Tag Archives: ProPublica

Jonathan Benson ~ Red Cross Refuses To Disclose How It Spent Hurricane Sandy Money, Says It’s A ‘Trade Secret’

Withholding financial information from the public, in other words, especially when it involves a major disaster like Hurricane Sandy, demonstrates a disturbing lack of transparency and accountability at the Red Cross.” J Benson

AmericanRedCrossOne of the most well-known charities in the world is being intentionally elusive about how it spent more than $300 million in donations it received following Hurricane Sandy. The independent news group ProPublica says the American Red Cross has repeatedly denied requests to disclose details about how the Sandy money was spent, claiming that this information is a protected “trade secret.”

The Red Cross is so insistent about keeping this information private that it has reportedly hired posh New York law firm Gibson Dunn to fend off anyone who might try to hold the charity responsible for its donation spending. The Red Cross did, according to ProPublica, release some information about Sandy donations to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. But the charity has thus far withheld this information from the public.

“[W]e filed a public records request for the information the Red Cross provided to the attorney general’s office,” wrote Justin Elliott for ProPublica. “An attorney from the firm’s New York office appealed to the attorney general to block disclosure of some of the Sandy information, citing the state Freedom of Information Law’s trade secret exemption.”

In its defense, the Red Cross claims that disclosing this information would breach the “internal and proprietary methodology and procedures” for how it conducts its fundraising activities. Writing on behalf of the charity, Gibson Dunn’s Gabrielle Levin explained in a recent letter to the attorney general’s office that full disclosure would result in confidential financial information getting leaked, as well as other private information about how the Red Cross conducts its everyday business activities.

“[T]he American Red Cross would suffer competitive harm because its competitors would be able to mimic the American Red Cross’s business model for an increased competitive advantage,” added Levin, comparing the work of the Red Cross to a for-profit business.

Is the Red Cross a charity or a business?

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Jake Bernstein ~ NY Fed Fired Examiner Who Took On Goldman

NationofChange October 11 2013

Carmen Segarra

In the spring of 2012, a senior examiner with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York determined that Goldman Sachs had a problem.

Under a Fed mandate, the investment banking behemoth was expected to have a company-wide policy to address conflicts of interest in how its phalanxes of dealmakers handled clients. Although Goldman had a patchwork of policies, the examiner concluded that they fell short of the Fed’s requirements.

That finding by the examiner, Carmen Segarra, potentially had serious implications for Goldman, which was already under fire for advising clients on both sides of several multibillion-dollar deals and allegedly putting the bank’s own interests above those of its customers. It could have led to closer scrutiny of Goldman by regulators or changes to its business practices.

Before she could formalize her findings, Segarra said, the senior New York Fed official who oversees Goldman pressured her to change them. When she refused, Segarra said she was called to a meeting where her bosses told her they no longer trusted her judgment. Her phone was confiscated, and security officers marched her out of the Fed’s fortress-like building in lower Manhattan, just 7 months after being hired.

“They wanted me to falsify my findings,” Segarra said in a recent interview, “and when I wouldn’t, they fired me.”

Today, Segarra filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the New York Fed in federal court in Manhattan seeking reinstatement and damages. The case provides a detailed look at a key aspect of the post-2008 financial reforms: The work of Fed bank examiners sent to scrutinize the nation’s “Too Big to Fail” institutions.

Segarra is an expert in legal and regulatory compliance whose previous work included jobs at Citigroup and the French bank Société Générale. She was part of a wave of new examiners hired by the New York Fed to monitor systemically important banks after passage in July 2010 of the Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul, which gave the Fed new oversight responsibilities.In hours of interviews with ProPublica, the 41-year-old lawyer gave a detailed account of the events that preceded her dismissal and provided numerous documents, meeting minutes and contemporaneous notes that support her claims. Rarely do outsiders get such a candid view of the Fed’s internal operations.

Goldman is known for having close ties with the New York Fed, its primary regulator. The current president of the New York Fed, William Dudley, is a former Goldman partner. One of his New York Fed predecessors, E. Gerald Corrigan, is currently a top executive at Goldman. At the time of Segarra’s firing, Stephen Friedman, a former chairman of the New York Fed, was head of the risk committee for Goldman’s board of directors.

