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F.D.A. Is Spying On It's Own Employees: Trying To Criminalize and Silence Critics and Whistleblowers

Last week it was reported by the N.Y. Times that the Food and Drug Administration is carrying out a massive surveillance program against its own scientists and outside critics of the agency's medical review process.

As the Times article reported: "A wide-ranging surveillance operation by the Food and Drug Administration against a group of its own scientists used an enemies list of sorts as it secretly captured thousands of e-mails that the disgruntled scientists sent privately to members of Congress, lawyers, labor officials, journalists and even President Obama, previously undisclosed records show. What began as a narrow investigation into the possible leaking of confidential agency information by five scientists quickly grew in mid-2010 into a much broader campaign to counter outside critics of the agency’s medical review process, according to the cache of more than 80,000 pages of computer documents generated by the surveillance effort. Moving to quell what one memorandum called the “collaboration” of the F.D.A.’s opponents, the surveillance operation identified 21 agency employees, Congressional officials, outside medical researchers and journalists thought to be working together to put out negative and “defamatory” information about the agency." (see http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/us/fda-surveillance-of-scientists-spread-to-outside-critics.html?pagewanted=all )

Spyware has been installed on scientists' laptop computers which:

  •captured screen images of their work and communications
  •intercepted their personal emails
  •copied files from their thumb drives
  •followed their messages as they were being typed keystroke by keystroke

This spy operation yielded at least 80,000 pages of surveillance reports on these scientists.

The operation only came to light because the surveillance company used by the F.D.A. mistakenly posted the files on the web where they were discovered.

The background of this is that some scientists in the F.D.A. have been criticizing faulty review procedures at the agency which in their view had led to the approval of medical imaging devices for mammograms and colonoscopies that exposed patients to dangerous levels of radiation. Clearly the leaders of the agency did not like this and wanted to stifle it.

The F.D.A. - and the Obama administration in general - have not stopped this program - they are continuing to defend it. They are trying to justify it by saying they believe these scientists were leaking confidential information about the safety and design of medical devices. But according to the Times article: “...a confidential government review in May by the Office of Special Counsel, which deals with the grievances of government workers, found that the scientists’ medical claims were valid enough to warrant a full investigation into what it termed “a substantial and specific danger to public safety.”

There is NO justification for the police-state tactics of the FDA against scientists and journalists. How can real science be done in such an atmosphere? How can the public learn essential scientific and health information?

Obama administration officials have sent out a duplicitous memo about this case: 'the White House Office of Management and Budget sent a governmentwide memo last month emphasizing that while the internal monitoring of employee communications was allowed, it could not be used under the law to intimidate whistle-blowers. Any monitoring must be done in ways that “do not interfere with or chill employees’ use of appropriate channels to disclose wrongdoing,”.' (New York Times – same article)

So...Police state tactics are just fine as long as they don't intimidate anyone! And if you follow the logic of this one step further, it leads to this: if you are intimidated or even complain, that must mean you are guilty as suspected.

This is all an intolerable outrage and must be stopped immediately. It is not “ok” for things like this to be happening to “some” people. It is not “ok” for pervasive government spying on and attempts to silence scientists to become the “new normal”.

The way that the government in this case acted as if massive and intrusive electronic surveillance of scientists and journalists is just fine points to a larger concern: the increasing intrusive government surveillance of society, and the prevailing atmosphere that we should all just get used to it - "Privacy is dead". Consider, on July 8, the New York Times reported on the 1.3 million demands last year from law enforcement agencies on cell phone carriers for subscriber information – meaning peoples' names, locations, who they called, etc. (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/09/us/cell-carriers-see-uptick-in-requests-to-aid-surveillance.html?_r=1 )

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