American needs to know about
The Red Cross
Charity Navigator gives the Red Cross a Five Star
Rating - yet the history of this corporatized
organization tells a story of unparalleled
In recent years, the image of the Red Cross has been
tarnished. The worst scandal came after the September 11
attacks, when it was revealed that a large portion of
the hundreds of millions of dollars donated to the
organization went not to survivors or family members of
those killed, but to other Red Cross operations, in what
was described by chapters across the country as a
Recently, long-simmering concerns about the Red Cross'
disaster relief operations were expressed by Richard
Walden, of the humanitarian group Operation USA, in the
Los Angeles Times--prompting a vitriolic response by the
But these recent scandals are nothing new for the Red
Cross. In fact, the whole history of the organization is
one gigantic scandal--stretching from its racist
policies toward African Americans to its corporate
mentality toward human beings.
It is a tribute to the feebleness of the U.S. media--and
the Red Cross' powerful Republican allies--that an
institution with such a dubious history continues as the
symbol of "humanitarian leadership," when it should have
been replaced by a far more effective agency decades
* * *
The Red Cross was founded in 1881 by Clara Barton, who
became famous during the Civil War for organizing the
distribution of food and medical supplies to Union Army
The Red Cross is specifically mandated, according to its
Congressional charter adopted in 1905, to "carry out a
system of national and international relief in time of
peace, and apply that system in mitigating the suffering
caused by pestilence, famine, fire, floods and other
great national calamities, and to devise and carry out
measures preventing those calamities." The organization
was also to carry out its work in accordance with the
Geneva Conventions concerning the treatment of prisoners
of war. Later, the Red Cross would also be entrusted
with control of a large part of the nation's blood
But who got relief after disasters has always been
affected by the racism that has been part of the Red
Cross' long history.
For example, during the Great 1927 Flood that destroyed
large parts of the Mississippi Delta and Louisiana,
Black farm laborers and sharecroppers without a doubt
suffered the most. As John Barry documents in his epic
history of the flood, Rising Tide, delta plantation
owners refused to evacuate them out of the region for
fear--rightly--that most wouldn't return to their
miserable, slave-like conditions.
The Red Cross came in to provide temporary housing and
food aid. What African Americans of the Delta got was
prison-like camps where they were routinely beaten by
white, racist National Guardsmen. Food distributed by
the Red Cross was given to whites first, and if anything
was left, it went to Black survivors.
On the eve of the Second World War, the Red Cross
stockpiled large amounts of blood because of techniques
developed by the brilliant African American scientist
Dr. Charles Drew. Drew himself became director of the
Red Cross's Blood Bank in 1941, but resigned his
position after the War Department ordered that the blood
of Black and white donors be segregated.
Drew called the order "a stupid blunder," but the Red
Cross complied and imposed Jim Crow in the blood supply.
The Red Cross even initially refused to accept the
donation of blood by African Americans at the beginning
of the war effort--though it was willing to accept cash
donations from them. Throughout the war, the NAACP
investigated complaints by Black servicemen of racist
treatment by Red Cross.
The Red Cross desegregated the blood supply after the
Second World War nationally, but it allowed its Southern
chapters to continue segregating blood through the
People who think of the Red Cross as a "private charity"
would be shocked to discover its actual legal status.
Congress incorporated the Red Cross to act under
"government supervision." Eight of the 50 members of its
board of governors are appointed by the president of the
United States, who also serves as honorary chairperson.
Currently, the Secretaries of State and Homeland
Security are members of the board of governors.
This unique, quasi-governmental status allows the Red
Cross to purchase supplies from the military and use
government facilities--military personnel can actually
be assigned to duty with the Red Cross. Last year, the
organization received $60 million in grants from federal
and state governments. However, as one federal court
noted, "A perception that the organization is
independent and neutral is equally vital."
The leading administrators and officials of the Red
Cross are almost always drawn from the corporate
boardroom or the military high command. Among the past
chairs and presidents of the Red Cross are seven former
generals or admirals and one ex-president.
The current president Marty Evans is a retired rear
admiral and a director of the investment firm Lehman
Brothers Holdings. Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, the chair of
the Red Cross, is also CEO of Pace Communications, whose
clients include United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and
AT&T--a group of companies known for their vicious
treatment of workers.
The Red Cross has become particularly tied up with the
Republican Party in recent decades. Both McElveen-Hunter
and Evans are Bush appointees--for her part, McElveen-Hunter
has donated over $130,000 to the Republican Party since
* * *
THOUGH IT is technically a nonprofit, the Red Cross is
run more like profit-hungry corporation than what most
people think a "charity" would act like. The most deadly
example of this was the Red Cross' criminally negligent
response to the early stages of the AIDS epidemic in the
The Red Cross has been for many decades, and remains
today, the largest blood bank in the country. In 1982
and especially 1983, when it would have possible to
contain the outbreak--or at least stop the spread of the
disease through infusions of infected blood--major blood
banks, led by the Red Cross, opposed national testing of
blood for HIV.
The Red Cross' opposition was based on the financial
cost. As investigative journalist Judith Reitman wrote
in her book Bad Blood: "It appeared it would be cheaper
to pay off infected blood recipients, should they pursue
legal action, than to up the Red Cross blood supply."
