Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Planned Parenthood 2002 Fact Sheet: "Fetal Organs and Tissues Under Definition of 'Human Organs'"

    Secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood staff casually discussing the harvesting of post-abortion fetal body parts are raising disturbing questions about the organization's involvement in the fetal tissue donation market. Planned Parenthood's PR firm, on the other hand, refers to the practice as a "humanitarian undertaking," and in recent days Planned Parenthood has touted the benefits of fetal tissue research. The head of Planned Parenthood even tweeted a quote from a New England Journal of Medicine editorial which says, "Planned Parenthood, its physicians, and the researchers who do this work should be praised, not damned."
     Despite the apparent pride with which Planned Parenthood views its role in the fetal tissue and organ market, the organization's website is strangely silent on the practice. A search of Planned Parenthood's website for information on fetal tissue donation and research reveals only recent comments and statements since the release of the videos. The site includes eight "fact sheets" concerning abortion, but there is nothing about fetal tissue donation/research in any of those nor any of the other fact sheets, either. A special section of the website is specifically designed to answer questions about abortion and the various options and considerations of which women may have questions, but this section is likewise silent about fetal tissue donation. Elsewhere on the site is a nine page document entitled "Policy on Financial Conflicts of Interest in Research," but again there is no specific mention of fetal tissue research.
     Planned Parenthood, however, has not always avoided the issue. An archived version of the organization's website from 2002 includes a footnoted fact sheet of some 2,200 words entitled "Donating Fetal Tissue for Medical Treatment and Research." Early on, the fact sheet addresses some of the basic rules that are supposed to apply when a fetal tissue donation takes place [citations excluded here and following]:
A woman's choice to donate to medical research tissue that she has aborted begins and ends with her. Federal and state laws have been specifically written to ensure that her choice to donate tissue from her abortion to medical research is made in an informed and ethical manner. First, she is legally required to give her written consent to have an abortion. Only after she has consented to have an abortion can she provide the necessary written consent to donate the fetal tissue. She cannot be paid for the donation. She cannot know or designate the recipient. 
     Following this is a paragraph that reflects Planned Parenthood's present day "humanitarian undertaking" characterization of fetal tissue donation, suggesting that a woman may mitigate her "sense of loss" with the "social good" of tissue donation from her abortion:
Knowing she can donate tissue from her abortion to potentially lifesaving medical research may help a woman turn an unintended pregnancy about which she may feel a sense of loss into a social good. The choice to donate often gives solace to women who may need to end their pregnancies.
     The document also includes a section entitled "The Medical Promise of Embryonic and Fetal Tissue", which says in part [emphasis added]:
Embryonic and fetal tissue consist of tissue or cells from a nonviable human embryo or fetus that has been obtained through a spontaneous or induced abortion, or stillbirth...
Researchers customarily obtain embryonic cells and fetal tissue through private arrangements with individual, nearby obstetricians. Due to its fragile nature, the tissue must be immediately transported by researchers to their laboratories or some other location where it can be safely stored and kept from deteriorating.
While solid organs are obtained and distributed through the national Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, there is no formal, organized, national network for procuring and distributing embryonic and fetal tissue. Organizations interact directly with private laboratories or pharmaceutical companies that perform medical research with embryonic and fetal tissue. They are often reimbursed for evaluation, preservation, storage and transportation of the tissue.
     Laws that "protect women" and also regulate fetal tissue donation are discussed as well. In this section, Planned Parenthood notes that fetal organs and tissues fall under the definition of "human organs" according to federal law [emphasis added]:
There are two principal federal laws and numerous state laws that apply to the use of embryonic cells and fetal tissue for medical transplantation and research. 
