Monday, March 08, 2010

Torture Whistle Blower's Carr Center Position Was Funded By Tobacco Company Front Group--And Iggy Approved The Money!

I am not sure that the following should sway anyone one way or another re Amir Attaran's claim the Canadian government collaborated with Afghan security forces to have prisoners tortured in order to gather intelligence, but it is plenty weird and intriguing and I thought I would write it up.

Amir Attaran is (or was) a member of the Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM) advisory board. Africa Fighting Malaria is a group associated with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and more specifically with think tank "scientist" extraordinaire Roger Bate, who is the group's inspiration and driving force. Even more importantly, when Attaran was at Harvard (the Carr Center) his position was funded by a grant from Africa Fighting Malaria.

Now, what's wrong with that? Well, whenever you hear the name "American Enterprise Institute" your bullshit meter should start twitching just from general principles. These guys are one of America's best known Conservative think tanks, and have, for example, led the charge against meaningful climate change legislation south of the border.

But, again, there's a more specific story to be told, and a strange one too.

Roger Bate's career as a think tank scientist extends back several decades, but his most notable exploit is the creation of Africa Fighting Malaria. Put briefly, and as Mr. Bate put it fairly explicitly to Philip Morris back in 1998, the group was created to be a front generating a counter-discourse intended to discourage further regulation of the tobacco industry. To quote Adam Sarvana, in one of the very few MSM articles I've seen written on Mr. Bate:

Now operating out of the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), [Roger]Bate’s signature coup to date has been to spread the myth that environmentalists, by preventing the use of the pesticide DDT (Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane) to kill mosquitoes in developing countries, have heartlessly caused millions of malaria deaths worldwide. It needs to be said at the outset that this argument is untrue. While some groups have pressed hard to find alternatives, there is little evidence that a concerted effort to abolish anti-malaria DDT spraying ever occurred. Of the few environmental organizations that even pay attention to pesticide use overseas, the ones with any clout all support a clause in the Stockholm Convention that allows DDT use for public health reasons.


The latter is of particular importance in Bate’s case. His most visible contribution to his chosen cause has been to use the unlikely twin forces of malaria and DDT – both absent from the United States for decades, but facts of life in much of the developing world – to pit potential allies in regulatory efforts, especially environmentalists and public health advocates, against each other in an effort to draw their fire away from regulated industries, including tobacco. In a funding proposal to Philip Morris laying out his vision of a so-called Malaria Strategy, Bate wrote circa 1998 that the “opponents” of tobacco “are quite disparate, yet we have not divided them and shown each how the other’s agenda is damaging their own.” To be more successful, the document said, “we need to . . . [p]ick issues on which we can divide our opponents and win. Make our case on our terms, not on the terms of our opponents – malaria prevention is a good example. Show our opponents where their alleged allies are harming their cause[.]”

The proposal laid out a comprehensive plan, including the formation of a front group to push the idea that Western experts and activists were focusing on the wrong issue. The central argument of the Malaria Strategy, he wrote, would be that “environmental regulations often harm public health in the West and Western policies often harm health in Less Developed Countries.” In other words, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other regulatory bodies shouldn’t even have time to think about regulating American and British tobacco, because the scourge of malaria demanded more immediate attention. Thus emerged Bate’s thesis, which he continues to promote as a proxy for his deeper anti-regulatory agenda: That out-of-touch bureaucrats and misguided environmentalists are ignoring malaria sufferers, either because of incompetence or spoiled-rich fears about comparatively harmless risks like second-hand smoking, and are therefore not to be trusted.

Now, if this sounds too wild to be true, it can all be pretty thoroughly referenced. The Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, kept at the University of California, San Francisco,

...holds 40 million pages of secret corporate memos, privileged legal communications and other documents obtained through discovery processes from a decade of successful lawsuits alleging that the industry had lied about tobacco’s health effects. The documents demonstrate how the industry pioneered modern techniques for manipulating politics, scientific research and public opinion. As a result, the library is something of a Rosetta Stone that reaches beyond the tobacco industry to assist anyone seeking to decipher how business, politics and media function.

One of the first people to really go trolling through these documents on the trail of Mr. Bate was climate blogger Eli Rabbet. It's thanks to him that, for example, we know that at some point Phillip Morris UK was paying Roger Bate £10K per month for his services.

So this is who Mr. Attaran has worked with in the past--here's him talking up DDT and trashing environmentalists--and whose position, back in 2002-2003, was

...funded through a secret anonymous grant, that was given to Roger Bate's Africa Fight Malaria group, and then to Harvard.