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J. D. Heyes ~ There Is ‘No Safe Dose Of Radiation’ From TSA Naked Body Scanners

Natural News | August 8 2012

Natural News ~ Besides the fact that they are being operated by an agency that demonstrates on a daily basis a disdain and disregard for discretion, privacy, and professionalism, the Transportation Security Administration’s full-body backscatter x-ray machines are just not safe.

That’s the diagnosis of Dr. Dong Kim, the neurosurgeon who treated U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., when she was shot in the head in January 2011 by a crazed gunman in Tucson.

“There is really no absolutely safe dose of radiation,” said Kim, chair of the department of neurosurgery at the University of Texas Medical School. “Each exposure is additive, and there is no need to incur any extra radiation when there is an alternative.”

In fact, Kim says he doesn’t allow the TSA to irradiate him when he travels; he always opts for the individual pat down when passing through airport security.

More opting out

He’s not alone. Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, also says he opts out of the x-ray, citing concerns that the machines may not be properly calibrated and inspected in a timely manner.

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Raven Clabough ~ TSA Looks For Alternatives To Enhanced Pat-Downs

The New American | May 22 2012

Finally responding to the harsh public backlash, the Transportation Security Administration is attempting to move away from the invasive “enhanced pat-downs.” Current TSA policy requires passengers who have been through the body scanners to be subjected to pat-downs if something is detected by the scanners.

Though the new measures being considered would apply solely to travelers who pass through body scanners, the TSA’s attempt to implement different procedures is indicative that some of the oppositional efforts against the overreaching federal agency may be working.

Government Security News reports:

In an effort to minimize the number of physical pat-downs that screeners must conduct at U.S. airports, DHS [Department of Homeland Security] is inviting R&D proposals from companies and organizations that can develop handheld devices that weigh less than five pounds and which could resolve “anomalies” detected when passengers are sent through Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) equipment.

The TSA stipulates that such a handheld device be “capable of screening all areas of the body without removal of clothing beyond outwear.” Such technology, however, which typically involves the use of radiation, is likely to raise further concerns, particularly as the TSA is still contending with reports about the cancer-causing technology it currently uses.

Despite a report filed by ProPublica that the scanners could cause “anywhere from six to 100 U.S. airline passengers each year [to] get cancer,” plus a variety of expert testimonies on the dangers of the technology, and the fact that the European Union has banned the machines, the TSA has elected to continue the use of the scanners nationwide. As noted by The New American’s Michael Tennant, “What’s worse, the TSA has other, safer types of scanners, known as millimeter-wave scanners, that the agency says are as effective as the backscatter scanners; but it has chosen to continue deploying the backscatter scanners even though they could adversely affect the health of the flying public.”

The ProPublica report and a report featured by PBS NewsHour entitled “U.S. Government Glossed Over Cancer Concerns,” revealed that the Food and Drug Administration rejected the concerns of a 1998 expert panel that recommended the agency set a mandatory federal safety standard for the devices.

And these analyses say nothing of the problem of the machines’ ineffectiveness.

In a recent paper published by University of California physics professors Leon Kaufman and Joseph Carlson in the Journal of Transportation Security, the two assert that the body scanners can easily be fooled. Citing a variety of data, the writers make some surprising revelations, including,

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Michael Grabell ~ TSA Reveals Passenger Complaints Four Years Later

Nation Of Change | May 5 2012

From intrusive pat-downs to body scans to perceived profiling, the Transportation Security Administration always seems to be the target of complaints.

Here’s another one: It took the TSA almost four years to tell me what people complained about — in 2008.

In my first week at ProPublica in June 2008, I filed a public records request for the agency’s complaint files. Such records can provide good fodder for investigations.

For example, amid the brouhaha over the agency’s introduction of intensive full-body pat-downs in 2004, I requested complaints and discovered an untold story of the pain and humiliation suffered by rape victims and breast cancer survivors. In one incident that I found from that request — while I was a reporter at the Dallas Morning News — a woman complained that a screener asked her to remove her prosthetic breast to be swabbed for explosives.

When I made a similar FOIA request in 2008, I assumed the TSA would respond in a few months. Government agencies have about a month to respond to public record requests, though they often take longer. I figured even if their response took months, I’d be able to repeat it regularly to get a timely, inside look as to what passengers were complaining about and find out about incidents that required some more digging.

