Saturday, October 16, 2010

Israeli Policies are Manifestly Evil: Philip Giraldi

 by: Kourosh Ziabari

October 15, 2010 "Information Clearing House" -- Philip Giraldi is a former counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Now, he chairs the Council for the National Interest as the Executive Director. CNI is a nonprofit organization that advocates for the transformation of United States' Middle East policy.

As a CIA officer, Giraldi served in different countries including Turkey, Italy, Germany and Spain. He is now a Francis Walsingham Fellow at The American Conservative Defense Alliance. He has appeared on several radio and TV programs including Good Morning America, MSNBC, NPR, Fox News, BBC, Al-Jazeera and 60 Minutes.

Giraldi works with the American Conservative magazine as a contributing editor and writes a regular column for the Antiwar website. He is an outspoken critic of the hawkish policies of the United States and has publicly decried Washington's unconditional support for the state of Israel.

Philip Giraldi joined me in an exclusive interview to discuss the latest developments of the Middle East, the prospect of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the possibility of a peaceful compromise between Iran and the United States and the impact of Israeli lobby on the long-term policies of the White House.

Kourosh Ziabari: Why is the Israeli lobby so powerful, influential and authoritative? Almost all of the major media conglomerates in the United States own to well-off Jews who are committed to maintaining the interests of the state of Israel in the U.S. Some experts say that Israel is the representative of the United States in the Middle East region, but some others suggest that it's Israel which determines the future of political developments in the United States. What's your take on that?

Philip Giraldi: The Israel Lobby is so powerful because it deliberately set out to establish control over key elements in the United States. It has demonstrated a number of times that politicians who are perceived as being unfriendly to Israel will face serious problems in being reelected because the Lobby mobilizes to provide money and media support to opponents. This means that congress is afraid to oppose anything that Israel and its Lobby wants. The same holds true for the presidency. Every presidential candidate must be seen as friendly to Israel or he will be attacked in the media and denied millions of dollars in political contributions, making it a safer option to support Israel. Finally, pro-Israeli interests control much of the media and, more important, dominate the opinion and editorial pages, making the only narrative that most Americans hear about the Middle East highly favorable to Israel and highly critical of all Israel's enemies. As a result, Israel is able to control U.S. foreign policy as it relates to the Middle East and also much of the Muslim world.

KZ: The recent call by the Iranian President on framing a fact-finding group to probe into the 9/11 attacks sparked intense controversy around the United States. Is it because the United States considers 9/11 a red line which should not be crossed?

PG: Many Americans believe that 9/11 was never properly investigated. Some believe that the U.S. and, or Israeli governments were actually involved. The Federal government does not want the case to be reopened because a truly open investigation might reveal things that it would like to keep hidden. I do not know what exactly those things might be, but, at a minimum, there was a high level of incompetence within the government in the lead up to the attacks, both by Democrats and Republicans.

KZ: The former Italian President had once said that Mossad had played a role in the 9/11 attacks. Is there any convincing evidence that Israel was behind the 9/11 attacks? Can we rely on some implications including the five dancing Israelis who were seen cheering while the Twin Towers collapsed, or the closure of Zim Shipping Company's headquarters at the World Trade Center two week before the 9/11 attacks?

PG: Most intelligence officers believe that Israel, which was conducting a massive and illegal spy operation inside the U.S. aimed at Arabs living here, knew at least parts of the 9/11 conspiracy. It did not share that information and it is also clear that leading Israeli politicians welcomed the attacks because they made Washington a totally committed ally in full agreement with the Israeli view of Islamic terrorism. The Israel view, i.e. that anyone hostile to Israel is a terrorist, has done great damage to the United States because it has created enemies where no enemies previously existed.

KZ: What's your take on the exercise of double standards by the U.S. over Israel's nuclear issue?

PG: There is no justification for Washington's hypocrisy over Israel's nuclear weapons program. Israel should be held to the same standard as everyone else, but the action of the Israeli Lobby means that it will never be accountable for anything as long as Washington is in a position to protect it.

KZ: As someone who has closely worked with one of the most sensitive parts of the U.S. government, do you like the continuation of belligerence and hostility between Iran and the United States? Are these two nations fated to be at odds forever? Can you foresee promising horizons of reconciliation and friendship?

PG: I do not believe that Washington and Tehran are natural enemies. I believe that they have been turned into enemies by the media and the activity of the Israel Lobby. Unfortunately, that situation will not change until Washington completely overturns its policies in the Middle East, something that might not happen in our lifetimes. Many young Iranians, the bulk of the population, do not harbor any real hostility towards the United States and if the policies were to change I believe the two countries could again become friendly.

KZ: Is it plausible to be a former CIA officer at the same time as being an outspoken critic of the U.S. administration? You've been quite forthright in your criticism of the U.S. foreign policy, especially with regards to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Haven't been any pressure on you to soften your tone or retreat from your stance?

PG: I have never been pressured to soften my criticism of the US government's foreign and security policies. There are many former intelligence officers who have also been highly critical of developments since 9/11. It is because intelligence officers quickly recognize lies when they hear them and are not very tolerant of a government that lies its way to war.

KZ: Iran marked the 20th anniversary of the conclusion of 8-year war with Iraq last month. Iranians well remember that it was the United States and its European allies, who persuaded, equipped, funded and aided Saddam Hussein in invading Iran. 20 years later, they came together to topple the very Saddam they had supported in war with Iran. Saddam killed more than 400,000 Iranians. My uncle was one of them. Can you put yourself in the place of an Iranian citizen who witnessed the war? What would be your feeling then?

PG: For the United States, the support of Saddam Hussein against Iran was a quid pro quo that goes back to the holding of the U.S. Embassy hostages in Tehran after the Islamic revolution. It was revenge pure and simple in hopes that Iraq would prove victorious and bring down the Iranian government. As an Iranian, you have a right to be outraged by what happened but the Embassy seizure was also outrageous. The U.S. response was, as it often is, disproportional and I am ashamed of my government's support of wars to fix political disputes.

KZ: and for the final question, how do you estimate the prospect of Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

PG: There is no hope for resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict as long as the United States continues to permit the Israelis to expand and commit crimes against humanity directed towards the Palestinian people. Evil is evil no matter how you try to dress it up and the Israeli policies are manifestly evil. The Palestinians cannot ever accept a peace settlement that requires being held in a large outdoor prison camp by the Israelis supported by the United States.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Is Morality Simply a Matter of Neurochemistry?

Editor's NOTE:

I include this article here to highlight the fact that thinkers from diverse backgrounds continue to struggle with the nature of morality, the so-called "mind/body" problem and the implications of recent neurochemical scientific experiments.

--Dr. J. P. Hubert

Does Human Morality Arise from Brain Chemistry?

By: Dr. Fazale ("Fuz") Rana
October 14, 2010
Reasons To Believe HERE...

Some people claim that taking serotonin supplements can improve a person’s health and well being. Recent research by scientists from Harvard and Cambridge suggests that this compound may also improve moral judgment.1

If this discovery turns out to be the case, it raises some very provocative questions. Is human morality nothing more than biochemical and physiological processes in the brain? If so, does that mean that human beings are merely physical entities with no soul? Or is there a way to understand this work from the perspective of the Christian worldview?

Serotonin’s Impact on Moral Judgment

Work performed prior to this study had suggested that serotonin may have some influence on prosocial behaviors and, consequently, moral decision-making. For example, the serotonin system innervates the areas of the brain shown to be involved in moral judgment and behavior. Other studies have demonstrated that enhanced serotonin function is associated with prosocial behavior while impaired function is associated with aggressive, antisocial behavior.

Based on this earlier research, neuroscientists speculate that serotonin’s positive effect on social interactions is due to one of two mechanisms:

1. Control of violent impulses and emotional reactions toward others
2. Increased aversion to doing harm to others

To further evaluate the role of serotonin in prosocial behavior and to distinguish between these two possible mechanisms, researchers from Harvard and Cambridge used the compound citalopram to alter serotonin levels in the brains of volunteers. (Citalopram inhibits the uptake of serotonin in the synapse between nerve cells, thus, prolonging serotonin’s effects during nerve transmission.)

