Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.
A broad surveillance effort by the Food and Drug Administration that secretly monitored a group of its disgruntled scientists' personal email was "explicitly authorized" by the agency's lawyers, congressional investigators announced Monday.
The latest development in the story that is looking increasingly damning for the agency provides, in the words of the Washington Post, "the first indication that the effort was sanctioned at the highest levels."
Back in January, the Post reported that the FDA had monitored the communications of employees who were expressing safety concerns about the agency's medical review process. The true scope of the effort, however, became better known this past weekend when the New York Times reported that the agency used what the paper called "an enemies list of sorts" to capture thousands of emails sent by the disgruntled scientists to lawmakers, journalists and even President Obama warning that the agency's review process had led to the approval of imaging devices used in mammograms and colonoscopies that exposed patients to unacceptable levels of radiation.
According to the Times, the scope and pace of the monitoring was "extraordinary":
"The agency, using so-called spy software designed to help employers monitor workers, captured screen images from the government laptops of the five scientists as they were being used at work or at home. The software tracked their keystrokes, intercepted their personal e-mails, copied the documents on their personal thumb drives and even followed their messages line by line as they were being drafted, the documents show."
Apparently, a contractor working for the FDA posted the documents to a public website, presumably by mistake. The documents included files on members of Congress who were sympathetic to the whistle-blower's arguments. The FDA was apparently worried that the scientists were disclosing trade secrets of the companies manufacturing the devices in question.