How far would the pharmaceutical industry go to stop legislation that would make it easier for people to import drugs from Canadian Web sites? Would it fund a terrorist attack? Would it commission a mystery thriller to scare the American public into opposing the legislation by telling a story of Bosnian Muslim terrorists somehow infecting the pills, thereby killing many people? Would the idea for such a potboiler come from a D.C. divorce lawyer and a friend at Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America?

The idea of the industry funding a terrorist attack is clearly fiction, part of a novel, "The Karasik Conspiracy," due out early next year. The rest . . . is not all together clear.

Lloyd Grove, our former colleague who now dishes gossip for the New York Daily News, recently reported that PhRMA has "secretly commissioned a thriller novel whose aim was to scare the living daylights out of folks who might want to buy cheap drugs from Canada." He said divorce lawyer Mark Barondess had approached Los Angeles-based Phoenix Books with the idea.

Barondess, who has multiple sclerosis, is on PhRMA's side of the drug importation argument. He has argued publicly that the cheaper drugs from Canada might not be as safe as U.S. prescription drugs. He has represented CNN's Larry King, whose foundation has also argued against loosening the rules on drug importation. (King calls the novel "dazzling" in a blurb on the front cover.)

Kenin Spivak, a Californian telecommunications entrepreneur, studio executive and more, joined the book project, partnering with the original author, Julie Chrystyn. Spivak said yesterday that PhRMA commissioned the project from Phoenix Books, headed by Michael Viner; "wanted the book dumbed down for women"; and insisted that the original Croatian bad guys be Muslims. So the authors made them Bosnian Muslims.

Spivak said PhRMA made a number of payments to Phoenix, but in July said it didn't like the book and was withdrawing from the project. A proposed $100,000 settlement to drop the book was rejected when PhRMA insisted that the authors promise never to say anything bad about the pharmaceutical industry, Spivak said.

PhRMA tells a different story.

Senior Vice President Ken Johnson said yesterday that Barondess brought the book idea to "a yo-yo" at the trade association. No book was commissioned by the association's leaders, he said, and when they found out about it, they stopped it. Barondess did not return calls for comment.

Johnson said the industry did not have to rely on "pulp fiction and loony tunes" to make its case to Congress and the public.

"This absolutely was not a project that was approved or pursued by the leaders of PhRMA. . . . This was a screwball idea," he said.

Johnson said some money was paid to cover research costs. He said PhRMA head Billy Tauzin "read the riot act" to staffers involved in the project and instituted controls to prevent such a thing from happening again.

Spivak and Chrystyn are going ahead with their version of the book. Now there are bad guys of different faiths, and there's also a drug company that funds a terrorist attack.

And if the story couldn't get any odder, the editor for awhile was Jayson Blair, who famously made up stories at the New York Times.

A Progressive Move

Melody Barnes moves up from senior fellow to executive vice president for policy, a new post, at the Center for American Progress. Barnes also will be active in the American Progress Action Fund, which is "dedicated to transforming progressive ideas into policy through action, including advocacy, lobbying and public education." The center is headed by former Clinton chief of staff John D. Podesta. Barnes earlier served as chief counsel to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

New Positions

Also, in and about town . . . William K. Coulter has risen from the now-defunct Coudert Brothers law firm to join the ever-growing government affairs practice at DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary. Coulter earlier was general counsel of COMSAT International Communications.

Amy Jackson is leaving the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, where she has been senior trade negotiator for Korea. Next month, she joins C&M International, a subsidiary of the Crowell & Moring law firm. Doral Cooper, head of C&M International and a former assistant U.S. trade rep, says the shop represents KITA (the Korean International Trade Association).

Jackson said her post is not covered by the government's one-year ban on lobbying one's former colleagues, although she is bound by the more general ethics restriction on any particular matter she might have worked on.