and abroad has grown by 63 percent, to at least $4.7 billion this year

WASHINGTON– As it fights two wars, the Pentagon is steadily and dramatically increasing the money it spends to win what it calls “the human terrain” of world public opinion. In the process, it is raising concerns of spreading propaganda at home in violation of federal law.

An Associated Press investigation found that over the past five years, the money the military spends on winning hearts and minds at home and abroad has grown by 63 percent, to at least $4.7 billion this year, according to Department of Defense budgets and other documents. That’s almost as much as it spent on body armor for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2004 and 2006.

This year, the Pentagon will employ 27,000 people just for recruitment, advertising and public relations — almost as many as the total 30,000-person work force in the State Department.

“We have such a massive apparatus selling the military to us, it has become hard to ask questions about whether this is too much money or if it’s bloated,” says Sheldon Rampton, research director for the Committee on Media and Democracy, which tracks the military’s media operations. “As the war has become less popular, they have felt they need to respond to that more.”

Yet the money spent on media and outreach still comes to only 1 percent of the Pentagon budget, and the military argues it is well-spent on recruitment and the education of foreign and American audiences. Military leaders say that at a time when extremist groups run Web sites and distribute video, information is as important a weapon as tanks and guns.

“We have got to be involved in getting our case out there, telling our side of the story, because believe me, al-Qaida and all of those folks … that’s what they are doing on the Internet and everywhere else,” says Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., who chairs the Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee. “Every time a bomb goes off, they have a story out almost before it explodes, saying that it killed 15 innocent civilians.”

——

On an abandoned Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas, editors for the Joint Hometown News Service point proudly to a dozen clippings on a table as examples of success in getting stories into newspapers.

What readers are not told: Each of these glowing stories was written by Pentagon staff. Under the free service, stories go out with authors’ names but not their titles, and do not mention Hometown News anywhere. In 2009, Hometown News plans to put out 5,400 press releases, 3,000 television releases and 1,600 radio interviews, among other work — 50 percent more than in 2007.

The service is just a tiny piece of the Pentagon’s rapidly expanding media empire, which is now bigger in size, money and power than many media companies.

In a yearlong investigation, The Associated Press interviewed more than 100 people and scoured more than 100,000 pages of documents in several budgets to tally the money spent to inform, educate and influence the public in the U.S. and abroad. The AP included contracts found through the private FedSources database and requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. Actual spending figures are higher because of money in classified budgets.

The biggest chunk of funds — about $1.6 billion — goes into recruitment and advertising. Another $547 million goes into public affairs, which reaches American audiences. And about $489 million more goes into what is known as psychological operations, which targets foreign audiences.

Staffing across all these areas costs about $2.1 billion, as calculated by the number of full-time employees and the military’s average cost per service member. That’s double the staffing costs for 2003.

Recruitment and advertising are the only two areas where Congress has authorized the military to influence the American public. Far more controversial is public affairs, because of the prohibition on propaganda to the American public.

“It’s not up to the Pentagon to sell policy to the American people,” says Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H., who sponsored legislation in Congress last year reinforcing the ban.

Spending on public affairs has more than doubled since 2003. Robert Hastings, acting director of Pentagon public affairs, says the growth reflects changes in the information market, along with the fact that the U.S. is now fighting two wars.

“The role of public affairs is to provide you the information so that you can make an informed decision yourself,” Hastings says. “There is no place for spin at the Department of Defense.”

But on Dec. 12, the Pentagon’s inspector general released an audit finding that the public affairs office may have crossed the line into propaganda. The audit found the Department of Defense “may appear to merge inappropriately” its public affairs with operations that try to influence audiences abroad. It also found that while only 89 positions were authorized for public affairs, 126 government employees and 31 contractors worked there.

In a written response, Hastings concurred and, without acknowledging wrongdoing, ordered a reorganization of the department by early 2009.

Another audit, also in December, concluded that a public affairs program called “America Supports You” was conducted “in a questionable and unregulated manner” with funds meant for the military’s Stars and Stripes newspaper.

The program was set up to keep U.S. troops informed about volunteer donations to the military. But the military awarded $11.8 million in contracts to a public relations firm to raise donations for the troops and then advertise those donations to the public. So the program became a way to drum up support for the military at a time when public opinion was turning against the Iraq war.

The audit also found that the offer to place corporate logos on the Pentagon Web site in return for donations was against regulations. A military spokesman said the program has been completely overhauled to meet Pentagon regulations.

“They very explicitly identify American public opinion as an important battlefield,” says Marc Lynch, a professor at George Washington University. “In today’s information environment, even if they were well-intentioned and didn’t want to influence American public opinion, they couldn’t help it.”

In 2003, for example, initial accounts from the military about the rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch from Iraqi forces were faked to rally public support. And in 2005, a Marine Corps spokesman during the siege of the Iraqi city of Fallujah told the U.S. news media that U.S. troops were attacking. In fact, the information was a ruse by U.S. commanders to fool insurgents into revealing their positions.

——

The fastest-growing part of the military media is “psychological operations,” where spending has doubled since 2003.
Psychological operations aim at foreign audiences, and spin is welcome. The only caveats are that messages must be truthful and must never try to influence an American audience.

In Afghanistan, for example, a video of a soldier joining the national army shown on Afghan television is not attributed to the U.S. And in Iraq, American teams built and equipped media outlets and trained Iraqis to staff them without making public the connection to the military.

Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, director of strategic communications for the U.S. Central Command, says psychological operations must be secret to be effective. He says that in the 21st century, it is probably not possible to win the information battle with insurgents without exposing American citizens to secret U.S. propaganda.

“We have to be pragmatic and realistic about the game that we play in terms of information, and that game is very complex,” he says.

The danger of psychological operations reaching a U.S. audience became clear when an American TV anchor asked Gen. David Petraeus about the mood in Iraq. The general held up a glossy photo of the Iraqi national soccer team to show the country united in victory.

Behind the camera, his staff was cringing. It was U.S. psychological operations that had quietly distributed tens of thousands of the soccer posters in July 2007 to encourage Iraqi nationalism.

With a new administration in power, it is not clear what changes may be made. Obama administration officials have said they intend to go through the Department of Defense budget closely to trim bloated spending.

The emphasis on influence operations started with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In 2002, Rumsfeld established an Office of Strategic Influence that brought together public affairs and psychological operations. Critics accused him of setting up a propaganda arm, and Congress demanded that the office be shut down.

Rumsfeld has declined to speak to the press since leaving office, but while defense secretary he spoke bluntly about his desire to revamp the Pentagon’s media operations.

“I went down that next day and said, ‘Fine, if you want to savage this thing, fine, I’ll give you the corpse,”‘ Rumsfeld said on Nov. 18, 2002, according to Defense Department transcripts of a speech he delivered. “‘There’s the name. You can have the name, but I’m gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.”‘

In 2003, Rumsfeld issued a secret Information Operations Roadmap setting out a plan for public affairs and psychological operations to work together. It noted that with a global media, the military should expect and accept that psychological operations will reach the U.S. public.

“I can tell you there wouldn’t be a single American disappointed with anything that we’ve done that might be out there, that they don’t know about,” says Col. Curtis Boyd, commander of the 4th PSYOP Group, the largest unit of its kind. “Frankly, they probably wouldn’t care because maybe they are safer as a result of it.”

In January 2008, a new report by the Defense Science Board recommended resurrecting the Office of Strategic Influence as the Office of Strategic Communications. But Congress refused to fund the program.

In February, the Army released a new eight-chapter field manual that puts information warfare on par with traditional warfare.

The title of an entire chapter, Chapter 7: “Information Superiority.”

Governor’s daughter seeks answer on revoked degree

By VICKI SMITH, Associated Press Writer Vicki Smith, Associated Press WriterFri Feb 6, 4:25 pm ET

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The woman at the center of a scandal that forced West Virginia University’s president to resign last year demanded an explanation Friday why her master’s degree was revoked but 288 other apparently deficient degrees will be allowed to stand.

In a letter to the university’s Board of Governors, obtained by The Associated Press, Heather Bresch said she has “no choice but to revisit my options,” given recent revelations in a report on degree-granting and record-keeping practices at the university between 1997 and 2008.

Bresch said she is not suggesting the other degrees be rescinded.

“Rather, I am asking for a detailed explanation of what differentiates my situation from them,” wrote the daughter of Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin and executive of Pennsylvania-based generic drug maker Mylan Inc. Bresch has repeatedly insisted she earned her degree, but did not say in the letter whether she wants it restored.

Board Chairwoman Carolyn Long said the letter will be referred to the provost’s office and declined to comment further.

Jason Parsons, the board’s student representative, said, “I think there are a lot of questions that people have, and those questions are legitimate and should be answered.”

WVU requested the review by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers after Bresch was retroactively awarded an executive master’s of business administration in October 2007 that investigators later concluded she had not earned.

The investigators found administrators and academic officers in the College of Business and Economics added missing courses and grades to her transcript. Bresch was 12 credit hours short of the required 48.

Bresch has repeatedly insisted she substituted work experience for classroom work in her final semester with the blessing of then-program director Paul Speaker — an assertion Speaker has denied. Her letter also includes a copy of an internal business school record, showing she graduated in 1999 with a 3.0 grade-point average.

The association’s report found 27 eMBA degrees like Bresch’s were awarded despite apparent credit-hour deficiencies or other records discrepancies. So were 261 undergraduate degrees.

But Interim President Peter Magrath said Monday that while the 261 will be further examined, all 288 degrees will stand. While Bresch’s degree was not awarded until years after she left the program, the others were awarded in a timely way, he said.

The AACRAO report also suggests WVU might have a difficult time proving “just cause” for revoking the degrees, such as fraud, deceit or error by the student.

Graduates, however, might have grounds to sue for breach of contract if their degrees are revoked, attorney Saundra Schuster wrote.

The report shows other eMBA graduates were allowed to substitute work experience for credit hours, and Bresch said she was shocked that AACRAO did not interview Speaker, who ran the eMBA program for eight of the 10 years in question. She also contends the new report undermines a key conclusion of the panel that investigated her situation.

The panel said institutional failures surrounding her degree were “unique,” but she says the AACRAO report shows larger systemic problems with record keeping that continue to exist.

David C. Hardesty was president at WVU for all but the last year of the AACRAO review. He was replaced in the fall of 2007 by politically connected attorney Mike Garrison, whose appointment had been widely criticized by faculty, many of whom had supported another candidate.

Garrison and Bresch are longtime friends, and her boss is a benefactor of both the governor and WVU.

The panel investigating the Bresch matter concluded that while neither she nor Garrison did anything wrong, there was “palpable pressure” from the administration to accommodate Bresch.

Garrison ultimately resigned, while others involved in the matter were demoted.