Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A gun, not necessarily smoking

In the exhibits to a complaint made to the Panel, "Violations of Panels Orders", USADA included a number of pages of correspondence between WADA and LNDD we'd not seen before. Apparently, LNDD was under some "corrective action" requirements over various problems. Skip on down to Exhibit C on page 13...


We start on page 14 with a letter to LNDD on September 1st -- before the ADRB has considered the Landis case at all.

WADA wants to know about contamination of blanks (as shown in the whistleblower documents).

Page 15 contains the first LNDD answer, on 8-Sep, saying they "reconsidered" the resuls because the metabolite monitored was different than that in the confirmation step.

Page 16 continues, saying the reconsideration looked for the contamination, and shucks, they found some, so they decided to re-analyze the sample.

They thought they might be contaminated because the blanks also showed positive.

page 17 is a letter from WADA on 18-Sep, asking aabout the data review process they went before sending out the A finding.

On page 18, LNDD gets new letterhead, and is now AFLD, lowercase.

On 25-Oct they offer more documentation, but don't exactly say what QC they conducted before sending out an erroneous A sample report.

page 19, on 9-Dec, WADA gets around to asking LNDD why the couldn't have checked this before sending a result out?

Also, what about interference?

page 20 adds, by the way, here's a form you should get used to filling out when you make a mistake.

page 21, on 15-Dec, LNDD answers and says here is your form and what we've done.

We aren't given a copy of that material by USADA. Whatever corrections in policy for A-sample QC before delivering a report are not stated or provided to the Panel or Landis in this exhibit.

page 22 shows that on 15-Mar, WADA gets the report, but doesn't seem to believe it. They want evidence the corrective action has been taken.

page 23, on 3-April, LNDD says it has added new steps to their laboratory documents.

These steps are not included in the exhibit package.

Notably missing from the pages provided by USADA in this exhibit are the details of the corrective action sheets, and a final confirmation that WADA considers the matter closed.

We note our long-running theory is that proper examination of the A sample before it was reported may have resulted in additional checks that would not have resulted in a positive report. But once it was out, there was politically no way to back down because of the publicity. From a post almost exactly a year ago:

My opinion about the the whole thing is that circumstances are far more mundane than a grand conspiracy. I've always leaned towards the "he didn't do anything wrong" position, and nothing has moved me from that posture. This may mark me as naive, but so be it.

It seems most likely to me to multiply simple human error by bureucratic entrenchment. Something wrong happened at the lab that wasn't recognized, and an initial positive was made. This rapidly escalated to a point where the heavy rhetoric was employed. It became impossible for any other explanation to be considered by the officialdom, and the same problems were experienced to get the expected results in the B sample. After more spouting, calmer heads prevail in some organizations, but USADA is saddled with a charged case it feels it cannot lose for all kinds of political reasons. This leads them to progressively harden their position into near absurdity.

We have here evidence that WADA itself was concerned by the lack of appropriate review by LNDD before A sample results were distributed, and this matter was not closed even as of early 2007.


Larry said...

TBV, agreed 100% with your "didn't do anything wrong" position.

I don't see a smoking gun here. I don't even see a gun. It's a good thing that LNDD reconsidered its results in this particular case. It's a good thing that WADA investigates these kinds of matters and raises concerns. It appears that, with some prodding, LNDD took steps to address WADA's concerns. This is the kind of thing we should want to see: lab problems identified, discussed and hopefully corrected under the watchful eye of WADA.

The practices that were identified and corrected pursuant to this exchange of correspondence do not appear to relate directly to FL's case. There's no damning admission here that we might use against LNDD or USADA on appeal.

This is interesting reading, to be sure. But if there's a "smoking gun" here, it's that we don't see much evidence that this kind of effort is typically made to improve lab procedures.

Of course, maybe I'm missing something ...

tbv@trustbut.com said...

I guess I didn't lay the scenario out very completely, hoping it was self-evident.

LNDD had sent out a bunch of retractions for tests that they reported as positives, but thought better of. WADA asked about their review procedures, and LNDD didn't understand that was what some of the questions were about. They didn't understand that their QC procedure about reporting an AAF was being formally challenged by WADA.

I posit that the Landis AAF was one where they might have done more investigation and not reported a positive -- except that they had lax review policies. Once they sent the result out, and it became public knowledge, no one was going to ever admit to having made an error.