Earlier this year, the Canadian Red Cross pleaded guilty
to distributing contaminated blood supplies that
infected thousands of Canadians with HIV and hepatitis C
in the 1980s. This scandal is a large part of why the
Canadian Red Cross was removed from running the
country's blood supply in the late 1990s--but not the
American Red Cross.
Enron-style bookkeeping, deceptive advertising and
outright theft of funds have also been a big part of the
Red Cross' recent history.
For years, the organization has been criticized for
raising money for one disaster, and then withholding a
large chunk of it for other operations and
"fundraising." For example, the Red Cross raised around
$50 million for the victims of the 1989 San Francisco
earthquake in San Francisco, but it's estimated that
only $10 million was ever turned over to the victims.
Similar charges were made against the Red Cross
following fundraising operations after the Oklahoma City
bombing in 1995 and a San Diego fire in 2001. There was
also a huge scandal involving the embezzlement of
millions of dollars in donations in the New Jersey
chapter in the late 1990s.
These scandals and the potentially embarrassing
political fallout from them were muffled by the media
and the Red Cross' political allies. But the truth
couldn't be contained after September 11.
Soon after the attacks, Dr. Bernadine Healy, who was
appointed president of the Red Cross in 1999, appealed
for donations to help survivors and the families of
those killed. In record-breaking time, the organization
raised nearly $543 million.
Then the controversy began. A congressional
investigation revealed that--though it had promised that
all 9/11 donations would all go to victims'
families--the Red Cross held back more than half of the
$543 million. During congressional hearings, Rep. Billy
Tauzin (R-La.)--soon to become a lobbyist for Big Pharma--declared:
"What's at issue here is that a special fund was
established for these families. It was specially funded
for this event, September 11. And it is being closed now
because we're told enough money's been raised in it, but
we're also told, by the way, we're going to give
two-thirds of it away to other Red Cross needs."
Healy was forced to resign, and her successors promised
to allocate all of the money to September 11 survivors
and their families.
* * *
THE HURRICANE Katrina catastrophe on the Gulf Coast has
revealed the same old problems with the Red Cross. In
late September, the organization was ordered out of a
suburban Atlanta relief center because, according to the
New York Times, its "application process had resulted in
long lines and the group had made false promises of
In an even more bizarre incident in Chicago, students
were turned away from volunteering for a multi-agency
relief center because they refused to sign a loyalty
oath to the U.S. government!
Some more scrutiny of the Red Cross is beginning to take
place. As Richard Walden, of Operation USA, wrote in the
Los Angeles Times, "Its fundraising vastly outruns its
programs because it does very little or nothing to
rescue survivors, provide direct medical care or rebuild
Walden noted (and the Red Cross now confirms) that the
organization has raised $1 billion in pledges and gifts
for hurricane relief. He also revealed that "FEMA and
the affected states are reimbursing the Red Cross under
pre-existing contracts for emergency shelter and other
disaster services. The existence of these contracts is
no secret to anyone but the American public."
How many people would donate to the Red Cross if they
knew all this?
In the richest country in the history of the world, it
is a travesty that such an organization is responsible
for lifesaving. We deserve so much better.
Joe Allen writes for the Socialist Worker.
FDA inspectors found more than 200 safety
violations.......The Red Cross shipped infected blood, failed to
screen out risky donors, even some who admitted having HIV, and lost
track of more than a thousand units, including small amounts infected
with HIV or Hepatitis C. And some Red Cross employees were told to
skip safety steps or falsify records to allow infected blood to be
released. Despite years of violations, the Red Cross has insisted
things can't be that bad because not many people are getting sick from
The FDA needs to, if not take over, heavily oversee a re-design of the
blood system. And in some cases they need to start from scratch,"
WASHINGTON, Jan. 2, 2003
(CBS) FDA inspectors found more than 200 safety
violations by the Red Cross. And as CBS News Correspondent Sharyl
Attkisson reports, many of the violations were offenses the Red Cross
has repeatedly been ordered to fix.
The Red Cross shipped infected blood, failed to screen out risky donors,
even some who admitted having HIV, and lost track of more than a
thousand units, including small amounts infected with HIV or Hepatitis
C. And some Red Cross employees were told to skip safety steps or
falsify records to allow infected blood to be released.
Despite years of violations, the Red Cross has insisted things can't be
that bad because not many people are getting sick from transfusions.
But the new FDA report finds the Red Cross failed to adequately
investigate infections to even determine if bad blood was to blame.
One man got deadly hepatitis C from a transfusion with infected Red
Cross blood - but only found out after he forced an investigation. He
told CBS News the Red Cross couldn't have cared less about what went
When he notified the Red Cross that he had gotten hepatitis C from their
blood, the response was apathetic.
"They told me that certain publications I could read about hepatitis C,"
Even Red Cross workers told FDA inspectors there's a "culture to hide
problems" meaning they'd been instructed to "falsify documents ... to
hide mistakes" and feared retaliation if they reported problems.