Boy, was I wrong.

After waiting and waiting and narrowing my request and some more waiting, the files finally arrived this week.

The information is now four years old — but it echoes much of what people are still complaining about.

For instance, an elderly woman in a wheelchair was asked to walk through security and fell at Orlando International Airport.

Amy Goodman ~ Forget Fear of Flying, Fear Airport Screening

Nation Of Change | March 30 2012

There was terror in the skies this week over Texas, caused not by a terrorist but by a pilot—a Flight Standards captain, no less. JetBlue Airways Capt. Clay Osbon, flying Flight 191 from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Las Vegas, began moving up and down the aisle after the jet was airborne, ranting, according to several passengers, about Iraq, Israel, al-Qaida and bombs, calling on passengers to recite the Lord’s Prayer, saying that they were “all going down.” An off-duty pilot in the cabin went to the cockpit to help the co-pilot with the emergency landing, while passengers and crew subdued Osbon. Osbon, who’d been with JetBlue almost since its founding, was taken to the hospital, suspended with pay, then criminally charged with interfering with a flight crew.

That’s enough to inspire a fear of flying in anyone. But just getting to your airplane these days may present a greater risk to your health than the actual flight.

New airport security screening technology, primarily backscatter X-ray devices, have come under increased scrutiny, as their effectiveness is questioned amid concerns that the radiation exposure may cause cancer. Adding to health concerns are both the graphic nature of the images captured, essentially nude photos of every person passing through the machine, and the aggressive—and for some, humiliating—nature of the alternative to the scans, the “enhanced pat-down” by a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent.

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On Becoming an Opt-Out

Danny Schechter (Al Jazeera) | RS_News | February 10 2012

TSA's body scanners allow security personnel to view people naked 'for security reasons.' (photo: Gallo/Getty Images)

OPINION | I had been debating with myself, and a few friends, about whether or not to accept an invitation to attend a film conference in Iran. The argument against going is that by travelling there, you validate a dictatorial police state.

But with so few American journalists going to Tehran these days, I felt a higher duty to attend.

The first step in the long trip from New York was getting in line for an inspection by that uniformed Army called the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), a $5bn agency that insists it is only there to keep us safe.

Talk about a police state.

There is no question that one consequence of its rigorous procedures is to teach the public how to be compliant and follow orders. It’s a manifestation of a certain “friendly fascism” ushered in by 9/11, what the Right denounces in other areas as a nanny state.

Never mind that on that day of infamy in 2001, Boston’s airport was run by an Israeli expert known for the highest security standards, or that security detectors at Newark found knives on hijackers, but they gave them back because they were legal at the time.

George W Bush’s decision to establish the TSA was about visibly reassuring the public to keep them flying. It was also a way to create lots of jobs without his own party objecting. It was justified as “at least we are doing something!”

This Big Government hiring programme was driven by fear – but rarely criticised.

Back in the line at JFK airport, I noticed that in this class society of ours, the TSA permits shorter lines for First Class and Business Class passengers, ensuring that the 99 per cent/1 per cent divide is alive and well in our airports.

A very sweet black woman helped me schlep my plastic containers overflowing with a bulky winter coat, a sweatshirt with a zipper, belt, coins, pens, sneakers, iPad and computer.

I surprised the officer by telling her that in England they don’t take computers out of bags anymore, and that Germany doesn’t require belts and shoes to be taken off.

Her response: “I hope someday soon that we can end all this. It is a big drag for everyone.”

Amen, sister.

I am sure she wouldn’t want to be quoted by name because, as I soon found out, the TSA does not like people who are “negative”.

Yet there have been many “negative” incidents – like old women being strip-searched, TSA agents asleep on the job and even reports of luggage being stolen.

Humiliation or Retaliation?

While all my stuff was going through one machine, I was steered to another, one of those supposedly safe body scanners where I was supposed to stand, hands up, as if I were being busted or guilty of something.

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TSA Head Reneges on Vow to Research Airport Scanner Radiation

Raven Clabough  | The New American
November 21 2011

Though the Transportation Security Administration promised the U.S. Senate it would conduct further studies into the safety of radiation-firing body scanners used at airports nationwide, it has since backed away from that promise. TSA head John Pistole (left) is now claiming that a previously completed Inspector General’s report validates his assertions that the machines are not harmful.

