Wednesday, January 28, 2009

No Details Allowed - My Interview with Anne Lifflander of the Vera Institute of Justice


January 28th, 2009 -

Please find below my correspondence with the Vera Institute of Justice, which purported to be doing an investigation into the NIH/ICC orphanage clinical trial scandal. Reading their questions to me, and their refusal of my materials during the interview, you can get a sense of what the Vera Institute accepts, and does not accept in an interview with a journalist:

1. No names, no dates, no files, no interviews, audio, video, no pertinent, relevant, detailed information can be given to a Vera interviewer during a Vera Institute interview.

2. But questions about “feelings” are fine.

Anne Lifflander, Vera Institute Researcher, requests interview with Liam Scheff

— Anne Lifflander alifflander [at] wrote [Aug, 2007]:

Dear Liam,

I hope this e mail finds you well and having a good summer.I am writing to follow-up on the previous correspondence between you and Tim Ross about Vera’s Clinical Trials Project.

As you know, the Vera Institute, at the request of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services, is researching questions related to the enrollment of foster children in clinical trials of treatment for HIV/AIDS.We would very much like to interview you for our study. The final product of our research will be a report to the public.

You can choose to be interviewed confidentially (your name will not be mentioned as an interviewee in our final report) or for attribution. If you choose to be interviewed for attribution, we will allow you to review any part of the report where your name is mentioned or where you are quoted.We will ask you to sign an informed consent before the interview.The interview protocol has been approved by Vera’s Institutional Review Board.

I am very much looking forward to hearing from you soon.


Anne Lifflander, MD, MPH
Senior Research Associate
Vera Institute of Justice
233 Broadway

Liam Scheff to Anne Lifflander - Accepting invitation to interview for Vera study.

From: liam scheff [mailto:liamscheff [at]]
Sent: Tuesday, August 21, 2007 2:50 PM
To: Anne Lifflander
Subject: Re: Vera Institute of Justice

Hello Anne,

Give me a ring this week at [private non-work number withheld here]

Of course, I will happily be interviewed, and supply my materials to your research.



ps - I’m moving back to Boston next week, so am here on the east coast, and can do things in person, with enough warning for preparation.

Lifflander to Scheff - Requesting a meeting place, directions and establishing approximate time

— Anne Lifflander alifflander [at] wrote:

Dear Liam,

I am very much looking forward to our interview on Friday.I will be flying to Boston on Friday morning, arriving at 9:45AM.I don’t know Boston very well and have no idea how long it will take to get from the airport to wherever we will be meeting.

Where would you like to meet and can you send me travel directions for getting there? I anticipate that the interview will take about two hours.

I will be sending you the informed consent and a guide to the questions we will be discussing on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Enjoy the holiday weekend!!!

Anne Lifflander, MD, MPH
Senior Research Associate
Vera Institute of Justice
233 Broadway
New York, NY 10279

Scheff to Lifflander - Giving directions and suggesting a meeting place, as requested by Vera Institute Researcher

From: liam scheff [mailto:liamscheff [at]]
Sent: Sunday, September 02, 2007 11:35 PM
To: Anne Lifflander
Subject: RE: Vera Institute of Justice

Hi Anne,

Thanks for the note. I see you’ll be sending questions, that’s good. If I have any questions about materials after I receive your list, I’ll ring.

I’m going to bet it’ll run a bit (or more) over 2 hours. There is a lot of material and ground to cover from my end.

As to where in Boston - well, there are a dozen lovely hotels, with nice lobbies and bars and restaurants, good for meetings, for sitting in reasonable comfort, etc.

If you are coming into the city, that might be best. Something in the Copley Place perhaps (it’s downtown, easily accessible).

I take it you are leaving the same day? If so, you are coming into Logan airport, and will either take a taxi or the “T” downtown. (The “T” is the MBTA - subway - easy enough and much cheaper).

It shouldn’t take more than an hour to get from the airport to downtown, probably less, once you’ve cleared the rigamarole at the airport.

You can look here for information on public trans. from the airport to downtown.

here for airport info specifically

My recollection is that it’s a shuttle bus to our little subway.

Here Copley Place, and its many hotels.

Finally, I won’t be able to meet until 11am at the earliest on Friday. A little later would be better, 12 or 1. You’ll have to tell me when you are leaving.

Let me know what looks good to you,



Lifflander to Scheff - confirming Hotel as meeting place for interview, establishing time table, sending questions (see following letter).

— Anne Lifflander alifflander [at] wrote:

Dear Liam,

Thanks for the information and suggestions.I arrive in Boston at 9:45AM and leave at 4:55PM the same day.I’d like to stay longer but have family obligations that I need to be back for.It’s not much time, so if you can make it by 11AM, that would be great.

