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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
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”