After administering this drug, the volunteers were presented with moral dilemmas and were asked to play the "Ultimatum Game.”

When citalopram was administered, volunteers responded to moral dilemmas by seeking to avoid harming others. When playing the game, the test subjects were willing to accept unfair outcomes, if it meant avoiding harm for the other player. The researchers also noticed that those more strongly influenced by serotonin scored higher in empathy than did those who possessed less trait empathy.

On the basis of these results, the researchers conclude that serotonin levels do indeed control moral judgment by influencing the willingness to cause harm to others. These results also seem to imply that our brain physiology and chemistry alone give rise to our moral capacity as human beings. In fact, the researchers went as far as proposing that a boost in serotonin levels may one day serve as a means to treat people with antisocial and aggressive behaviors.

But is it really true that human morality is merely physiological in nature? Is it possible to understand these results from a Christian perspective, one which views human moral capabilities as part of God’s image?

Is human morality nothing more than biochemical and physiological processes in the brain?


Does Brain Chemistry Define Morality?

Even though the study seems to undermine the Christian worldview, the results of the research do not necessarily support the notion that brain chemistry alone dictates morality. Rather, the study shows that brain chemicals merely modulate morality. The observation that highly empathetic individuals were more responsive to elevated serotonin levels is significant. This observation indicates that “serotonin modulates empathetic response to harm—i.e., by boosting an already-present neural signal—rather than being the source of the empathetic response.” 2

In other words, the brain appears to be hardwired for moral judgment with serotonin influencing the responsiveness of an intrinsically moral brain. This result comports with the Christian worldview and the words Paul wrote in Romans 2:14–15, which teach that all human beings have God’s Law “written on their hearts.”

A Christian Brain Science Model

If the appropriate mind-body model is adopted, then the Christian framework can readily accommodate the ability to influence moral judgment and behavior through the use of brain chemicals like serotonin or through magnetic fields (see the article I wrote for the e-Zine New Reasons to Believe[3]).

The model I favor employs a computer hardware/software analogy. Accordingly, the brain is the hardware that manifests human spirituality and the image of God. Meanwhile, the image of God itself is analogous to the software programming. According to this model, hardware structures—brain regions—support the expression of the various aspects of God’s image, such as moral judgment. Brain chemicals are the means to mediate the communication between neurons and, ultimately, the different brain regions. However, brain structures and biochemistry are not the source of moral judgments. Instead they are part of the physical apparatus and operations that make the expression of moral judgments possible.

(Editor's NOTE: This is in a loose sense another way of saying [as physicist and Roman Catholic Theologian/Philosopher Professor William Wallace teaches] that the brain is the physical "instrument" of intellection--part of the material/spiritual human composite made up also of  a spiritual [mind] portion recognizing that in the more general sense: human beings are a composite entity composed of matter [body] and non-matter [soul] according to the Aristotelian/Thomistic "substance" view of human nature.  

Under this rubric, the non-material or spiritual soul utilizes the material brain as a physical instrument in order to engage in thought. The Thomistic formulation which utilizes the "substance" view of human personhood or anthropology is more useful than the computer hardware/software analogy posited here since the soul is completely non-physical/material while the software is actually a set of instructions which are dependent upon a physical platform or interface in order to effect or "run" the hardware so to speak.

Nevertheless, I admire Dr. Rana's attempt at explaining how recent neurochemical research can be harmonized with a Christian Worldview more accurately the scholastic view of human anthropology ala Aristotle and Aquinas.)

If the hardware of a computer doesn’t function properly, the software, though it may be fully intact, cannot work either. In like manner, the brain can be altered, influencing how the image of God is expressed. In this way, increasing or decreasing serotonin levels may impact one’s sensitivity to inflicting harm, but serotonin is not responsible for creating the ideal that causing harm is wrong.

