Accuracy in Media’s annual conference was kicked off this year with two panels that examined the human and economic costs of policy decisions influenced by the combination of bad science and advocacy journalism. The panels featured Dr. Michael McCracken, Dr. S. Fred Singer, Professor J. Gordon Edwards, Dr. Janet Raloff, and Dr. Donald R. Roberts, each a leading expert in his or her field. With regard to the media, all agreed that whenever the scientific community releases “alarming news,” like scare stories about DDT or carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, these always rate extensive media coverage. But when the scientific community debunks the claims of bad science, this gets little, if any, attention.
We had hoped to have debates between scientists and journalists, but it was difficult to find a journalist willing to appear on either panel. They had a variety of excuses, but some candidly admitted that they did not feel competent to debate a scientist. We couldn’t find a journalist to discuss global warming, but to her great credit, Janet Raloff, senior editor at Science News, accepted our invitation to participate in the panel on DDT.
The first panel featured a debate on global warming between Dr. Michael McCracken and Dr. S. Fred Singer. Dr. McCracken has 34 years experience in climate change science. He is a recent retiree from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, whose most recent assignment was with the government’s Global Change Research Project in Washington. He opened the discussion, saying that global warming is commonly depicted as contentious in the media because reporters usually want an oversimplified “yes or no” or “liberal versus conservative” story. He acknowledged that there are “lots of uncertainties” in the science, but said that policy decisions about climate change should be based on the “most plausible case.”
He acknowledged that the climate has been “bobbing up and down for eons,” but he said that the direct influence of human activity became evident after the beginning of the industrial revolution about 150 years ago. He said that “human influence” derives from the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, mostly generated by our use of fossil fuels. This influence accounts for the warming trend of about one degree Fahrenheit over the last century, according to McCracken. He said this trend has become especially evident in the last 25 years.
Projecting current rates of fossil-fuel usage into the future, McCracken foresaw an even greater human effect on the climate in terms of more warming. Some of this may be beneficial, mainly in agriculture, but he also said that storms could intensify and there could be “coastal endangerment.” He criticized gloomy economic forecasts based on reduction of fossil-fuel usage as failing to account for the potentially harmful effects of global warming. He maintained that the models used to project climate change are becoming more reliable. He dismissed the 1992 Earth Summit agreements as having no real value in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, saying that nearly an 80 percent reduction in fossil fuel use would be required worldwide over the period of at least 100 years.
Dr. Singer, president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, Distinguished Research Professor at George Mason University, and Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science at the University of Virginia, did not dispute “the fact of” warming, but he noted that there has been no substantial warming in the United States since 1940. He questioned the data that show warming on a global scale. He argued that the surface data cited by global warming advocates are contaminated by the “heat island” effect and that satellite data that have been collected since 1979 show no significant warming trend in the lower atmosphere, where it should first appear.
Singer disputed McCracken’s claim that human influence has affected the climate, citing “proxy data” like tree rings, ice cores, and ocean sediment dating back a thousand years that show that the earth was much warmer in a period called “the Medieval Optimal.” That was followed by what is called “the Little Ice Age.” Neither one was the result of human activity. He pointed out that a thousand years ago, Greenland was populated by Vikings who had a thriving agriculture. Singer said that recent research has identified solar activity as a key factor in variations in the earth’s temperature for thousands of years.
Singer had no confidence in existing models for forecasting climate change. He cited two models used in a recent U.S. National Assessment that generated diametrically opposed outputs in predicted rainfall. When applied to the past, Singer said that the models’ outputs do not correlate with real climate data, citing two different models of climate change that vary 300 percent.
McCracken was worried about the high cost of not taking action to combat global warming, while Singer focused on the enormous costs that the U.S. would bear if we accept the limitations on fossil-fuel consumption required by the Kyoto Treaty. McCracken cited the danger of rising sea levels resulting from higher global temperatures, while Singer argued that a modest warming would be good for agriculture and would reduce famine and disease.
Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring was famous for linking indiscriminate use of the pesticide DDT to the disappearance of songbirds. The first panelist, Dr. J. Gordon Edwards, Professor Emeritus of Entomology at San Jose State University, has spent years debunking Carson’s errors about DDT. Edwards is one of many scientists who believe that DDT has saved more lives than any other chemical developed by man. He said the National Science Foundation estimated that in 20 years DDT had saved nearly 500 million lives by virtually eliminating malaria in tropical countries. Rachel Carson claimed that spraying trees with DDT was killing robins, an idea that was traced to spraying white elms to control the Dutch elm disease in the 1950s. Some robins that got large doses of the spray died, but in 1960 12 times as many robins were counted in the Audubon Christmas bird count as had been counted in 1941. Robins and other birds had thrived during the years when DDT was widely used in the U.S.
