Interview with George Carlo, former Chairman, International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry (CTIA) Wireless Technology Research Program (WTR).

When George’s research turned up evidence of health risks from cell phones, the project was shut down. Tom Wheeler referred to in the Gregson article is President Obama’s new head of the FCC, responsible for regulation of the mobile phone industry. Carlo’s background below:

Involvement and Affiliations:

  • Former Chairman, International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry (CTIA) Wireless Technology Research Program (WTR)
  • Fellow, American College of Epidemiology
  • Former Adjunct Professor, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences
  • Former Professor, Medical Sciences, University of Arkansas
  • Former Professor, School of Medicine, State University of New York at Buffalo
  • Has served as an advisor to: the US Congress, World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry


  • JD, George Washington University National Law Center
  • PhD, Pathology, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1979
  • MS, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1977
  • BA, Celluar and Molecular Biology, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1975

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Carlo book points finger at CTIA, Wheeler

By Reily Gregson on December 18, 2000  at RCR

WASHINGTON-A new book describes top cellular lobbyist Thomas Wheeler as obsessed with controlling public relations for industry-funded mobile phone-cancer research conducted in the 1990s and claims he attempted extraordinary measures to downplay suspected health risks.

In “Cell Phones: Invisible Hazards in the Wireless Age,” Dr. George Carlo-the epidemiologist who managed the six-year, $28 million research program for the cellular-phone industry-and veteran syndicated columnist Martin Schram document how Wheeler, president of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, allegedly exerted his influence during the research program while loudly touting it as independent.

Carlo, hand-picked by Wheeler in 1993 on the advice of a public-relations specialist, ran an organization known as Wireless Technology Research L.L.C. WTR managed cell phone-cancer research with money from mobile-phone carriers and manufacturers.

The book, which alternates with passages of reporting by Schram and commentary by Carlo, is a blistering indictment of the cellular industry and government policy makers. The authors blame industry, federal regulators and Congress for failing the nation’s 107 million wireless subscribers by not following up on new studies showing DNA breaks, genetic damage, increased cancer and other health problems from mobile-phone radiation.

Wheeler, who refused to be interviewed for the book, did not respond to a request for comment. Instead CTIA issued a statement in response to written questions from RCR Wireless News.

“After years of substantial scientific study, scientists and governments around the world continue to reaffirm that there is no public health threat from the use of wireless phones,” stated CTIA.

Yet, the British government, responding to recommendations by a blue-ribbon scientific panel, recently announced $10 million will be spent on new mobile-phone-health research. The British wireless industry will help underwrite the research.

The cellular industry insists Wheeler did not interfere with WTR as alleged throughout the book.

“CTIA followed the recommendations of the government to establish WTR as an independent entity,” the trade group stated. “The management of WTR under George Carlo was completely independent. George Carlo was responsible for the research agenda and the selection of studies and scientists. CTIA fulfilled its obligation by fully funding the $25 million to WTR. In addition, WTR received nearly $3 million for other non-bioeffects related research.”

The book, which documents the stormy relationship between Carlo and Wheeler, arrives on bookshelves across the country at a time when health-related phone litigation is gaining steam. Several lawsuits are pending in state courts and a flurry of new ones are expected to be filed around the country in coming weeks.

Last week, there were indications that top Baltimore lawyer Peter Angelos has joined fellow Baltimore lawyer Joanne Suder in pursuing mobile phone-cancer litigation. Angelos had shown early interest in the mobile phone-health issue, but then faded when Suder came on the scene last August with an $800 million mobile phone-cancer lawsuit.

Separately, several parties have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn mobile-phone and tower radiation guidelines of the Federal Communications Commission because they believe the public is not adequately protected.

Schram and Carlo conclude that Wheeler’s intervention in matters of public relations, funding and personnel ultimately undermined the scientific foundation of the mobile phone-cancer research program itself.

Some have questioned why Carlo, who once appeared very tight with industry, suddenly changed his tune. Carlo insists his motivations are driven by new scientific findings and industry’s refusal to address them responsibly.

The bad blood between Carlo and Wheeler exists to this day. Wheeler, in an Oct. 18, 1999, memo, claims Carlo did not share results of his mobile-phone research with the industry. Schram and Carlo document numerous instances in which they claim industry was given full notice of positive results in WTR experiments.

Among the allegations made public in the book are:

In a Nov. 26, 1993, memo titled, “Dealing with Hydra-Headed Cancer Scare,” Wheeler outlined a strategy on how the cellular industry and Food and Drug Administration would react in tandem to a then-upcoming CBS `Eye-to-Eye’ program on cell-phone health questions. In the memo, Wheeler pondered how to deal with then-FDA scientist Mays Swicord, who wanted the government to conduct industry-funded cancer studies. Wheeler, who suspected Swicord of leaking key documents to reporters, did not want FDA to do the work, according to the authors.

Today, in a complete reversal, the cellular industry is cooperating with the FDA to replicate Carlo studies that found genetic damage from mobile-phone radiation and other studies that suggest a possible association between mobile phones and cancer.

Swicord was subsequently hired by Motorola Inc., the nation’s No. 1 mobile phone maker. The authors, however, leave unclear any connection between Motorola’s hiring of Swicord and Wheeler’s memo.

In a 1994 memo, Wheeler raised objections to a draft of a mobile-phone manual that, among other things, advised consumers how to limit radio-frequency radiation from mobile phones. The book says Wheeler succeeded in getting the industry consumer safety document watered down.

In a September 1994 memo, Wheeler mapped out “a pre-emptive strike” on Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) by highlighting to Markey the involvement of Harvard University. Wheeler, according to the book, even had a backup plan to curry favor with Markey that, if necessary, would “send all cash through Harvard.”

After a Florida man’s mobile phone-cancer lawsuit gained national attention in early 1993, Markey-then chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee-held a hearing and called for a congressional investigation of mobile-phone health risks. In recent years, Markey, who has gained a reputation as ardent consumer advocate, has pushed for federally funded mobile-phone-health research. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and other Vermont lawmakers also advocate government funding of independent mobile-phone-health research.

“I think it is self evident that any industry-funded research in any industry is going to have a question mark,” Colin Crowell, a Markey aide, told RCR Wireless News. “Ed would like to see more done.”

Carlo, for his part, said he was taken aback by the politics: “I was a bit stunned to see the suggestion of having a `pre-emptive strike’ on a member of Congress,” he said. “I really couldn’t imagine throwing around the Harvard connection-and trying to use a distinguished scientist such as Dr. Graham for political leverage. It seemed crude and frankly, unacceptable to me.” Dr. John Graham heads the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis.

At an April 1996 meeting, the book says Wheeler suggested to Carlo that WTR’s mobile-phone-cancer research project be folded into the cellular trade group’s nonprofit arm, the CTIA Foundation. Wheeler, according to the book, said such an arrangement was necessary to shield Carlo from health-related lawsuits. Carlo believed Wheeler wanted to leverage indemnification to gain control of the program, and rein it in. Carlo said Wheeler offered to make him vice president of the CTIA Foundation. The book says Carlo balked, worried the independence of WTR would be compromised. Carlo said he remembered being told that CTIA gave indemnification to members of the WTR audit committee, which was allowed to remain independent. Carlo said he brought that to Wheeler’s attention. Wheeler did not pursue the proposal further, stated Carlo. The CTIA president later found a way to insure Carlo against lawsuits.

Carlo alleges that $6 million contributed by CTIA’s members for WTR research was spent internally by CTIA for other purposes, but does not document where the money went. The authors quote a Toshiba Corp. lobbyist who believed too much money was being spent on public-relations aspects of health research.

On a related front not mentioned in the book, the Oct. 27 WTR Audit Committee report states Carlo is seeking claims from CTIA of $65,000 and $292,692. Carlo, who says he faces lawsuits from unpaid scientists, said he is contemplating suing CTIA to recover money he claims is owed to WTR.

Carlo says Tom Lukish, then-CTIA vice president for health and safety, had a parting of the ways with CTIA in 1996 after Lukish pressed Wheeler for more research money. The money was needed for short-term and whole-life animal experiments, epidemiology studies, development of standards to measure and certify the amount of phone radiation absorbed by human tissue, scientific assessment of the health impact of mobile base stations and other work.

At the same time, during the 1990s, much of the nation’s mobile-phone infrastructure was built out without any government health and safety intervention.

“I felt we had a responsibility to pursue the research, wherever it led to,” Lukish told Schram. Lukish’s assessment of Wheeler was not flattering: “Tom Wheeler is a strange study in human nature. He is not the type of business manager that I was comfortable working with.”

In frustration, Carlo turned to a competing wireless trade association for help, the Personal Communications Industry Association. PCIA President Jay Kitchen and his staff listened to a presentation by Carlo, but declined to support WTR. Wheeler was incensed when he learned of Carlo’s pitch to PCIA. “You work for CTIA. You work for me-not PCIA,” Wheeler told Carlo.

Indeed, Carlo said he endured many other verbal scoldings from Wheeler and Jo-Anne Basile, senior vice president for external and industry affairs. Though he never says so in the book, it appears a reservoir of resentment built up during the course of research program that may have emboldened Carlo, after getting positive results of a possible phone-cancer link, to start a crusade that would land him in TV interviews across the country.

Early on, the book says Wheeler enlisted the support of high-powered media spinners. Wheeler and his lieutenants, according to the book, were particularly sensitive about how Carlo would carry himself in public as chief scientist of the world’s largest cell-phone research program.

At at July 11, 1993, meeting at CTIA headquarters, the book says Wheeler and former presidential secretaries Jody Powell and Ron Nessen coached Carlo on how to speak to the press about cancer allegations, agonizing over Carlo’s every word.

At the 1993 meeting, when Nessen asked Carlo what cell-phone research had concluded to date, Carlo replied, “So far, so good.” Pressed further by Powell, Carlo added, “We have reviewed about 400 papers, and there are no `red flags.’ And we are still reviewing more.”

But Wheeler, Nessen and Powell, according to the book’s authors, thought Carlo sounded to wishy-washy. So Wheeler spoke up, “We need to say phones are safe. We need to reassure our customers.”

That tack won Wheeler a reprimand from FDA official Elizabeth Jacobson in July 1993 for publicly stating in advance that “we expect the new research to reach the same conclusion, that cellular phones are safe.”

The book tells of an encounter Carlo had with Motorola lobbyist Chuck Eger, who in late 1993 voiced concerns about Dr. Asher Sheppard, a California scientist, who testified at public meetings about potential health risks from mobile base stations. “What do you think we should do,” Eger asked. Carlo recommended that industry should get Sheppard involved. And it did. Shortly thereafter, the book says Sheppard became a paid Motorola consultant.

Wheeler, according to the book, realized from the start that he and Carlo were joined at hip and that any failure on the part of Carlo would reflect negatively on Wheeler.

Carlo writes that his relationship with Wheeler began to sour after Carlo spent some research funds on studies that found mobile-phone interference with pacemakers and other medical devices.

CTIA, according to Carlo and Schram, did not like Carlo’s handling of the matter. Carlo pushed the industry to notify consumers with pacemakers to take precautions as a short-term solution, but to put the long-term burden on the pacemaker industry to build products immune to interference.