World
Speed Bumps: Why It’s So Hard to Catch Cheaters in Track and Field
A cache of leaked blood tests showed hundreds of track athletes have recorded results “suggestive of doping.” With the 2015 world track championships about to start, a look at why anti-doping tests are so ineffective
 
Earlier this month, London’s Sunday Times and German broadcaster ARD published a joint investigation on doping in track and field that included an analysis of 12,000 leaked blood tests from 5,000 athletes between 2001 and 2012. The tests had been carried out by the IAAF, track and field’s international governing body. Two respected experts in doping methods said blood tests of 800 of the athletes were “highly suggestive of doping or at the very least abnormal.” Ten runners who won medals in endurance events at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London had suspicious test results. And a startling 80 percent of Russian medalists recorded tests that showed likely doping. The vast majority of athletes with suspicious tests were never sanctioned.
 
On Saturday, the 2015 track and field world championships kick off and, of course, some athletes who are doping will vie for medals. Most will not be caught; only 1 to 2 percent of tests in international Olympic sports result in sanctions each year. If doping is so rife in track and field, why are athletes penalized so rarely? It’s partly because many suspicious tests don’t quite reach the high evidence bar to be considered officially positive. But it’s also because doping athletes tend to employ methods that make drug testing extremely difficult. As Paul Scott, head of Scott Analytics, which provides testing services in multiple sports has put it: “Drug testing has a public reputation that far exceeds its capabilities.”
 
Here’s a look at why drug tests will never snare every cheater.
 

Looking for a (tiny) edge

Top-tier track and field has become so competitive that the margin of victory is often vanishingly small. In the men’s 100 meters at the last Olympics, the difference between gold and silver was .12 seconds, less than the time it would take you to blink if a flashlight were shined in your face. The difference between silver and bronze was less than half that. 
 
The tiny gap between winning and losing has led athletes to look for what they call marginal gains, whether that comes from extra sleep, better equipment or cheating. It also means that athletes needn’t take the industrial strength drugs that some baseball players and Soviet Bloc athletes famously took. The most popular doping agents today are synthetic versions of natural hormones: testosterone and human growth hormone — which aid muscle building and workout recovery — and EPO, which causes the body to produce more oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Athletes have learned they can take small amounts — known as “microdosing”— to evade detection and still get the benefits. 
 

Why is it so difficult to detect?

For starters, accurately measuring the presence of tiny concentrations of drugs — particularly synthetic versions of natural hormones — is difficult. For the sake of calling a test positive, it’s even more difficult. Consider the ubiquitous anti-doping test known as the T/E ratio. “T” is testosterone and “E” is another hormone called epitestosterone, a natural product of steroid metabolism that provides no benefit. Most people have a T/E ratio of 1-to–1. But there is natural variation among people, so the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) set the T/E ratio limit at 4-to–1. If a test goes above that, it is deemed suspicious and testing for synthetic testosterone ensues. This gives an athlete with a typical T/E ratio room to dope before hitting 4-to–1, and even small amounts of testosterone provide benefit. To make matters worse for drug testers… Continue Reading…
 
Courtesy: ProPublica

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Red Cross CEO Tried to Kill Government Investigation
Despite public vows of transparency, CEO Gail McGovern lobbied a congressman to spike an inquiry by the Government Accountability Office
 
This story was co-produced with NPR.
 
American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern has long portrayed her organization as a beacon of openness, once declaring “we made a commitment that we want to lead the effort in transparency.”
 
But when the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, opened an inquiry last year into the Red Cross’ disaster work, McGovern tried to get it killed behind the scenes. 
 
“I would like to respectfully request that you consider us meeting face-to-face rather than requesting information via letter and end the GAO inquiry that is currently underway,” McGovern wrote in a June 2014 letter to Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.
 
McGovern sent the letter, which was obtained by ProPublica and NPR, after meeting with Thompson, the ranking member of the homeland security committee. At the request of Thompson’s office, the GAO had earlier that year started an inquiry into the Red Cross’ federally mandated role responding to disasters and whether the group gets enough oversight. 
 
In her letter, McGovern suggested that, in lieu of the investigation, the congressman call her directly with questions. She provided her personal cell phone number.
 
In a statement, Thompson criticized McGovern’s request to spike the investigation. 
 
“Over time, the public has come to accept the American Red Cross as a key player in the nation’s system for disaster relief,” he said. “It is unfortunate that in light of numerous allegations of mismanagement, the American Red Cross would shun accountability, transparency and simple oversight."
 
Craig Holman, a veteran observer of congressional investigations as an advocate with the watchdog group Public Citizen, said he couldn’t remember another instance in which the subject of a GAO inquiry asked for the inquiry to be called off. 
 
“This is both a unique and particularly brazen lobby campaign by Gail McGovern to bring an end to an independent GAO investigation,” he said.
 
In a written statement, Red Cross spokeswoman Suzy DeFrancis said the group worked “cooperatively” with the GAO, providing documents and making at least a dozen senior officials available for interviews. 
 
“We had discussions with the GAO and members of Congress about the purpose and intent of the GAO study so we could respond in a way that would meet their goals, which we are doing,” DeFrancis wrote.
 
The GAO inquiry continued despite McGovern’s appeal. The agency’s final report is expected to be released… Continue Reading…
 
Courtesy: ProPublica

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Here’s Why the Close Collaboration Between the NSA and AT&T Matters
New disclosures about the National Security Agency’s partnership with AT&T could reignite constitutional challenges to the spy agency’s efforts to wiretap the Internet 
 
Newly disclosed documents unveiling the close relationship between the National Security Agency and AT&T could breathe new life into a long-running legal dispute about the NSA’s controversial method of tapping the Internet backbone on U.S. soil.
 
This program, according to documents provided by Edward Snowden, is largely enabled by telecom giant AT&T, which filters Internet traffic, based on NSA instructions. AT&T then forwards the “take” to the spy agency’s storage facilities for further review and analysis.
But a single email traverses the Internet in hundreds of tiny slices, called “packets,’’ that travel separate routes. Grabbing even one email requires a computer search of many slices of other people’s messages.
 
Privacy advocates have long argued in court that grabbing portions of so many emails — involving people not suspected of anything — is a violation of the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures provided by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. 
 
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties group, is now hoping that the new documents will bolster their claims in a long-running case, Jewel v. NSA. “We will be presenting this information to the court,” said Cindy Cohn, executive director of the foundation. A Department of Justice spokesman declined to comment.
 
So far, the only court that has reviewed the constitutional question is the secret panel of jurists known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. This court only hears arguments from the government and all of their decisions are highly classified.
 
Other federal courts have declined to debate the constitutional question for fear that discussing any collaboration with telecom companies would damage American security. Last year, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told a court that confirming the identities of any telecoms that work with the NSA would alert terrorists that “certain channels of communications are vulnerable to NSA interception.” 
 
But the internal NSA documents describe a nearly unavoidable surveillance system on AT&T’s Internet backbone in the United States. One document shows a technical sketch of how AT&T provides the spy agency not only with access to traffic on its own network, but also… Continue Reading…
 
 
Courtesy: ProPublica

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COMMENTS

Amy Rannells

2 years ago

Snowden has brought to light important information that deserved to be in the public domain. He recognised the NSA's surveillance programs for what they are: dangerous, undemocratic and unconstitutional activity. This wholesale invasion of privacy does not contribute to our security, it puts in danger the very liberties we are trying to protect. He deserves a statue... (much bigger one)... https://http://www.etsy.com/listing/237623587/edward-sn...

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