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[Washington Babylon]

Biopork: New DHS Appointee Ties to Congressman John Murtha

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“The Obama administration’s controversial pick to be the Department of Homeland Security’s geek-in-chief is either a leading authority on the deadliest terror threats — or a biowar chicken little, dangerously out of touch with reality,” Wired reported yesterday.

At first glance, Dr. Tara O’Toole is a dream candidate to take over the position of DHS under secretary for science and technology. She’s a doctor, the CEO of the University of Pittburgh’s Center for Biosecurity, the chairwoman of the Federation of American Scientists, and the brains behind a series of influential disaster response exercises that woke Washington up to the threat of terrorists with weapons of massive destruction. Who better to take over DHS’ nearly billion-dollar research portfolio — about 45 percent of which goes towards chemical and biological defense?

But the outcry over O’Toole’s nomination began just moments after the White House announced its intent late Tuesday to name her to the job. To her critics, O’Toole has dangerously overhyped the bioterror threat — leading to a huge increase of the number of research labs and researchers handling deadly agents.”

Also of note about O’Toole are her ties to the Democratic Party and Congressman John Murtha. Since 2003, she has contributed a total of $8,300 to the Democratic National Committee, as well as a number of Democratic presidential candidates, including John Kerry, Wesley Clark, Hillary Clinton, and most recently Barack Obama. The only member of congress to whom she has contributed is Murtha. In 2004 and 2005, immediately before and after Murtha earmarked money for her center under the Strategic Biodefense Initiative, she gave him $1,750.

As I’ve noted before, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center — O’Toole’s center is one of its projects — retains as its lobbying firm Ervin Technical Associates, which has close links to the congressman. UPMC’s PAC and employees have donated heavily to Murtha, including $192,500 in 2006. That was the year after Murtha won an $8.5 million earmark for UPMC -– lobbied for by Ervin Technical -– for a communications network. Ervin Technical is also seeking to win support for a dubious UPMC project which is looking for funding to develop and manufacture biodefense vaccines.

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