I think the idea of meeting in a downtown hotel is a good one.You name the hotel and I will be in the lobby.

This is considered a research interview, which may be confidential or for attribution.Whichever option you select, we will ask you to sign an informed consent form. I am attaching a copy and a guide to the interview questions for you to look over.

I am really looking forward to this interview and to meeting you.

Please call me or e mail if you have any concerns.

Anne Lifflander, MD, MPH
Senior Research Associate
Vera Institute of Justice
233 Broadway
New York, NY 10279

- Lifflander Questions

Liam Scheff to all Vera Institute Staff, regarding Anne Lifflander’s Termination of Interview with Liam Scheff

Saturday, September 8, 2007 4:20 AM
From: “liam scheff” liamscheff [at]
To: mjacobson [at], nweiner [at], kgoldstein [at], “Anne Lifflander” alifflander [at]
Cc: mjacobson [at], nweiner [at]
subject: Vera Institute of Justice - Violation of stated goals for my interview by Anne Lifflander

To Vera Staff and Director,

I am writing to express my dismay and alarm at the interview I was given yesterday, one which was terminated by the Vera staff member while in progress.

I am the journalist who broke the story that is the basis of the research into orphans used in government drug trials. I had certain expectations for the interview, none of which were met.

I was under the impression that I would be permitted to give actual, viable information to the Vera Institute that would allow them to do further investigation. And that, because I was being sought for an interview, that my work was actually wanted, or desired for this investigation. Neither of these proved to be true, in actuality.

Instead, I met with a number of repeated roadblocks. First, I was told that in order to make interviews I have done with other people usable, I would have to verify their validity to the Vera institute. When I tried to do this, by giving personal material to the Vera interviewer, I was told to stop.

Second, I was prevented from giving any relevant or viable material concerning an actual, meaningful investigation into the use of orphans in Aids drug trials to the Vera interviewer, who refused to take from my hand the disks I had put together expressly for the purpose of the interview.

In truth, I have little idea about why I was chosen to be interviewed, if whatthe interviewer or the Vera Institute was seeking was a palliative, near-meaningless regurgitation of my “feelings” about what had happened. My work in the ICC story was as the primary investigative journalist who brought the story to national and international attention.

I spent a great deal of time and energy, (and candor), sharing and explaining in good detail the basis for a critical understanding of what is happening in the Aids paradigm, especially regarding the standard (non-standardized) method of Hiv testing.

My materials for review of the evidential understanding of my criticism were rejected; the verification of the personhood of my primary sources was rejected, though it had been demanded, less none of my research material featuring interviews with sources be rejected.

I was treated in what I consider a strange, and I think, disingenuous manner by the interviewer, Anne Lifflander, whose training and expertise in any field I have come to be concerned over. I have rarely met a person so uninviting of discourse, of revelation of important material for an actual investigation into a matter so terribly, horribly serious as the use of orphans in government/pharmaceutical drug investigations.

In the end, I was not permitted by Lifflander to relate much in the way of meaningful information regarding the Incarnation Children’s Center. When I would attempt to, I would be interrupted by protests that I had mentioned a child’s name. I am the journalist who broke the story; I had no idea that the investigating body into the question of ethics in this abuse of children would have so little interest in gathering actual, viable, useful information.

I stated the name (first name only) of children who I knew, to Lifflander only, who protested that I shouldn’t state their names. I have no idea what this means. If you are seeking to do research, how could it be possible that you wish to be given false names upon which to base your research?

I had been demanded, or informed, by Lifflander, that no interviews with that had already been published and verified by journals would be usable, unless the identities of the persons interviewed could be re-verified by the Vera Institute. I offered to do that immediately, by giving some audio from my interviews with two adult sources, on the condition that they not be released publicly. I tried to play some of a file for Lifflander in our meeting, to let her know what she would be hearing and from whom. At that point, she ended the meeting. I should say, actually, that she told me that she had to go to the bathroom, disappeared for 10 minutes, and returned, saying that she had called legal council, and that “this interview is over.”

As a journalist, I made it clear that I am free to write about any experience that I have, including my interview with Vera. She also cited this as a reason that she was “ending the interview.”

One of the protests seemed to be that we were in a hotel lobby, a public place. The reality was that we were in a distant corner of the lower lobby of a large hotel, with sufficient ambient noise and music playing in the hotel, to drown out non-local conversation.