Okay, so how does Michael Ignatieff play into all of this? Well, in 2003 then he was director of The Carr Center, and when a stink was raised over Mr. Attaran's anonymous funding sources (which were thought at the time to be linked to "Big Pharma"), he was forced to look into the matter and respond:

Before accepting any funding for projects, the Carr Center does necessary due diligence upon the source of the funding. This was true in the case of Amir Attaran, as it is with all of our research funding. When appropriate, we examine not only the immediate source of the funds, but the original source as well. In Amir Attaran's case, the direct source of the funding for his tenure at the Carr Center was Africa Fighting Malaria, but we did not stop our due diligence there. Instead, we required that the specific funding supporting Dr. Attaran's research be traced to its original source(s). When the individual donor who was the to be the source of the funding sought to maintain anonymity, we indicated to AFM that we would then be unable to accept the funding. Appreciating our need for due diligence, AFM then agreed that his/her identity could be revealed to the two of us and to the individual in the Harvard University Administration responsible for due diligence on donors wishing to remain anonymous. Due diligence by both the Carr Center and the University was done on this individual. Of course, we cannot provide you with a name because of our respect for donor requests for anonymity, but - with regard to your specific concerns - you have our assurances that we know this individual's identity, that we have done due diligence upon the source of the money, and that it is not from the pharmaceutical industry nor from any source that would involve a conflict of interest. Neither AFM nor the anonymous donor have imposed any restrictions whatever on Dr. Attaran's research. We trust that this addresses your concerns.

In other words, Iggy investigated the source of Attaran's funding, and despite its dubious pedigree, took the money.

Now, I don't know what this says about Attaran's claim re Afghan prisoner transfers. Probably nothing. And I would say in both his and Iggy's defense that Bate and the AFM have conned a lot of smart people. James Lovelock comes to mind. Bate is not at all like Marc Morano, who looks greasy and sweaty even when he isn't doing anything evil. No, nobody's even heard of Bate; he's smooth and silent, like a barracuda swimming through the ocean at night.

But, Iggy, a word of advice. When anything associated with the American Enterprise Institute comes along waving money--or anyone connected with "think tanks" that have names like "The Liberty Foundation" or "The Freedom initiative"--run away. They're flogging bullshit.

And if Roger Bate gets within a mile of you, run away screaming.

PS. Attaran responds to some of the allegations re Iggy's defense of his funding here. Although nobody seems to have raised the "big tobacco" connection as yet.

PPS. A big welcome to National Newswatch readers.

PPPS. It has been pointed out to me that my original title suggests that Mr. Attaran's current position, and his research into the Afghan detainee issue, was funded by Africa Fighting Malaria. That was not the intent and I have changed the title to remove the implication. In fact, as I note, the two issues are not connected other than I found out about the second while reading about the first.


Kirbycairo said...

WOW! That is some story. Thanks for bringing it our attention.

CanadianSense said...

Is this a sign from the dump Ignatieff camp for chanelling Dion with the "Timing, no one wants an election" excuse regarding the budget?

Oxford County Liberals said...

Interesting BCL, though I see how littlt this has to do with the documents Attaran has seen if some folks at DFAIT who hates what's been going on over in Afghanistan are the primary source.

Frank said...

Great work BCL, your Blogging Tories membership is in the mail.

Terry 1 said...

I don't see the issue here as tobacco companies are legitmate businesses.

As for the nonsense person thinking there is a dump IGGY movement...keep on dreaming. We know factula info is not your style.

Unknown said...

Why are you reprinting information the Conservative Resource Group has been shopping around Ottawa?

bigcitylib said...

It is not anything from the Tories.

The Bate end of it I've been following for a year or so now. The Amir/Iggy connection was a WTF! moment, which I thought worthy of writing up. The reason for the piece is that the coming together of all these threads is bizarre and interesting. That's all. No particular animus towards Iggy these days on my part(I would say just so if there was). Bit embarrasing for him and that's unfortunate.

Michael said...

A well balanced articlea very informative read. Thanks for posting it.

Mark Richard Francis said...

I agree. Anyone taking money from these sources is suspect.

For those of you who don't understand the science behind why you don't do mass spraying of DDT to fight malaria, here's quick primer.

Yes, mass spraying of DDT messes up the food web, but that's not the reason why it shouldn't be done (though it is a reason).

DDT is also an effective repellent, that is, insects will avoid it where possible. So it gets sprayed on house walls in high-risk malaria areas to drive mosquitoes away, keeping the people within the homes safer.

DDT, as we know, does kill insects quite well, but populations of insects quickly become immune to DDT. Mass spraying only works for a few years, and then DDT is useless, not just as mosquito killer, but also as a repellant.

So to keep it working as a repellent, mass spraying is to be avoided.

By advocating mass spraying, as a byproduct of their actions these propagandists are actually seeking to cause what they accuse environmentalists of causing: the deaths of millions.

Pretty damn sick, if you ask me.

buckets said...

Iggy's statement: Due diligence by both the Carr Center and the University was done on this individual. Of course, we cannot provide you with a name because of our respect for donor requests for anonymity, but - with regard to your specific concerns - you have our assurances that we know this individual's identity, that we have done due diligence upon the source of the money, and that it is not from the pharmaceutical industry nor from any source that would involve a conflict of interest.

One more possibility, which I raise just for the sake of completeness, is that that a front was used between Phillip Morris and Africa Fighting Malaria. Note that Iggy refers to an "individual's identity", which would be an odd formulation if referring to an institutional donor.

Tof KW said...