In response to the latest FDA findings, the Red Cross says it
"understands more work needs to be done to further strengthen our
processes" and they're committed to working with the FDA "to enhance our
systems." The Red Cross has also just beefed up its work force on
quality, and promises to improve employee training.
But some critics say the charity has broken repeated promises to fix the
blood supply and argue it's time for a radical change.
"The FDA needs to, if not take over, heavily oversee a re-design of the
blood system. And in some cases they need to start from scratch," Paul
Cololery, editor in chief of Non-Profit Times tells Attkisson.
That's something the government apparently isn't willing to take on, at
least not now. Critics say the Red Cross is counting on the fact that
even if it's not managing the blood supply the way it should be - nobody
else is eager to have the job.
© MMIII, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.
BLOOD BROKERS: HOW BLOOD, THE 'GIFT OF LIFE,' BECAME A BILLION-DOLLAR BUSINESS
Gilbert M. Gaul, Inquirer Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER; FINAL Page: A01
SUNDAY September 24, 1989
First in a series
The potential for
fatal mistakes is "a ticking time bomb," said Frank E. Young,
commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration........No one - not
the federal government, not the blood banks themselves - knows for
sure how much blood is bought and sold on the open market. There are
no requirements that sales be reported; no government agency keeps
track.........All of which should be of grave concern to Americans,
for the very safety of the nation's blood supply is at stake.......
Blood collectors say they have done everything possible to ensure
the safety of the blood supply. Yet confidential documents show the
industry ignored or delayed using readily available tests and
procedures to make blood and transfusions safer.
* At a time when AIDS was
showing up in the blood supply in the early 1980s, the FDA reduced
its inspections of blood-collecting facilities from once a year to
once every two years.
* Thousands of pints of
suspect blood and other blood components have been released by blood
banks and commercial plasma centers as a result of testing errors,
computer problems and other mistakes.
This haphazard system exists
because the United States has failed to develop a comprehensive
blood program that ensures adequate, safe supplies to all regions of
the country at fair prices.....The United States is one of only a
handful of Western nations that leave the collection and
distribution of blood scattered among a patchwork of private and
quasi-public groups....."What we have is not so much a system as a
non-system," said Norman R. Kear, administrator of the Red Cross'
blood center in Los Angeles. "Blood-collecting groups like the Red
Cross cooperate when it is in their interest to cooperate, and when
it's not in their interest, they fail to cooperate."
Los Angeles. "Blood-collecting
groups like the Red Cross cooperate when it is in their interest to
cooperate, and when it's not in their interest, they fail to
Disease spread as blood test was delayed
Link includes original communication memos and letters.
By KAREN DILLON
2003 The Kansas City Star
WARNING SIGNS: In
the 1970s, about 1,500 hospital patients participated in the
Transfusion-Transmitted Viruses Study.
concluded that ALT testing could slow the spread of hepatitis
C. However, the
blood testing was delayed for years. The infected blood from the
study is stored at BBI Biotech in Gaithersburg, Md., for future
Special to ABCNEWS.com
A simple blood test might have prevented hundreds of thousands
of cases of hepatitis C....
A study back in 1959 showed that blood
donors with raised ALT levels were three to five times more
likely to transmit hepatitis “Perhaps Congress should
investigate why ALT testing was not implemented until 1986.” “
might want to inquire why the Food and Drug Administration never
issued a formal regulation requiring ALT testing and how blood
industry representatives who sat on government health committees
may have influenced decisions about testing.”
“Is this a typical example of
what governments do after they miss an opportunity to prevent
the spread of
an illness, and is the government liable in this case?
By Alexander Aitken,
Canadian Hepatitis C Network
one who has had the fine privilege of an in dept view of the Canadian
Red Cross's financial records, all I can say is that I was shocked to
see how they abused those in Canada who felt the charitable need to
donate to those less fortunate during a disaster. Millions of dollars
were sitting in accounts from past disasters that had long passed. After
so many years these monies were transferred to general operating
accounts. I did ask why these monies could not be transferred into an
account for the biggest man made disaster in Canadian history. I was
told that at the time since the Red Cross felt they had no
responsibility for infecting and killing thousands of Canadians, there
was no need to even comment or answer my reasonable question. The chief
executive finally after years of prompting apologized to those they had
murdered and infected with HIV and HCV this past year, via a video tape.
This apology was part of a structured deal in the wake of a criminal
trial for gross wrongdoing on the part of the Canadian Red Cross.
My personal opinion is they are the dirtiest
of the slime that crawl across the path of charitable organizations.
Their response to Katrina only reinforces this belief. The efforts by
many brave persons to take on the Holy Grail of non profits in Canada
was an effort that took the most skill and discipline to achieve success
as in the early days of the tainted blood wars, attacking the Red Cross
was seen as the most horrendous of sins. My God man they are the bloody
Red Cross, have you lost it?
To date thousands of Canadians are dead, or
near death because of the Canadian Red Cross and others involved in this
national tragedy. To date thousands are still waiting for promised
compensation from this national shame. The American Red Cross is
complicit in this matter, but has sailed along, worry free, without ever
accepting any form of responsibility for the damage caused to citizens
of the United States and the World.
Canadian Hepatitis C Network