This model also suggests a way that the Holy Spirit could operate to influence our behavior: through the serotonin levels in our brain. It is interesting that the researchers noted that “after citalopram, subjects were less likely to advocate harming an innocent bystander and more likely to ‘turn the other cheek’ and forgive unfair behavior.”4


1. Molly J. Crockett et al., “Serotonin Selectively Influences Moral Judgment and Behavior through Effects on Harm Aversion,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 107 (2010): 17433–38.
2. Ibid., 17436.
3. Fazale “Fuz” R. Rana, “Magnets and Morality,” New Reasons to Believe 2, no. 3 (2010): 14–15,
4. Molly J. Crockett et al., 17436.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pentagon Tries to Censor Book by Former DIA Intelligence Officer

'Operation Dark Heart' Author Alleges 9/11 Cover Up.

Fox News' Judge Andrew Napolitano's ground-breaking interview with Lt. Col, Anthony Shaffer and Former CIA Intelligence officer, Michael Scheuer... Shaffer's book, "Operation Dark Heart" was essentially "censored" by the Pentagon in order that some classified details could be "redacted". 

The Pentagon has bought 10,000 copies of the redacted version hoping to stop American citizens from learning what was in the book by burning all the copies...

Shaffer alleges that the CIA knew prior to 9/11 about Mohammad Atta and his terrorist ring.


Operation Dark Heart joins list of banned books

Operation Dark Heart an Afghanistan war memoir penned by an Army intelligence officer and approved by the Army, was subsequently deemed too sensitive by the Defense Department, who purchased 9,500 copies of the book to have them destroyed.

By Associated Press / September 27, 2010

The U.S. Defense Department says it has paid $47,000 to destroy 9,500 copies of a former Army intelligence officer's war memoir that the Pentagon contends threatened national security.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said Monday that military officials last week watched as St. Martin's Press pulped the books to be recycled.
The publisher had planned to release on Aug. 31 Anthony Shaffer's book "Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan — and the Path to Victory." Shaffer's lawyer, Mark Zaid, says the Army Reserve cleared the manuscript beforehand but the Defense Department later rescinded the approval, claiming the text contained classified information.
Shaffer and the publisher agreed to remove the material.


Censored book masks sensitive operations

By Sean D. Naylor - Staff writer
Army Times
Posted : Monday Oct 4, 2010 11:16:24 EDT

The Defense Department’s 11th-hour effort to censor an intelligence officer’s memoir of his tours in Afghanistan has removed much, but not all, of the book’s most eye-catching previously unreported material.
The book, “Operation Dark Heart” by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, includes descriptions of promising missions canceled because of bureaucratic intransigence, but also discussions of intelligence and counterintelligence successes. However, rather than brag about the latter missions, the Defense Department chose to try to keep information about them from the public.

Among the items the Pentagon would rather you not know about are how U.S. forces foiled an Iranian intelligence plot in the eastern Afghan town of Gardez, and that at the turn of the century U.S. intelligence retained the services of a retired Afghan general who was “our ticket into the heart of al-Qaida.”
These and other revelations are contained in the first edition of Shaffer’s book, an account of the Army Reserve officer’s 2003 and 2004 deployments to Afghanistan, where he ran the Defense Intelligence Agency’s operations out of Bagram Airfield. Shaffer’s chain of command in the Army Reserve cleared his manuscript for release, but the Pentagon intervened with additional security concerns in early August, after the books had been printed but before they had gone on sale.

The upshot was that the Pentagon paid $47,300 in taxpayer money for the 9,500 books that constituted almost the entire first print run of the book and had the volumes destroyed Sept. 20, while the publisher, Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, issued a second edition Sept. 24 with roughly 200 words or passages blacked out.

The Defense Department’s action had two effects:

First, it drew attention to a book that otherwise had generated little prepublication buzz. The redacted version of “Operation Dark Heart” made it to No. 1 on Amazon’s overall best-seller list, and a week after going on sale, it was on its third reprint with 50,000 copies sold or on sale, said Joe Rinaldi, spokesman for Thomas Dunne Books. Meanwhile a copy of the first edition sold on for $2,025. Asked whether the Pentagon had done his marketing job for him, Rinaldi replied: “I’m not at liberty to say.”