The effects of DDT are quite well known, and there is a reason it was pretty much banned world-wide in the 1960's. Besides there are much more effective (but more expensive) insecticides that, unlike DDT, do not persist and pass up the food chain.

CanadianSense - not long ago you were berating the grits for pushing for an election - now you insult them for not wanting one. Fuck Off and stay on your own blog!

Ardvark said...

Kudos for posting this.

Bill Hawthorne said...

Dear Mr. Murphy,

I just have a quick question for you but couldn't find an email so had to resort to this. I am a progressive blogger and the owner of the mahablog. Please email me back at when you get a chance. Thanks.


Ti-Guy said...

That was a fun read, BCL. Too bad it overstimulated a few confused Conservatives who then came over here and ejaculated in the comments section.

...thank God for Purel.

Anonymous said...

A nice attempt at conspiratorial dot connecting in an attempt to create a political scandal that iggy needs to beat on Harper.

Without some drive by slime & smear job that Attaran is trying to create with the help of the CBC, iggy has no hope of ever winning an election, so bring on the scandal.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Canadians are generally happy with the way things are going.

UCSF LTDL said...

A few of the documents by or about Roger Bate in the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library can be found here:

EliRabett said...

Eli will give you a gift;jsessionid=317E455589310DE9E9AC0F3EE4335733?fd=0&q=Attaran

Now ask yourself what was this letter to the UNEP doing in the files of British American Tobacco. Better yet, ask Amir. For even more fun, someone might be able to trace the FAX #

crf said...

" By advocating mass spraying, as a byproduct of their actions these propagandists are actually seeking to cause what they accuse environmentalists of causing: the deaths of millions. "

I guess you mean that by advocating DDT spraying, Attaran or AFM will help cause the deaths of millions by either direct poisoning of people by DDT or by inducing resistance to DDT in mosquitoes (and possibly other pesticides).

This is hardly to the point. Attaran's views on DDT spraying are not unknown, are published in numerous places, are nuanced, and did get press time in Canada and the US. He isn't seeking the deaths of millions or the willy-nilly spraying DDT. He advocates the DDT continue to be allowed for malarial control (not agricultural pest control).

Attaran also notes, correctly, that some environmental groups advocate complete bans on DDT production without considering the effect it might have on DDT availability for malarial control, and that some environmental groups advocate a complete ban on DDT production even for malarial control. He disagrees with those stances, and he fought those ideas to ensure that global treaties limiting DDT included only agricultural bans, and not bans on its use for malaria control. There was a real risk that such a ban would be enacted, since this ban was promoted by many environmental groups.

Attaran takes other controversial positions. For example, he has been in the press recently because he is a critic of the idea that the patenting and cost of AIDS drugs is greatly affecting their lack of use in Africa.

Generally, I'd say he is more an opponent of woolly-headed thinking when it comes to third world development aid strategies. After-all, in Canada, whether our aid strategies are good or bad will truthfully have little effect at all on our country, and so their is a much greater incentive to tailor them to avoid controversy, rather than maximize their effectiveness.

Jerry Prager said...

An email from Amir Attaran to me

"How strange. I have not seen what is written at that blog, but if the assertion is that I received tobacco industry funding while at Harvard, that is completely untrue. I am sadly accustomed to such shoot-the-messenger nonsense from the Tory blogs, which have been particularly uncivilized as of late, but to be told this is on a Liberal blog comes as a surprise. I would hope people calm down and learn to focus less on the messenger, than the message at hand, which concerns the government’s compliance with the law of armed conflict insofar as the Afghan detainees, and compliance with Canada’s constitution insofar as Parliamentary documents. "


bigcitylib said...

"Attaran also notes, correctly, that some environmental groups advocate complete bans on DDT production without considering the effect it might have on DDT availability for malarial control..."

Which ones? If you look at the Sarvana article, this is arguably NOT the case for any major environmental group that deals with DDT.

crf said...

BCL: For example

an wwf position.

Although this is a WWF document, perhaps it doesn't fully reflect the WWF's present position.

At any rate, why not email and ask Attaran about the stance of environmental orgs and DDT, and the history and evolution of environmentalist organisations positions over time. Especially, some of the positions held by various orgs today may not be the ones they held when treaties governing DDT use were negotiated.

S.K. said...

What calls into question Mr. Attaran's position is his relationship with Mr. Ignattieff, regardless of who funded is research, Iggs approved it.

There's not a lot of credibility here for this puppet.

crf said...

That is a ridiculous comment.

1) ever heard of Academic freedom?
Iggy was not Attaran's superior. Iggy didn't say "yea" or "nea" to Attaran's research. There is no reasonable way you could believe that there is a debt shared between the two. In the case in question, it was Iggy's job to only evaluate that the controls Harvard had agreed to in governing funding of research were adhered to. Which he seemed to do, impartially.

2)Attaran is nobody's puppet. He frequently takes positions that are, to say the least, unpopular with nearly everyone in power and, probably, the general population. He is also argumentative and dogged.

3)Attaran has been pushing to obtain and publicize info about the happenings with regards to emprisonment policies during the whole "war on terror", well before Iggy became Liberal leader.