In a story that almost defies comprehension, the New York Times is reporting that the Food and Drug Administration’s suspected surveillance of whistleblowers is bigger than previously reported, and includes tracking of sources outside the agency.
The FDA reportedly has developed an “enemies list” to push back against negative coverage of its oft-criticized review of drugs and medical devices. The list includes not only scientists employed within the FDA, but also congressmen, journalists, and outside medical researchers. These efforts have resulted in the collection of some 80,000 pages of documents that include private emails to Congress, draft whistleblower retaliation complaints, and communications with journalists and attorneys.
The FDA contracted with an outside firm to install “key logging” software in employees’ computers, which can record every key stroke and thus intercept draft letters and email passwords. The software was originally set up to collect and analyze surveillance results, but FDA officials used it to provide new leads and to map out new surveillance targets and issues of concern.
One of the congressmen on the list is Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who is number 14. His aide is number 13.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) told the New York Times that FDA officials “have absolutely no business reading the private e-mails of their employees. They think they can be the Gestapo and do anything they want.”
An FDA contractor tasked with surveying real-time, intercepted communications apparently posted online a cache of documents by mistake. It has recently been taken down.
It is unknown if the surveillance continues to this day.