Second, because St. Martin’s had sent what Rinaldi estimated at “60 to 70, at most” advance copies of the first edition to news organizations, including Army Times, journalists and others can compare the original and censored versions.

That comparison reveals that the Pentagon was eager to keep numerous missions against al-Qaida hidden from the American public, even though the most recent operations described in the book occurred 6½ years ago.

Despite the Pentagon’s reaction, it is clear that Shaffer, whose background is in human intelligence, kept many operational details secret, even in the first edition. Writing of his command of Task Force Stratus Ivy in 1999-2000, he describes it as “a small, special-mission project for DIA … only small pieces of which I can reveal.” One of those pieces was an online component that “involved penetrating al-Qaida command and control nodes in Kabul to try to pull off information on individuals being trained in terrorism camps.”

Delving further into the subject of intelligence operations aimed at penetrating al-Qaida during that time, Shaffer writes, “One of our key assets was a retired Afghan general … with solid access to the Taliban and al-Qaida, whom we’d had on the books for years, and he was our ticket into the heart of al-Qaida.”
The plan was to use the retired general, who Shaffer identifies only by his assigned code number, and “his network of assets” to “place surveillance devices close to the key [al-Qaida] leaders.” Those devices, Shaffer adds, “would have offensive capabilities that would allow us to manipulate the enemy’s ability to communicate — also known as ‘meaconing.’”

Shaffer relates the anecdote involving the general in the context of a wider discussion of Able Danger — the controversial data mining project he contends might have stopped the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had it not been shut down — but he never mentions whether the U.S. continued to use the “vetted” general on further missions to penetrate al-Qaida.

Another episode that in the second edition has been redacted and rewritten so misleadingly as to obscure or change the most pertinent facts is Shaffer’s role in foiling a 2003 attempt by Iranian intelligence to form “terrorist cells” in and around the town of Gardez in eastern Afghanistan. As described in the first edition, the plot involved an Afghan doctor who had been working for Iranian intelligence since the 1980s trying to recruit his younger brother, who had moved to Virginia and become a U.S. citizen.

Going on intelligence that indicated the older brother had recently brought $65,000 from Iran to Gardez, Special Forces raided the brothers’ compound and arrested the pair as well as three other men. The first edition describes Shaffer and an FBI agent interrogating the younger brother — without resorting to any “enhanced interrogation” techniques — until he betrays his brother and tells his questioners whatever they want to know.

But in the second edition almost everything about this event seven years in the past is hidden, including the fact it was an operation undertaken by the Iranian Republican Guards Corps. (Indeed, every mention of Iran is redacted.)

Iran isn’t the only country to have its role creating trouble for the U.S. in Afghanistan at least partially hidden by the Defense Department. In the first edition, Shaffer describes how coalition intelligence identified three “primary centers of gravity for known and suspected al-Qaida and Taliban operatives in Pakistan.” The three locations were Wana, Peshawar and Quetta.

But in the second edition only the reference to Wana, a town in Pakistan’s Federally-Administered Tribal Areas that abut Afghanistan, remains. Repeated references to Quetta and Peshawar, both major Pakistani cities ostensibly under the control of the Pakistani government, are redacted.

A planned mission to penetrate the al-Qaida presence in Wana, in the South Waziristan tribal agency, gave Shaffer’s book its name. Coalition intelligence indicated that al-Qaida’s activity in the town centered on one specific building. Operation Dark Heart was to be an attempt “to identify specific HVTs [high-value targets] who frequented the hotel and to destroy their ability to resupply, rearm, and recruit,” Shaffer writes. “We needed to go there in order to stop them from coming here.”

The second edition of Shaffer’s book keeps much of the discussion of the planned long-term operation intact, but redacts all references to the sophisticated signals intelligence and meaconing that would be at its heart (even though Shaffer acknowledges in the first edition that he cannot “go into too much detail” about the “enhanced technical collection devices that we would put into place.”)