The National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA), adopted by Congress in 1984, provides for donations of organs and tissues for research or transplantation. NOTA was amended in 1988 to include fetal organs and tissues under the definition of "human organs" (USCA, 1988). 
     This section also discussed President Bill Clinton's executive order, shortly after taking office, lifting the existing ban on the use of federal funds for fetal tissue research, and also Congress's actions to mitigate the effects of that order:
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Revitalization Act of 1993 specifically authorizes federal support for research on the transplantation of human fetal tissue for therapeutic purposes, whether the tissue is obtained after a spontaneous or induced abortion or a stillbirth. Congress passed this act after President Clinton's executive order lifting the ban on federal funding for fetal tissue research that was put in place during the Reagan administration. The act requires a woman to consent — in writing — to the abortion before the option of tissue donation is discussed. It prohibits her from knowing or restricting the identity of the recipient. It requires that she be informed of her physician's interest, if any, in the research to be conducted with the tissue. It also prohibits the alteration of the timing, method, or procedures used to terminate the pregnancy, if such alteration is made solely for the purpose of obtaining the tissue. Penalties for violating this law include a fine or up to 10 years in prison, or both.
     Some of the videos recently released have called into question whether or not some Planned Parenthood clinics are engaged in an "alteration of the timing, method, or procedures used to terminate the pregnancy" in order to preserve the quality of the fetal organs and tissue obtained during abortions thereby increasing the value. The Planned Parenthood fact sheet also noted the prohibition on the sale of organs and tissue, with the caveat of "reasonable payments" being permitted to cover expenses:
Both NOTA and the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993 prohibit the sale of human organs and tissues for research or transplantation. Both do permit, however, "reasonable payments" associated with the removal, transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, and storage of the tissue.
     Finally, the fact sheet discusses an event from the late 1990s that mirrors the circumstances surrounding the release of the secretly-recorded videos this past July. A pro-life group, Life Dynamics Incorporated, made similar charges about abortion providers profiting from fetal organs and tissue obtained from abortions. While Planned Parenthood considered the accusations largely discredited, the evidence was clear enough to prompt a statement from the organization decrying the "about the attempt by some to profit from the humanitarian contributions of courageous women," a euphemism for selling fetal organs and tissue for profit:
In an attack on research using fetal tissue, the anti-choice organization Life Dynamics Incorporated accused abortion providers of performing abortions to profit from the sale of embryonic and fetal tissue (Life Dynamics Incorporated, 1999). Subsequently, the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for congressional hearings to investigate so-called "trafficking in baby body parts for profit" (H.R. 350, 1999). The House Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the Environment conducted a meeting in March 2000. One key witness testifying about alleged abuses was discredited, and another key witness failed to appear and was held in contempt of Congress. Although no actual "trafficking" was conclusively identified in the hearings, Planned Parenthood went on the record to say that "Planned Parenthood supports research using fetal tissue in accordance with legal and ethical guidelines and is deeply concerned about the attempt by some to profit from the humanitarian contributions of courageous women."
     While Planned Parenthood and its allies today continue to deny they are engaged in the sale of fetal tissue for profit, one of the private companies that supplies researchers with the fetal tissue and organs obtained from Planned Parenthood and other clinics is not shy about touting profits from the process. Even after the recent accusations and denials by Planned Parenthood and others, StemExpress, a tissue supplier featured in some of the secretly recorded videos, has not revised the "partnerships" portion of its website that speaks of "financial profits" and their "program that fiscally rewards clinics" who supply the "human tissue products," including "fetal":