We see that over the very lifespan of the pre-hearing maneuvering, LNDD was under a "corrective action " mandate to resolve issues in their MS department, and this was never, to my knowledge, truly revealed to Landis. LNDD was held up as a paragon of lab virtue at the same time they were being investigated by WADA, as documented in letters USADA delivered on the eve of the hearing.

It represents to me a gun in LNDD's hands about their indifference to QC, and in WADA/USADAs hands about revealing the truth about potentially relevant issues in the lab.

Can I directly connect bad QC at LNDD with Landis? No, that's why there's no smoke.

But I do believe that LNDD's apparent failure to consider the effects of the TUE-ed substances in their reported AAF results is a significant failure. Whether it qualifies as an ISL failure is a matter of legal opinion. With the lack of evidence it seems to have even been considered seems to me to be morally dubious.

There's question why Landis hasn't run his own research/tests on methyl' co-elution. I might ask why LNDD didn't do the same thing before declaring an AAF, since the substances were clearly documented on the doping control form. Why is it the athlete is responsible for resolving that potential conflict in the testing? That seems like something that should clearly be the lab's responsibility to me.


Larry said...

TBV, I'm trying to focus tonight on a long legal piece about specificity and ISL Rule So I'll try to be brief.

If the gun is self-evident, I missed it. Sorry.

I'm just looking at the set of documents you posted today. I understand that there are other problems raised in the Whistleblower documents, but I'm not trying to tie those documents together with today's documents. So for today's documents, I only see reference to one problem with one particular A sample.

You say that LNDD sent out a bunch of retractions. I see a single retraction. From what I understand, LNDD had a positive finding on an A sample for a swimmer, published an analysis report stating that they'd made an adverse finding, then they reconsidered and reversed the finding. My guess is that FINA must have been sent the analysis report before LNDD reconsidered its position. FINA reported to WADA, WADA contacted LNDD to ask what was going on. LNDD reported back that they suspected the initial finding was caused by contamination of the blank urine, WADA followed up asking for details, there's some back and forth, yada yada yada, LNDD probably drags its feet a little, but eventually LNDD takes corrective action to the satisfaction of WADA. Did I miss something? (Maybe in the "yada yada yada"?)

Yes, it's not great that LNDD sent a report to FINA documenting a false positive. But it appears that LNDD caught its own mistake, and did so before it was necessary to test the B sample. That's a good thing. By catching the mistake, WADA was able to step in and require improvements in the way LNDD does things. That's also a good thing. Sometimes this is the way problems in a system are identified. Yes, it's not good that LNDD came so close to issuing a false positive on an athlete. Yes, perhaps the athlete in question was notified of the positive finding (I can't tell from these documents, but I may have missed something), resulting in who knows how much damage and suffering. And yes, I agree with you that there does seem to come a point in the process where LNDD is no longer willing to admit its mistakes, and yes, maybe we came perilously close to this point in the case you've documented here.

You say that LNDD did not understand that WADA was questioning its QC procedure for reporting an AAF. That's probably true. But that's not the same thing as saying (as you did later on) that LNDD was indifferent to QC.

But maybe I'm not understanding the science processes involved here. If this was an isolated case where LNDD screwed up, caught its own screw-up and (with WADA prodding) implemented corrective measures, then I don't see a gun. I see a process where the system showed some ability to self-correct. But if this is not an isolated case, if this is a matter where LNDD's SOP was fatally flawed, bringing into question every test it had performed up until this time ... that's a gun. Might not be a smoking gun, but I think it's still warm.

Back to specificity for me.

tbv@trustbut.com said...

I'm going to go slower, then.

1. I am connecting this to the previous whistleblower documents, where LNDD made a series of retractions.

2. The only reason they "got away" with this one from FINA is that it hadn't gone public. Had it been, say, Thorpe, and gone public the day it was sent to FINA, they may not have been so inclined to find and correct their error.

3. That there was a series of retractions sent out speaks to a process and management failure, which WADA rightly asked about.
This reflects the same indifference to QC that WADA wonders about by asking about the process.

4. In the yada, yada, there is NO CONCLUSION as evidenced by WADA, only LNDD's claims to have done what they think is necessary. As far as we know, as of the date of the document by USADA, LNDD was still undergoing investigation, and WADA was not satisfied with the LNDD procedures. This is on 3-Apr!

5. In as much as USADA asserted that LNDD was a squeaky clean lab as far as WADA was concerned in its briefs, and then delivered this correspondence attempting to cast Landis in a bad light suggests a certain flexibility with the
truth that does not, to me, sound like a system that is owning up to and correcting itself.

But, I would rather you focused on the specificity issues and the identification issues for now.