Operation Dark Heart was to involve multiple missions into Pakistan by elements of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command, a fact redacted (along with all other references to JSOC and its associated task forces) in the second edition. But the operation hit a roadblock when Lt. Gen. John Vines was replaced by Lt. Gen. David Barno as the overall coalition military commander. Barno, Shaffer writes, ordered his intelligence and special ops forces to cease planning for the mission and to turn all their intelligence over to the Pakistanis, despite the protestations of Shaffer “that the Pakistani intelligence service is actively supporting the Taliban.”
“I don’t care,” Shaffer quotes Barno as saying. “We’ve got to give the Pakistanis a chance to pull their own weight.” (This exchange remains intact in the censored edition of the book.) Barno, now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, declined to comment for this article, saying he had not read the book.

Other redacted sections of the book include:

• Brief mentions of Task Force Stratus Ivy’s “penetration of the North Korean clandestine weapons and technology acquisition network, using a cover company where [Shaffer] was (in alias) the chief executive,” as well as Stratus Ivy’s penetration of the Iranian intelligence service.

• A reference to another operation “that penetrated deep into North Korea” that Shaffer ran as the Army’s “chief of clandestine operations.”

• The revelation that while undercover “as a freelance journalist” Shaffer recruited a high-ranking Soviet officer in the early 1990s. “He kept us informed on whether an important country was moving into the Soviet orbit or under the influence of the Chinese,” Shaffer writes.

The fact that DIA’s Operations Base Alpha, which Shaffer commanded after the Sept. 11 attacks, had as its mission conducting “clandestine antiterrorist operations in sub-Saharan Africa — hunting down known al-Qaida operatives there and preventing its spread there from Afghanistan.” In a passage left intact in the second edition, Shaffer writes: “We knew that some of the terrorists would be headed toward Africa — Somalia, Liberia, and other countries south of Egypt. The operation, which I supervised, was the first DIA covert action of the post-Cold War era, where my officers used an African national military proxy to hunt down and kill al-Qaida terrorists.”

• All references to the intelligence and combat support that New Zealand Defence Force troops were providing the coalition in Afghanistan. Indeed, Shaffer writes that it was a female “Kiwi” officer who pinpointed Wana, Peshawar and Quetta as the al-Qaida and Taliban centers of gravity. But he also notes that the New Zealanders were not permitted access to the Human Intelligence tent at Bagram, nor were they allowed to participate in the planning for Operation Dark Heart.

In addition to most of the discussion of the plans for Operation Dark Heart, other references to Pakistan’s confusing role in the Afghan war survived the censor. These include:

• A detailed discussion about a female agent for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency who the 10th Mountain Division captured in Khowst “as part of a Taliban unit attacking a U.S. outpost there.” The woman “refused to break” under interrogation, Shaffer writes, but, he adds in a sentence redacted in the second edition, “[w]e verified she was ISI because we’d monitored her talking to other ISI members on her cell phone.”

U.S. intelligence operatives were “already aware that the ISI was giving the Taliban tips on how to better protect themselves from our surveillance systems,” he writes. “From that moment on, I considered anyone in a Pakistani uniform an adversary.”

• A description of a ride Shaffer took on an MH-47 Chinook helicopter of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment in which the helicopter landed at a base in Pakistan to refuel.

The Defense Department was forced into arranging for the books to be destroyed because “the book was not referred to the original classification authorities for a proper information security review until July 2010,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Rene White, a Pentagon spokeswoman. “We are looking into why this happened.”

As for the advance copies that were sent out to the news media, the department “has no plans to purchase the editor’s review copies,” she said. “We had hoped to recover these review copies before they became publicly available. In light of recent events, this has become more difficult.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Editor's NOTE:

Apart from the fact that embryonic stem cell research  (ESCR) is immoral, the testing on humans in this case would appear to be premature in that no testing has been done to date on primates. The documented creation of malignant tumors in animals is extremely worrisome and the possibility of tumor creation in primates should have been studied before subjecting humans to testing.

--Dr. J. Hubert

First tests for stem cell therapy are near

By Rob Stein
Washington Post
Sunday, August 29, 2010; 6:14 PM

Even as supporters of human embryonic stem cell research are reeling from last week's sudden cutoff of federal funding, another portentous landmark is quietly approaching: the world's first attempt to carefully test the cells in people.