On November 2, Pistole told the Senate Homeland Security committee that the TSA would be furthering independent research into the safety risks associated with the full-body scanners currently in use. Appearing at another congressional hearing on November 9, however, he reneged on that promise, saying that earlier independent studies have already proven the safety of the technology. “I am concerned that there’s a perception that they’re not as safe as they could be,” he asserted.

Analysts say there is good reason for such a perception, however. A report on airport X-ray scanners filed by ProPublica reveals that despite evidence that the scanners could cause “anywhere from six to 100 U.S. airline passengers each year [to] get cancer,” a variety of expert testimonies on the dangers of the technology, and European policies that have actually banned the use of the scanners, the TSA has elected to continue the use of the scanners nationwide. As noted by The New American’s Michael Tennant, “What’s worse, the TSA has other, safer types of scanners, known as millimeter-wave scanners, that the agency says are as effective as the backscatter scanners; but it has chosen to continue deploying the backscatter scanners even though they could adversely affect the health of the flying public.”

The author of the ProPublica report, Michael Grabell, contends that the TSA has ignored concerns regarding the machines from both the public and from the scientific experts:

It skipped a public comment period required before deploying the scanners. Then, in defending them, it relied on a small body of unpublished research to insist the machines were safe, and ignored contrary opinions from U.S. and European authorities that recommended precautions, especially for pregnant women. Finally, the manufacturer, Rapiscan Systems, unleashed an intense and sophisticated lobbying campaign, ultimately winning large contracts.

Still, Pistole attempted to assuage concerns regarding the machines by promising further studies on the technology. During another Nov. 9 hearing — this one before Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation— he commented, “My strong belief is those types of machines are still completely safe… If the determination is that this IG study is not sufficient, then I will look at still yet another additional study.”

Pistole made similar assertions to CNN:

There are those who continue to express concerns, and so I want to do everything that I can to reassure those people that these machines are as safe as possible.

That being said, I just learned about an inspector general report that is in draft form that validates those prior studies, so that may suffice. We’ll work with Congress to see whether that addresses their concerns.

However, the report in question mentions merely the effectiveness of the TSA monitors and backscatter machines, not their safety aspects.

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Europe Bans X-Ray Body Scanners Used at U.S. Airports

Michael Grabell (ProPublica) | Common Dreams
November 16 2011

The European Union on Monday prohibited the use of X-ray body scanners in European airports, parting ways with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, which has deployed hundreds of the scanners as a way to screen millions of airline passengers for explosives hidden under clothing.

The European Commission, which enforces common policies of the EU’s 27 member countries, adopted the rule “in order not to risk jeopardizing citizens’ health and safety.”As a ProPublica/PBS NewsHour investigation detailed earlier this month, X-ray body scanners use ionizing radiation, a form of energy that has been shown to damage DNA and cause cancer. (photo: Quinn Dombrowski)

As a ProPublica/PBS NewsHour investigation detailed earlier this month, X-ray body scanners use ionizing radiation, a form of energy that has been shown to damage DNA and cause cancer. Although the amount of radiation is extremely low, equivalent to the radiation a person would receive in a few minutes of flying, several research studies have concluded that a small number of cancer cases would result from scanning hundreds of millions of passengers a year.

European countries will be allowed to use an alternative body scanner, on that relies on radio frequency waves, which have not been linked to cancer. The TSA has also deployed hundreds of those machines – known as millimeter-wave scanners – in U.S. airports. But unlike Europe, it has decided to deploy both types of scanners.

The TSA would not comment specifically on the EU’s decision. But in a statement, TSA spokesman Mike McCarthy said, “As one of our many layers of security, TSA deploys the most advanced technology available to provide the best opportunity to detect dangerous items, such as explosives.

“We rigorously test our technology to ensure it meets our high detection and safety standards before it is placed in airports,” he continued. “Since January 2010, advanced imaging technology has detected more than 300 dangerous or illegal items on passengers in U.S. airports nationwide.”

Body scanners have been controversial in the United States since they were first deployed in prisons in the late 1990s and then in airports for tests after 9/11. Most of the controversy has focused on privacy because the machines can produce graphic images. But the manufacturers have since installed privacy filters.

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