In the wake of Silent Spring a number of experiments were conducted to determine if consuming DDT harmed birds. Some found that eggshells were thinner, but it was not DDT that caused the thinning. It was the reduction of calcium in their diet and in other cases exposing them to only 8 hours of light per day. Edwards said that once calcium and light exposure were normalized, the eggshells returned to normal. DDT was blamed for a decline in the bald eagle population, but Edwards pointed out that from 1941 to 1960, Audubon-sponsored bald-eagle counts in the East showed an eight-fold increase in the population. That was a period of extensive DDT use. Many species of birds showed similar increases. Edwards said the foes of DDT ignored other reasons for the decline of some bird populations in some areas. They included oil spills, shootings, bounties, and loss of habitat. In some cases, scientists simply fudged the data.
Edwards said that the EPA banned DDT on the ground that it was a possible human carcinogen, but that was counter to the finding of a lengthy hearing EPA initiated. The hearing examiner, Edmund Sweeney, completely exonerated DDT. His finding was reversed by EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus, who had not attended a single session of the hearing or read the record. In a letter to the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, he admitted that his decision to ban DDT was “political.” Dr. Edwards said he himself had demonstrated his confidence in the safety of DDT by swallowing a tablespoonful of it when he gave talks on its safety and benefits. He has suffered no ill effects and is still healthy and vigorous at age 83.
Dr. Donald R. Roberts, a professor of tropical health at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, filled in for Harvard Professor Amir Attaran, who is leading a crusade to bring back DDT. Attaran formerly worked for the Sierra Club of Canada, but he has come to recognize that banning DDT was a huge mistake. When he was unable to make it to Washington, he recommended Dr. Roberts, who made a persuasive case for the continued use of DDT for malaria control. He cited both research studies and personal field experience to support his observations and conclusions. He cited case studies in Taiwan and South Africa to show the impact on malaria interdiction of DDT applications. In Taiwan, for example, he said that 1.2 million cases were reported in 1951, before DDT house-spraying was begun. A year after spraying started, reported cases had dropped to 400,000 and five years after the program started, only 576 cases were reported.
Roberts said that after DDT was banned in the U.S., the World Health Organization pressured member states to follow our lead and even changed its criteria for evaluating malaria control. The criteria had been the total interdiction of malaria transmission, but now WHO emphasizes reductions in childhood mortality. Dr. Roberts attributed this change to “ideology.” DDT alternatives have proven less effective because mosquitoes and the parasites that transmit the disease develop immunities to them. Ideological predispositions forced the change in order to sustain the ban on the most effective pesticide, while malaria has once again become rampant in tropical countries. He cited the complicity of other international organizations like the World Bank and UNICEF, along with the U.S. Agency for International Development, in forcing countries to abandon DDT. He said that World Bank loans to India required that the government phase out DDT in disease control programs as a loan condition.
Janet Raloff, Senior Editor of Science News and a commentator on NPR’s “Living on Earth,” said DDT is a “persistent organic pollutant” that will eventually be banned by international treaty. She said this is because science has shown DDT to be “toxic” with potentially harmful effects on human genetics and reproduction. But she agreed that where malaria is rampant DDT should be used, just not indiscriminately. She characterized the media’s role as “initially embracing DDT with too much enthusiasm, then rejecting it with similar fervor.”
Unlike most journalists, Ms. Raloff agreed that DDT had been a great lifesaver by bringing malaria under control. She said that it should continue to be used for that purpose where malaria has come back since the use of DDT to repel the mosquitoes that carry it was banned. However, she stressed the necessity of finding an alternative to DDT for malaria control. Ms. Raloff did not provide any evidence countering what was evident to all the audience-that the potentially harmful human effects she mentioned had not affected Professor Edwards despite his having ingested many tablespoons of DDT. At 83, he is as sharp as ever and is still climbing mountains.
Several of those in the audience expressed concern about the spread of West Nile Virus in the U.S. and the reappearance of malaria around Washington, D.C. Dr. Roberts shared the audience’s concerns about the transportability of infectious diseases and, when asked, said that he was most worried about the reintroduction of yellow fever in this country. He was referring to “urban yellow fever” which had been eradicated in the tropical Americas, but which may be making a comeback. He said that urban yellow fever could easily be transported to New Orleans, where the mosquito Aedas aegypt, a known yellow-fever carrier, has already appeared. He pointed out that there is no immunization against yellow fever. All the panelists, and probably everyone in the audience, agreed that DDT should be brought back to combat these diseases.
