- Current Issue
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
A few weeks ago, I reported here on a plan by Congressman John Murtha’s friends and campaign donors to obtain up to $1 billion for a controversial project to build a biodefense manufacturing facility. The players included:
Lobby shop Ervin Technical Associates (ETA), founded by Jim Ervin, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, who the Wall Street Journal describes as a “longtime friend” of Murtha.
Private equity firm Four Seasons Ventures, which Ervin also helped found and which “primarily invests in technologies… that will garner United States government support.” Four Seasons invests in at least two firms that have received federal earmarks with Murtha’s help, including PharmaThene, a biodefense firm–which also retains ETA as its lobbyist.
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which also retains ETA and which is a major donor to Murtha.
These three outfits have been seeking funding for a manufacturing plant that would produce biodefense products, even though the grounds for such a facility (as explained in the original story) are highly dubious. The players have been putting the project together since at least 2005, and UPMC conducted a $3 million “conceptual study” funded by the Defense Applied Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
None of the three were terribly forthcoming about the project, but DARPA has now sent my colleague Sam Fellman answers to some questions we asked about a month ago. The agency’s replies, from spokeswoman Jan Walker, shed light on Murtha’s role in the project, and how his friends and sponsors have benefited thus far. Here are a few highlights from the email exchange we had with DARPA:
Q. Did Congressman Murtha – or any other Member of Congress – contact DARPA on UPMC’s behalf for this project?
A. Rep. Murtha is the Chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that funds DARPA and either he or his staff might bring DARPA’s attention to proposed projects. Rep. Murtha did meet with DARPA’s Director in October 2007 to discuss the on-going study and the general issue of quickly manufacturing large quantities of bioweapon countermeasures. Rep. Murtha also held a hearing on that issue in April 2008 at which DARPA testified.
Q. Did Four Seasons receive any portion of the funding [from the $3 million study]?
A. DARPA’s cooperative agreement was with UPMC, but Four Seasons Ventures (FSV) was their largest subcontractor.
Q. Where was the work for this project conducted by UPMC?
A. Four Seasons Ventures’ facilities in Washington DC…served as the primary location for the study.
Q. This year, UPMC has been holding briefings for stakeholders, which have been sponsored by DARPA. When did DARPA’s involvement end?
A. As per DARPA’s cooperative agreement, UPMC conducted a study and delivered a report to DARPA documenting the study findings. The report provided a comprehensive view of the biodefense manufacturing capacity that would be necessary to meet a variety of Federal Government (DoD and civilian) needs. In addition, DARPA also funded UPMC to educate industry and government regarding the results of the study and engage them in discussions of a possible public-private partnership for biodefense manufacturing. The effort under the cooperative agreement ends March 31, 2009. There has been no additional funding provided since 2008.
Q. Will DARPA be issuing a report on the project, and if so when?
A. At this time, the UPMC report is only available to government agencies. DARPA has no plans to make it more widely available.
In other words, Murtha has been supporting a highly questionable project that has benefited an interlocking network of his political funders and friends in private industry.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
Average portion of its yearly household expenditures that a South African family will spend on a funeral:
Neuroscientists were hoping to use rat brain waves to find people buried by earthquakes.
Four people were arrested for using a remote-controlled hexacopter to fly two pounds of tobacco to prisoners inside the yard at Calhoun State Prison in Georgia.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
Our congratulations to Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature