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Prof. Paul Meier (1924-2011):

Interesting People Met During My FCC Career
Paul Meier
Last week major newspapers carried the obituary for Prof. Paul Meier who spent most of his career at the University of Chicago. His most famous work was in the area of medical statistics where he had a large impact. Scientific Computing wrote:

Meier was well known among his colleagues for co-developing a statistical method called the Kaplan-Meier estimator, which provided a novel method for estimating survival rates in clinical trial data. It incorporates data from patients who have been followed until death, as well as others who survived. The journal article that introduced the method in 1958, co-authored by Meier and Edward L. Kaplan, remains one of the most cited research papers in statistics or any other field, with about 34,000 citations to date. Meier also wrote extensively about the polio vaccine trial of 1954. The trial comprised the largest medical experiment in history, involving more than a million children.

But you could ask what did this have to do with FCC? Prof. Meier was hired by FCC as a consultant to help in U.S. v. Haynie, the prosecution of the 18 USC 1367 “Playboy jamming” case - the felony prosecution under that statute that was passed after the 1986 better known “Captain Midnight” satellite jamming case. In both cases, an FCC/FOB team that I am proud to have participated in, unmasked the perpetrator in about a week despite the unprecedented nature of the incidents. (FOB was the predecessor of today’s Enforcement Bureau and my presence there for what turned out to be about to be 7 years was “internal exile” resulting from the controversies involved in creating what became Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.)

“Captain Midnight” quickly agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor violation of 47 USC 301, “transmitting without a license” even though there was a legal question whether that statute was applicable. The satellite industry was concerned about the possibility of more jamming and possible damage to satellites through input overloads and urged Congress to pass a new felony statute which became 18 USC 1367.

Thomas Haynie, an employee of the Christian Broadcasting Network’s satellite uplink station in Virginia Beach was accused of the crime and CBN paid for his defense. At the time of the incident, CBN leader Pat Robertson was running for the Republican presidential nomination. As reported earlier here, US Attorney (now Judge) Henry Hudson tried to avoid this prosecution for a new felony statute where the offense occurred in his district and the prosecution was handed over to the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

James Wilson, the excellent prosecutor assigned to the case wanted an ironclad case to nail the conviction. The basic evidence consisted linking Haynie to the event consisted of my analysis of a tape recording of the event showing that the text in the jamming signal was a very close match to the the character generator unit at CBN and different that most other units of the same model due to manual adjustment internal to the device. Similarly event tape showed the transmitter used for the jamming started at partial power and 1.67 seconds later went to full power - a characteristic of a certain transmitter model that CBN had and a very close match to the turnon time delay of CBN’s transmitter.

Prof. Meier was engaged to do a statistical analysis of the data we collected, advise on what other data might be needed, and prepare a report on the confidence level associated with our identification of CBN’s facilities and Mr. Haynie. He advised us of how much data we should collect about the characteristics of other units of the same model character generator and transmitter and prepared a report showing a negligible probability that our identification of the CBN equipment as the source of the jamming was erroneous.

During the 1 week trial on Norfolk we had Prof. Meier on “strip alert” to fly there and testify if the defense seriously attacked our analysis, but I believe the strength of Prof. Meier’s analysis report deterred the defense from doing so and he never actually testified. But Prof. Meier was an inspiration to the whole prosecution team with his effective and clearly explained approach to this novel investigative problem. He was also our conscience to make absolutely sure we missed something in our identification. Also I had found Prof. Meier and first approached him, I was not fully aware of the magnitude of his contributions to medical research that came out in the recent obituaries. I am proud to have worked with him on this case and learned a lot from him. He is one of the most unforgettable person I met during my career.

An irony of this case 25 years later is that CBN’s Washington news office is now located at 1919 M St., NW, the former FCC headquarters building!

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