On that somber note, the conference focus shifted to national security. The first panel on this topic covered the two most significant cases of espionage in post-war American history: the Soviet penetration of the Manhattan Project and, more recently, Chinese nuclear espionage. Notra Trulock, the Associate Editor of the AIM Report, introduced the panel by saying that unlike recent FBI and CIA espionage scandals, the media have actively intervened in the two atomic espionage cases, even becoming an advocate for one particular interpretation of events in both espionage cases.
Jerrold and Leona Schecter, authors of a new book on Soviet atomic espionage, Sacred Secrets, How Soviet Intelligence Operations Changed American History, discussed their findings about the treachery of one of America’s most honored scientists. The Schecters are both historians. Jerrold was a journalist, primarily with Time, serving as its bureau chief in Tokyo and Moscow. Their main theme was the way in which the establishment media have treated their two most recent books on Soviet atomic espionage.
Jerrold Schecter brought Nikita Khrushchev’s memoirs to the West, and in 1991 he published the Glasnost Tapes, which revealed that Khrushchev had personally thanked Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for their contributions to the Soviet atomic bomb program. This outraged many on the left, including the leftists in the media. Shortly thereafter, the Schecters collaborated on another memoir, this one by Gen. Pavel Sudaplatov, the former Soviet spy chief who ran the Soviet’s atomic espionage program during World War II. He fell out of favor and was imprisoned after the war. In this book, Gen. Sudaplatov revealed that J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who headed the project to develop the atomic bomb, had helped the Soviets gain invaluable information on U.S. atomic plans.
That revelation created a firestorm. The Schecters attribute much of the controversy surrounding Sudaplatov’s book to its character as an “oral history” lacking supporting documentation. They said Sudaplatov distinctly recalled a document that proved Oppenheimer’s role in Soviet espionage, but the document was unavailable to the Schecters when they were researching the book in Moscow in the early 1990s. Leona Schecter discussed a New York Times review of the book that recommended it but with the caveat that the book contained “errors.” They wrote to the Times protesting the review, and the Times retracted the “errors” caveat, but it didn’t publish their letter. Leona Schecter said that the damage was done and the “dark stain could not be removed.”
That “dark stain” was helpful to American academics and journalists who were eager to discredit the book. Critics included Richard Rhodes, who had published a two-volume history of the Manhattan Project, Amy Knight, an expert on the KGB, and Patricia Macmillan, who was working on her own biography of Oppenheimer. They were fed a steady stream of “disinformation” by the KGB, which had its own “issues” with Sudaplatov. Time magazine had published excerpts from the book, and Mrs. Schecter related how Jeremy Stone, then president of the leftist Federation of American Scientists, extracted an apology from Time for doing so. The American Physical Society also issued a statement claiming that Sudaplatov had “undermined the moral authority of science.”
The Schecters include in their new book a copy of the document that Sudaplatov had recalled, together with an English translation. [These are Appendix 2.] It was a report to Beria, head of the KGB, dated Oct. 4, 1944. It said J. Robert Oppenheimer had informed Soviet agents of the work on the A-bomb in 1942. It said he was an “unlisted” member of the Communist Party. [He and his brother, Frank, had quit paying party dues in 1942 according to a document in Appendix 1.] It said that “he provided cooperation in access to the research for several of our tested sources, including a relative of Comrade Browder” (the head of the Communist Party USA). It urged that all CPUSA leaders and members be told to sever contacts “with scientists and specialists engaged in work on uranium.”
The Schecters described the reception this new evidence has received in the media. The book has been reviewed favorably by the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Times, but has been subject to a “conspiracy of silence” by the New York Times and Washington Post. Both dailies have reviewed another book, Brotherhood of the Bomb, that acknowledges Oppenheimer’s Communist ties, but ignores his role in Soviet atomic espionage. The N.Y. Times has published a news story, a Sunday Times book review, and a review in the daily edition on Brotherhood of the Bomb. Joe Goulden, former AIM director of media analysis, has referred to that as a sort of Triple Crown. The Schecters said that “a lot of conventional history will have to be rewritten” as a result of this new information. Mrs. Schecter argued that “it is not the function of the media to decide who is right, but to print stories that reveal hidden secrets of history and to print both sides of that history.