The other issue here is that I was made a tour-guide by Lifflander, who asked me to choose a location in Boston to meet. I am not accustomed to meeting a person who is going to interview me, and also establish the location for the interview, that meets all of their hidden criteria and guidelines.

Given Lifflander’s many needs for a certain ambience and specific privacy concerns, I would have expected that she would have simply spoken with me on the telephone for important parts of the interview. Or, that she would have behaved like she was a professional interviewer, and established a site for the interview herself, without impinging on the interview subject to do her work for her.

I have trouble understanding all of this, from the point of view of utility, if the Vera Institute’s goal is to understand and investigate what actually happened in the ICC orphanage, and what is happening in Aids medicine, from a critical point of view.

I have even more trouble understanding any of it, given that my research is publicly available, publicly published, and that I do name names in my work. I do question received wisdoms, on the basis of major conflicting evidence, I do not report what is the conventional wisdom in Aids, or in anything I cover, but that I always try to get beneath the surface (because there is always a surface to get beneath), and see the actual structure of any public edifice or paradigm.

That is to say, I am clearly, by my work, a contentious figure, whose work is probably polarizing, but survives because it is remarkably, defiantly well-researched.

Why the Vera Institute would claim to want to interview me, and then pitch me nothing but self-limiting, emotionally-manipulative, softball questions, is beyond me. Unless your purpose was other than interviewing me for useful information.

In any case, because my interview was terminated by the Vera staff member, and because all relevant information I had agreed to give Vera was likewise rejected, I see no reason why I should freely sign off on permitting any information gathered by Lifflander to represent my work, my person, or my involvement with the investigation.

She proved herself to me to be a terrible investigator and gatherer of information. I remain in a state of shock that a person of her apparent inexperience and demeanor was sent to interview me, unless, and I repeat this question, the purpose of contacting me was something other than to gather useful information for investigating what happened at ICC?

Given the circumstances, I hereby withdraw any permission I may have been falsely convinced to give to the Vera Institute, under falsely stated pretenses by Lifflander, to record an interview with me or to use any material from an interview for your research.

I instead direct you to my website, and the body of research that is there regarding the ICC investigation.


Liam Scheff

(please see the Investigation section for the materials relating to the ICC orphanage investigation).

PS, Immediately below, I have included the verbatim questions I was sent by Lifflander (many of which seem to have more to do with “feelings” than with research into orphaned children being used in government clinical trials). I tried to answer her questions by being as open as possible, but this was not acceptable either.

Following that you will find the email exchange in which I am sought to arrange a meeting place for Lifflander’s staging of the interview.

Vera Institute Questions for Liam Scheff

1. Can you tell me about yourself? I know that you are a journalist and have written a lot about HIV/AIDS and other science related issues. How did you come to do this work and what is your training and background?

2. How did you come to be involved in the issue of foster children with HIV/AIDS?

3. A major focus of your reporting on this issue has been on the Incarnation Children’s Center and you have interviewed former staff and residents of ICC. How did you come to be connected with them? Did you do any additional interviews besides the ones that have been quoted in your articles and in shown in Guinea Pig Kids? Did you approach other employees, family members or residents for interviews?

4. There has been a lot of reaction to your articles about ICC and clinical trials. Did you expect this kind of reaction?

5. During the New York City Council Hearings on this issue, some of the people who testified characterized critics of the clinical trials as “AIDS Denialists.” How do you feel that statement?

6. Based on the research you have done, as Vera reviews the files of foster children who may have been enrolled in clinical trials, what should we be looking for in the files? What type of analysis should we do? How should we present the information?

7. Do you have suggestions for us about who we should be interviewing for this project?

[Yes, and I tried to make them. They were rejected].

Response from Vera Institute, Michael Jacobson

From: “Michael Jacobson” MJacobson [at]
To: “liam scheff” liamscheff [at]

Dear Liam,

We have received your email about the interview this past Friday (September 7th). I think there have been some misunderstandings which we should clear up. One of us will get back to you shortly with a fuller response to the various points you made.


Michael Jacobson, Director
Vera Institute of Justice, Inc.
233 Broadway, 12th floor
New York, NY10279
mjacobson [at]

Response from Michael Jacobson pt. 2

RE: Vera Institute of Justice - Violation of stated goals for my interview by Anne Lifflander
Thursday, October 11, 2007 9:03 AM
From: “Michael Jacobson” MJacobson [at]
To: “liam scheff” liamscheff [at]

Dear Liam,

Please find enclosed my response to your email of September 8.



Attached letter explaining why the interviewer was unwilling or unable to receive any pertinent information from me during the interview regarding the details of the NIH/ICC clinical trials. [Vera letter.pdf]



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