     While Planned Parenthood avoids addressing fetal tissue donation on its website, the organization clearly participates in the process with some of its top national officials either appearing in the secretly recorded videos or defending the practice in the media. The 2002 fact sheet noted that "there is no formal, organized, national network for procuring and distributing embryonic and fetal tissue." Statements on the secretly recorded video by at least one Planned Parenthood official seemed to suggest the organization might be interested in remedying that omission. Now that a light is being shined on the present state of this disturbing supply chain, those plans may be scuttled for good.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Latest Item in Hillary Clinton's Campaign Store: An 'H' Cookie Cutter

     Hillary Clinton may be looking to tweak her opposition, or perhaps to turn the page on her infamous 1992 campaign comment, "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas" with the latest item for sale in her campaign store. A cookie cutter in the shape of Mrs. Clinton's distinctive H-arrow logo is now available for only $10.

     Mrs. Clinton made the comment on the campaign trail during her husband's 1992 presidential campaign. Nightline's inclusion of the clip in a March 1992 show entitled "Making Hillary Clinton an Issue" caused the remark to go viral back in the days before going viral was even a thing. Mrs. Clinton's full comment was:
 I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life. 
      The description accompanying the cookie cutter reads:
You’ll be the life of the Hillary house party when you bring a plate of homemade cookies to your next campaign event. 
     The cookie cutter joins the Grillary Clinton Spatula and the Chillary Clinton Koozie Pack in the campaign store.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Update: Cost of Hotels for President Obama's Ethiopia Stay Likely Tops $1 Million

     The cost of lodging for President Obama and his entourage for his recent visit to Ethiopia has more than doubled to $837,000 with the addition of two more hotel contracts. Last week, THE WEEKLY STANDARD reported on a $412,000 contract for 1,280 sleeping room nights at the Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. However, at least two other hotels were booked for the visit, and a fourth hotel was also used, although no contract has yet been posted.
     One of the additional hotels was the Elilly Hotel. The contract total was estimated at $246,877.06 for 120 sleeping room, but the number of nights covered is not revealed in the paperwork:

     Another of the additional hotels was the Capital Hotel and Spa. The estimated total for that contract was $178, 433.71 for 1000 room nights:


     According to the hotel's website, the Capital Hotel and Spa was awarded Ethiopia's first five-star rating just days after the president's visit.
     The total of the three posted contracts comes to $837,700. However, according to official White House photographer Pete Souza, the president actually stayed in a suite at the Sheraton Hotel, a 294-room hotel in the Ethiopian capital. Souza shared this information in an anecdote on the White House Medium site:
During that same trip in 2006, the Senator [Obama] had also visited the Republic of Djibouti. We weren’t able to accompany him on that leg of the trip. So instead we had to stay overnight at a hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. My colleague at the time, Jeff Zeleny — the king of hotel points — was able to secure a suite at the Sheraton hotel. Nine years later, when we returned to Addis Ababa this week, President Obama stayed in the very same suite.
     A Florida-based businessman who was in Addis Ababa during the president's visit provided confirmation during an interview with THE WEEKLY STANDARD. The businessman stayed in the Hilton which "was crawling with support staff and security", but "the President stayed across the street at the Sheraton. The US locals I was working with told me that the US Government had bought out the entire Sheraton while Obama was in Addis."
     The Sheraton was also the host for at least two meetings the president participated in during his stay, a "multilateral meeting on South Sudan and counterterrorism issues with Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, the African Union and Uganda" and "a meeting with Ethiopian civil society activists."
     The value of the Sheraton contract would likely push the total cost of lodging for the Ethiopia leg of the trip over $1 million, but as noted earlier, it has not yet been posted. Contracts for the Kenya stop have not been posted either. The president spent two nights in Ethiopia and two nights in Kenya during his trip to Africa.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Government Websites Vulnerable to Phishing Scams

     The websites of several federal government agencies, including the National Weather Service (NWS), are unprotected from scammers looking to exploit a security weakness to fool potential victims. The sites in question allow what are known as "unvalidated redirects." An unvalidated redirect is a link to an external website that appears to be sanctioned by the sending website, but in reality can be created by anyone, including scammers and identity thieves. In many cases, the redirects do not even require an additional click; users are taken to the external website automatically after a short pause as an exit message is displayed.
     The website for the National Weather Service, www.weather.gov, has been a favorite target for those seeking to exploit the unvalidated redirect vulnerability. A Google search shows an extensive list of hundreds of websites linked with an automatic redirect. Some are legitimate, such as one on lightning strikes, but more common are those hawking website hosting, insurance, and even herpes cures:

     The links begin with the legitimate address of the National Weather Service, www.weather.gov. Clicking on these links, which can be embedded in other websites or included in an email, first brings up a page alerting users that they are exiting the NWS website and that the link does not constitute an endorsement of the site. However, the page also says, "NWS provides a link to this site because it may contain related information of interest to you." Following is a screenshot of the page that appears for about 10 seconds before, in this case, the user is taken to a video extolling the virtues of a natural cure for herpes:

     This is not the first time the federal government has exposed itself this way. In March 2014, an investigation by THE WEEKLY STANDARD found that the website of the US Senate, along with several others, were susceptible to this vulnerability. Soon after that story was published, the Senate website changed the exit message to include a more explicit warning and also to require an additional click. However, the website script still allows any web address to be entered as a redirect.
     The biometrics.gov website is another favorite platform for those seeking to exploit the unvalidated redirect. This website, pointed out in the 2014 story, is still being utilized more than a year later by dozens of external websites including a Turkish LGBT site, a site for diet pills, a poker blog, a site touting "manly yoga", and even a Bible study.
     Some sites are greater risks than others. For example, a subdomain of the website for the National Institutes of Health (nhlbi.nih.gov) is vulnerable. A malicious programmer could provide users what appears to be a legitimate NIH website address, but use a redirect to a website that could harvest personal and health information from unsuspecting victims. The NIH exit page contains some warnings, but since the page is only visible for 10 seconds before the automatic redirect kicks in, there is too little time to actually read the entire page. Serve.gov is yet another website with a complicated exit page that could misdirect those looking for opportunities for community service to a scammer's site instead.
     Many websites contain links to external sites, but the scripts to handle these links can be configured to prevent this type of manipulation. Due to the presumed authority of government websites, the unvalidated redirect vulnerability is particularly pernicious. The Open Web Application Security Project, a non-profit group that seeks to improve software security, lists the unvalidated redirect in its top ten list of security vulnerabilities, noting that "[w]ithout proper validation, attackers can redirect victims to phishing or malware sites, or use forwards to access unauthorized pages."

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Hotel for President Obama's Ethiopia Visit Cost $412K

     President Obama visited Kenya and Ethiopia during his recent trip to Africa, and the hotel bill for the president and his entourage totaled approximately $412,390.86 for the Ethiopia stay alone. A contract with the Hilton in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa was posted online Tuesday:

     The president arrived in Addis Ababa on Sunday, July 26 and departed on July 28. The government also spent $7,540 for cell phones for the president's Ethiopia visit. The White House did not respond to a request for an explanation.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Feds Seek Dance, Poetry, Art, Music Therapy For Parolees

     The federal agency that oversees individuals on probation, parole or supervised release in Washington, DC is looking to expand options for "counseling and behavioral interventions" for offenders under its charge. The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia (CSOSA) is seeking a contractor to conduct "expressive therapies" in an "integrated way to foster human growth, development, and healing" to offenders who may also be involved in "group interventions focused on changing criminal thinking, anger management, substance use, education, and employment skills development."
     Contractors offering therapies utilizing art, music, dance, drama, poetry and creative writing are expected to help develop a "variety of verbal and non-verbal expression in order to assist participants in exploring and potentially transforming emotional and social issues" that may be impediments to a successful transition back into society.
     CSOSA has provided extensive descriptions of the therapies under consideration:
Art Therapy - encourages clients to use art media, images, sound, digital photography, videography, computer-generated images, and the creative process as part of a therapeutic process to reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, develop social skills, manage behavior, solve problems, reduce anxiety. 
Music Therapy - provides clients with activities geared toward creating music, music production, singing, moving to, and or listening to music.  These activities provide clients with opportunities to express themselves in verbal and non-verbal ways in order to increase motivation to change and engage in activities that promote education or healing. 
Drama Therapy - uses a drama/theater process, products and associations to achieve therapeutic goals.  Drama therapy provides clients with opportunities to tell his or her story to solve a problem, achieve a catharsis, extend the depth and breadth of inner experience, and increase flexibility in ways to address personal challenges. 
Dance/Movement Therapy - uses movement, dance, and other forms of physical activity to help clients draw a connection between body and mind.  These techniques are intended to help clients increase mind-body awareness so that they may use movement to facilitate healthy feeling, cognition, and behavior. 
Poetry/Creative Writing Therapy - relies on reading, discussing, and creating poetry or other forms of literature to help clients gain understanding of their feelings, develop empathy, enhance motivation, clarify personal goals, and identify alternative solutions to common challenges in personal behavior and relationships. 
Integrated arts (also known as multimodal) therapy - involves two or more expressive therapies to foster awareness, encourage emotional growth, and enhance relationship with others.  While it emphasizes the interrelatedness of the arts, it integrates a variety of activities that may consist of any of the aforementioned types of expressive therapy.
     CSOSA is an executive branch agency that handles offender supervision for Washington, DC, coordinating with the DC Superior Court and the US Parole Commission.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Old Fashioned Crime: One-Quarter of Federal 'Security Incidents' are Non-Cyber