Scientists are poised to inject cells created from embryonic stem cells into some patients with a progressive form of blindness and others with devastating spinal cord injuries. That's a welcome step for researchers eager to move from the laboratory to the clinic and for patients hoping for cures. But beyond being loathsome to those with moral objections to any research using cells from human embryos, the tests are worrying many proponents: Some argue that the experiments are premature, others question whether they are ethical, and many fear that the trials risk disaster for the field if anything goes awry.

"We desperately need to know how these cells are going to perform in the human setting," said John Gearhart, a stem cell pioneer at the University of Pennsylvania. "But are we transplanting cells that are going to cause tumors? Will they stay where you put them and do what you want them to do?"

Supporters of these privately funded, government-sanctioned tests, including patients' advocates, bioethicists and officials at the companies sponsoring them, are confident that research has been exhaustively vetted. The Food and Drug Administration has demanded extensive experiments in the laboratory and on animals to provide evidence that the cells are safe enough to test in people and hold great promise.

"We're very optimistic," said Thomas B. Okarma, president and chief executive of Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., which after years of delay received a green light in July from the FDA to study patients partially paralyzed by spinal cord injuries. "If we're right, we'll revolutionize the treatment of many chronic diseases."

But some researchers fear that the stakes jumped even higher with the federal judge's decision blocking federal funding. If patients are hurt by the cells - or even if there's no hint the cells help - that could be a devastating blow just as scientists are scrambling for funding from private foundations and benefactors. They cite the case of Jesse Gelsinger, whose 1999 death from a gene therapy experiment set that once highly touted field back years.

"There's a lot of angst around these trials," said Evan Y. Snyder, director of the stem cell program at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in San Diego. "There's going to be this perception that if the cells do not perform well, the entire field will be illegitimate."

Most of the apprehension focuses on the Geron trial. Safety worries - most prominently fears that the cells could cause tumors - prompted the FDA to repeatedly demand additional data from Geron, including most recently assurance cysts that developed in mice injected with the cells posed no threat.

"We jumped through a lot of hoops to convince a lot of audiences," Okarma said. No one wants another Jesse Gelsinger."

While Geron eventually hopes to test the cells on many patients the first trial will involve 10 partially paralyzed by a spinal cord injury in the previous one to two weeks. Surgeons will inject the first patient with about 2 million "oligodendrocyte progenitor cells," created from embryonic stem cells, in the hopes the cells will form a restorative coating around the damaged spinal cord. In tests in hundreds of rats, partially paralyzed animals walked.

The trial is designed primarily to ensure the cells are safe. But researchers will look for signs that the therapy restores sensation or enables patients to regain movement.

"If we were able to do that, it would be a phenomenally positive result," Okarma said. MORE...


Editor's NOTE:

Here is the follow-on piece.

Dr. J. Hubert

First patient treated in stem cell study

By Rob Stein
Washington Post
October 11, 2010; 9:06 AM ET

The first patient has been treated with human embryonic stem cells in the first study authorized by the Food and Drug Administration to test the controversial therapy.

A patient who was partially paralyzed by a spinal cord injury had millions of embryonic stem cells injected into the site of the damage, according to an announcement early Monday by the Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., which is sponsoring the groundbreaking study.

The patient was treated at the Shepherd Center, a 132-bed hospital in Atlanta that specializes in spinal cord and brain injuries, Geron said. The hospital is one of seven sites participating in the study, which is primarily aimed at testing whether the therapy is safe. Doctors will, however, also conduct a series of specially designed tests to see whether the treatment helps the patients. No additional information about the first patient was released.

With U.S. stem cell treatments limited, some patients have tried other countries. Experimental stem cell treatments offered in China are luring American patients such as 9-year-old Kara Anderson, whose parents took her around the world to help treat her cerebral palsy.

The study marks a milestone in stem cell research, which is considered one of the most promising developments in medical research in decades but has been fraught with controversy.