Bill Gertz, the best-selling author and Washington Times reporter, devoted his luncheon speech to intelligence failures before 9/11. Gertz’s new book Breakdown, which was on the New York Times best-seller list for several weeks, traces the decline of U.S. intelligence capabilities to 1975 and the Church and Pike congressional inquiries. Gertz reminded the audience that these hearings were conducted in mid-1970s in the aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate. The two committees established a view that considered intelligence to be criminal, even a threat to the Constitution, and spawned a generation of intelligence officials who shared this bias.
Hard on the heels of these attacks, then President Jimmy Carter appointed Adm. Stansfield Turner as CIA director. Turner “decimated” the ranks of CIA’s human intelligence (HUMINT) organization and sought to replace HUMINT with technical means of collection. Gertz believes that U.S. intelligence has never recovered from this period. He has interviewed every CIA director since William Casey, President Reagan’s CIA Director, and every one has told him that the country must rebuild its HUMINT capability. That hasn’t happened, unfortunately; indeed, HUMINT has continued to decline in recent years.
Gertz told the luncheon audience that the Clinton administration did the most damage to U.S. intelligence, both to our ability to spy abroad and at home. Particularly harmed during this period was the FBI’s ability to conduct domestic intelligence. In effect, the FBI took itself out of the intelligence business, despite its conduct of Operation Solo, which Gertz characterized as one of the most successful operations in U.S. intelligence history. This involved the recruitment of Morris Childs, the number two official in the Communist Party of the USA, who because of his position was invited into the innermost circles of the Soviet Union’s ruling elite. But the intelligence arm of the FBI came under increasing attack and it too was finally “decimated” during the Clinton years. In the same period, the bureau’s capabilities were also harmed by lawsuits from left-wing organizations; several of these were settled out of court, but as a consequence, the bureau agreed to cease domestic intelligence operations.
Gertz said that it was ultimately the loss of FBI’s intelligence capability that led to the 9/11 disaster. He cited the FBI’s failures in the Zacarias Moussaoui case as the real cost of decades’ abuse of intelligence. He criticized their “going in the front door” to question Moussaoui, who claimed that they were “profiling” him. The FBI lawyers decided that they lacked enough information linking him to a foreign power to justify seeking a search warrant. Moussaoui denied having any connection with the hijackings.
Gertz said that the bureau should have approached Moussaoui indirectly, by establishing surveillance on him and, if they had obtained a search warrant, monitoring his Internet and telephone card usage. They could have uncovered Moussaoui’s contact with the other terrorists, learned of the appointed rendezvous with the 9/11 hijackers and may even have been able to disrupt the 9/11 attacks. He charged the CIA with a major analytical failure before 9/11 even though its organizational structure is now dominated by analysts. He said that its mission is not just to produce analytic reports, but also to have the capability to act on these reports. He believes the agency has lost that ability, in part due to the “Deutch rules.”
These are rules on the recruitment of human resources imposed in the mid-1990s by then Director John Deutch at the urging of Senator Robert Torricelli (D-NJ). They stem from the alleged involvement of CIA personnel in the murder of an American citizen in Guatemala, an allegation later proven false. But Deutch decreed that the CIA could not recruit human-rights violators as agents, at least not without headquarters’ approval. The CIA was warned repeatedly that the rules would eventually degrade clandestine intelligence operations, but it continued to abide by them even after 9/11. Gertz said that New York Times’ reports that the agency had abandoned the Deutch rules were untrue; the agency has only modified them.
“Why hasn’t CIA Director George Tenet resigned in the aftermath of 9/11?” Gertz asked. He cited a March 2002 meeting in which a senior official told intelligence officials that the President didn’t think a major restructuring of the intelligence community was required to produce “actionable intelligence.” He also cited Tenet’s role in naming the CIA headquarters after President Bush’s father. He credited Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) with promoting that.
Finally, he addressed the potential outcome of Congress’s joint committee investigation, saying it had been subjected to a common delaying tactic, one that was used by the CIA to thwart the congressional investigation of the Chinese campaign-finance scandal. A very short time-line was established for the committee’s work. The agency initially stonewalled the committee and then dumped over 400,000 pages on the committee’s small staff. Gertz’s prescription for fixing the nation’s broken intelligence community was the creation of a new, smaller clandestine service, a Central Analysis Agency, and an organization like Britain’s MI-5 to handle domestic intelligence.
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