     While cyber-security incidents and computer system breaches such as the recent Office of Personnel Management (OPM) hack grab the headlines, a recent government reports shows that more mundane non-cyber incidents have skyrocketed as well. A graphic in a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report illustrates that a full 25% of "Information Security Incidents" are actually non-cyber in nature. This percentage represents 16,879 incidents in 2014 alone:

     When asked to explain the nature of these "non-cyber" incidents,  Gregory C. Wilshusen, Director, Information Security Issues for the GAO told THE WEEKLY STANDARD [emphasis added]:
The non-cyber incidents are those pertaining to the spillage or mishandling of personally identifiable information which involve hard copies or printed material as opposed to digital records. While my statement focused on cyber threats, it also touched upon data breaches which can be effected through cyber and non-cyber means.
     The GAO report indicated that in 2006, the total number of "information security incidents reported by federal agencies" (cyber and non-cyber) were 5,503. (The breakdown of cyber versus non-cyber for 2006 was not available.) But even using these figures, the number of non-cyber incidents alone in 2014 (16,879) is more than three times the total number of security incidents in 2006.
     Although cyber incidents have the potential to do widespread damage due to the nature of computer-based crime, the rapid increase in paper-based incidents involving personally identifiable information is worrisome as well. As bureaucrats and policy makers focus on high-tech mischief and crime, a growing number of criminals appear to be content to steal information the old fashioned way.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Had Unprotected Sex? Planned Parenthood Will Pay You $70...And You Could Win $500!

   Although Planned Parenthood's most recent controversy revolves around "fetal tissue" trafficking, the organization is no stranger to eyebrow-raising activities. A recent solicitation for participants for Planned Parenthood's Sexual Health Evaluation (SHE) study promised at least $70 with a chance to win up to $500. Interested parties who had had unprotected sex were encouraged to visit the website to "get the deal on what the study is all about, the gift cards you'll earn, and how you can win additional big prizes — then sign up and get started!"
     Although enrollment for the study is now over (2,317 participants signed up), Planned Parenthood used the following page to invite site visitors to learn more about the study:

    Clicking through to learn more presented potential participants with a video explaining the study and the various incentives, including cash prizes and gift cards for retailers such as Apple, Starbucks, Target and H&M.

     The entire video can be seen here:

     The study, as the acronym SHE indicates, is targeted at women. Although the solicitation refers to "unprotected sex", the scope of the study covers all of Planned Parenthood's online resources and seeks to learn through four 10-minute surveys over three months how women use those resources:

     Planned Parenthood assures participants that the organization will keep "personal health information... 100% private", promising to "do everything we can to keep others from learning about your participation in this study" through the use of identifying code numbers.
     The study is a joint project of Planned Parenthood and New York University Silver School of Social Work. Two drawings were planned for the contest portion of the study, one in the Spring/Summer of 2015 and the second for Fall/Winter 2015.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Feds Spend $7,540 for Cell Phones For President Obama's Trip to Ethiopia

     When the president of the United States travels, the White House and the Secret Service bring along a tremendous amount of communications equipment. Not only does the Secret Service set up a command post to coordinate communications for the visits, but secure connections are also needed for the president to keep in touch with Washington and the military around the world in case of emergencies. Despite all of these arrangements, however, a total of $7,540 was spent for foreign-made cell phones for President Obama's recent trip to Ethiopia.
     The phones were obtained via a contract signed on July 13, 2015 with a company in Ethiopia identified only as "Miscellaneous foreign awardees", the typical identifier for many overseas contracts with the US government. The contract was handled by the State Department through the US embassy in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. A compilation of screenshots from the contract is shown here:

     It remains unclear exactly who used the cell phones during the Ethiopia visit, or what happened to the phones when the visit was over. After an initial response from the press office of the State Department about the contract, a state department spokesperson subsequently deferred to the White House, saying, "After speaking with my colleagues we think you should contact the WH Press Office for any comment on the President’s trip to Ethiopia."
     The White House press office did not respond to a request for an explanation of the cell phone contract.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.