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Investigative Reporting

Thirty years after a young hacker played by Matthew Broderick nearly triggered a nuclear war in the movie "WarGames," fears of malicious computer attackers causing real-world destruction are an everyday reality.

Online attacks, such as those recently aimed at U.S. banks and the Federal Reserve, represent a new front in wars fought with computer keystrokes rather than weapons. Costly to the banks, the attacks merely annoyed customers who could not access their accounts online. Future strikes, top military experts warn, could be destructive - even deadly - targeting nuclear power plants, public water systems, railways, air traffic control and hospitals.

A Tribune-Review investigation of the nation's independent organ procurement organizations, or OPOs, reveals a lucrative trade with little financial oversight. The newspaper found 51 of the nonprofits collected revenue of $1.2 billion and recovered more than 80,000 body parts. Many organ procurement organizations post revenue surpluses each year and top executives average $320,000 in total compensation with some making more than $800,000, according to 2011 federal filings and tax documents. The Trib also examined a new practice among recovery organizations to retrieve organs at their own surgical facilities rather than in traditional hospitals so they can keep control of costs and money.

Federal health authorities reported a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System which began in February 2011 and ended in November 2012. The outbreak killed at least five veterans and sickened at least 16 more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As part of its ongoing coverage, a Tribune-Review investigation found inadequate testing and delayed disclosures by the VA's management. The newspaper disclosed that top leaders received performance bonuses during the outbreak. In June, the newspaper revealed that Legionella bacteria had been found at the VA's Oakland campus five years before officials disclosed the outbreak. The outbreak has been widely scrutinized by members of Congress and led to several investigations, including an ongoing probe by VA Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh.

Shortly before noon on March 6, 2007, Small Kill Team leader Michael Barbera rose from his squad’s position in high grass in a palm grove here and shot two teenage cattle herders.

A short time later, the Army staff sergeant ordered his soldiers to kill a third teenager walking toward them.

Barbera would report to his superiors that the three dead boys were insurgents operating out of this farming village about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad.

In reality, Ahmad Khalid al-Timmimi, 15, his brother, Abbas, and their cousin, Muhamed Khaleel Kareem al-Galyani, both 14, were unarmed deaf mutes with no known ties to the insurgency. Their slayings angered most members of Barbera’s squad — decorated combat veterans who reported the killings to Army investigators in Fort Bragg, N.C.

Those soldiers believed Barbera’s actions triggered two reprisal suicide bombings at their combat outpost that killed 10 of their fellow paratroopers in the 5th Squadron of the 73rd Cavalry Airborne Reconnaissance Regiment.

In late 2010, several of Barbera’s former soldiers asked the Tribune-Review to get answers about what happened to a secret Army probe into their allegations. In a two-year investigation, a Trib reporter traveled to Fort Bragg, across the United States and into an area of Iraq vacated by American troops to find out what happened.

Classified documents provided to the Trib eventually revealed what no soldier or Iraqi villager knew: Army investigators recommended that Barbera face charges, including two counts of murder. But Barbera was never brought to court.

More than half the world's money passes almost undetected through a series of financial black holes that shelter it from not only the tax collector but from shareholders, partners and wives, a Tribune-Review investigation found.

Once employed by gangsters such as Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano, these secret bank accounts have grown so vast and lawless that some experts tell the Trib they fear the amount of money involved threatens societies from China to Africa, Europe and the United States. World leaders railed against the impact of secret havens during the G20 summit in Pittsburgh three years ago.

Charities and consumer-product companies raise up to $6 billion a year for breast cancer research, according to the Better Business Bureau. Yet for all the publicity, little attention focuses on gaping racial divides in diagnoses and deaths from the disease.

Breast cancer is more likely to appear in black women under age 40. Struck by such disparities, the Tribune-Review worked to explore trends and the research addressing them. Though men can contract breast cancer, women comprise most patients and survivors.

Hospitals and doctors make more money by aggressively treating terminal patients than by keeping them free of pain and letting them die with dignity. Some doctors derisively call the practice "flogging" — as in, beating a dead horse.

Medicare, which paid most of Massco's bills and is the nation's largest health insurance program, spends about $113 billion a year, or a quarter of its budget for people 65 and older, to treat patients during the last year of their lives. As lawmakers argue about ways to cut costs, many experts say the government wastes billions of dollars on unnecessary care for dying patients.

Thousands of sick and wounded soldiers within the Army's Warrior Transition program aren't receiving psychological care they need and are being discharged into communities ill-prepared to help them.

A nine-month investigation by the Tribune-Review, buttressed by documents passed to the newspaper by soldiers and the Pentagon's Office of Wounded Warrior Care & Transition Policy in Alexandria, Va., reveal an Army reeling from an epidemic of mental and behavioral health problems after nearly a decade of constant combat overseas.

About Luis Fábregas

Luis Fábregas Luis Fábregas is an award-winning reporter who specializes in medical and healthcare issues as a member of the Tribune-Review’s investigations team.

About Andrew Conte

Andrew Conte Investigative reporter Andrew Conte has covered rising health care costs and the legalization of casino gambling in Pennsylvania. He wrote a national best-selling book, Breakaway, about the behind-the-scenes dealings to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh and is the founding director of Point Park University's news service.

About Carl Prine

Carl Prine Investigative reporter Carl Prine has been involved in a number of investigations into the security of various U.S. facilities.