This rogue agency secretly captured thousands of emails that its disgruntled scientists sent to Congress, labor officials, journalists and even the president.
The New York Times is reporting that the US Food and Drug Administration conducted a wide-ranging surveillance operation against a group of its own scientists in an attempt to halt criticism of its medical review process. The agency also had an “enemies list” of sorts that included agency employees, congressional officials, outside medical researchers, and journalists thought to be working together to disseminate negative and “defamatory” information about the FDA.
The FDA used spy software that was installed on the workers’ laptops that took screen captures, tracked keystrokes, intercepted personal emails, and even copied documents that were on their personal flash drives. The surveillance, according to the Times, sprang out of a bitter dispute between the scientists and their FDA supervisors over the scientists’ claims that faulty review procedures at the agency led to the approval of some medical devices that had exposed patients to dangerous levels of radiation.
FDA’s actions almost certainly violated the law by seizing information that is specifically protected under the law. Attorney-client communications, whistle-blower complaints to Congress, and workplace grievances filed with the government are all protected information. Six scientists are suing the agency over the incident.
Some members of Congress were not pleased by the revelations, particularly since scientists’ private correspondence with Senate and House staff members was similarly intercepted.
Congressional review of the FDA is scant, and most representatives and senators really don’t know how out-of-control this agency is, or how it acts as executive agency, legislator, and judge, often running roughshod over the human rights we take for granted in the US.
In May, Sen. Rand Paul introduced an amendment to control the FDA’s police powers. You may recall last year’s raid of a food co-op by the FDA, in which armed teams were deployed with guns drawn, and law enforcement ordered all co-op members out of the store, seizing all the cash in the register, then handcuffing the co-op’s founder and placing him in an unmarked car without reading him his rights. Sen. Paul’s amendment would have prohibited FDA employees (as well as all other Health and Human Services employees) from carrying weapons and making arrests without warrants.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to be arming bureaucrats to go on the farm, with arms, to stop people from selling milk from a cow. I think we have too many armed federal agencies, and that we need to put an end to this,” said Paul. “Criminal law increasingly seems to be used as a tool of our government bureaucracy to punish and control honest businessmen for simply attempting to make a living.” Unfortunately, the amendment failed by a vote of 78 to 15. We clearly have a lot of work to do to educate Congress about what the FDA is doing.
The idea of a government spying on its own people—on its own employees in order to silence them and end dissent—is a profoundly scary one. The FDA’s budget is about $2.5 billion, though when user fees are added, that increases to $4.5 billion. A quasi-totalitarian agency that large, and one that is controlling so much of our economy, cannot be allowed to act in blatant disregard of the rights of its employees or the laws of the country.
Action Alert! Help us reform the FDA! Go to ReformFDA.org and sign our petition. Make your voice heard in Congress!