The announcement comes as the future of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research remains in doubt. A federal judge ruled in August that the Obama administration's more permissive policy for funding the research violated a federal law prohibiting taxpayer money being used for research that involves the destruction of human embryos. The Justice Department is appealing.

Gulf Oil Update: Day 175

Evidence Refutes BP's and Fed's Deceptions

Monday 04 October 2010
by: Dahr Jamail and Erika Blumenfeld, t r u t h o u t Report

In August, Truthout conducted soil and water sampling in Pass Christian Harbor, Mississippi; on Grand Isle, Louisiana; and around barrier islands off the coast of Louisiana, in order to test for the presence of oil from BP's Macondo Well.

Laboratory test results from the samples taken in these areas show extremely high concentrations of oil in both the soil and water.

These results contradict consistent claims made by the federal government and BP since early August that much of the Gulf of Mexico is now free of oil and safe for fishing and recreational use.

The samples taken were tested in a private laboratory via gas chromatography.

The environmental analyst who worked with this writer did so on condition of anonymity and performed a micro extraction that tests for total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH). The lower reporting limit the analyst is able to detect from a solid sample is 50 parts per million (ppm).

Pass Christian, Mississippi

A water sample from inside Pass Christian Harbor, Mississippi, taken on August 13, contained 611 ppm of TPH. Seawater that is free of oil would test at zero ppm of TPH.

Grand Isle, Louisiana

A soil sample containing tar balls from the beach on Grand Isle, Louisiana, taken on August 16, contained 39,364 ppm of TPH.

Casse-Tete Island, Louisiana

A water sample taken on August 16 from a pool of water on Casse-Tete Isle contained 57 ppm of TPH. The GPS coordinates for this and the following samples are 2907.603N, 9020.395 W.

Several soil samples were tested from an oil-covered beach on the island. A sample of soil taken from this area contained 40,099 ppm of TPH. Much of the marsh grass was stained black and brown with oil.
A sample of marsh grass in this area of Casse-Tete Isle contained 144,700 ppm of TPH.

West Timbalier Isle, Louisiana

A water sample taken from a tide pool on West Timbalier Isle on August 16 contained 11 ppm of TPH. The GPS coordinates for this and the following samples are 2903.389N, 927.033W.

Disturbingly, despite these results and a continuance of fish kills along the Louisiana coast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has recently partnered up with BP to send personnel into middle schools in Louisiana in order to convince school children that Gulf seafood is safe.

Meanwhile, several recent massive fish kills continue to occur in other areas of Louisiana.
A water sample taken from an inland lagoon on West Timbalier Isle contained 521 ppm of TPH.

Sampling was also conducted on beach areas of West Timbalier Isle on the same day.
A soil sample containing tar balls contained 40,834 ppm of TPH.

A soil sample taken near a layer of tar on the beach of West Timbalier Isle contained 60,068 ppm of TPH.

A soil sample taken from another inland lagoon on West Timbalier Isle contained 4,506 ppm of TPH.

Open Water in Gulf of Mexico

After leaving the area, Truthout came across a large area out in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately five miles from shore, where emulsified white foam covered the surface.

Fishermen and other journalists across the Gulf have reported to Truthout that this phenomenon is what is left after dispersants have been used to sink surface oil.

A water sample from surface of this area contained 11ppm of TPH. It was taken from an open water area between Timbalier Isle and Port Fourchon at 3:00 PM, on August 16 and the GPS coordinates for the sample are 2902.871N, 9017.421W.

The US Coast Guard claims that no dispersants have been used since mid-July.

Jonathan Henderson, with the nonprofit environmental group Gulf Restoration Network, was on board to witness the sampling, as well as to conduct his own sampling and document what he found.

The hydrocarbon tests conducted on the samples taken by this writer only represent a tiny part of the Gulf compared to the massive area that has been affected by BP's oil catastrophe. A comprehensive sampling regime across the Gulf, taken regularly over the years ahead, is clearly required in order to implement appropriate cleanup responses and take public safety precautions.

For pictures of the areas mentioned in the piece go HERE...