When federal employees share information with outside sources, administrations tend to get nervous, especially when those employees might have an axe to grind. So if you’re the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), what do you do? You snoop through thousands of private e-mails belonging to FDA scientists and try to stop whistleblowing at its source. At least, that’s what happened in 2010, The New York Times reports.
With a list of potential threatening persons and agencies in hand, the FDA stealthily surveyed e-mail accounts of sour scientists who had contacted Congress, lawyers, journalists, and even President Obama with concerns. More than 80,000 pages of documents came out of the FDA’s surveillance effort, and 21 agency employees, Congressional officials, medical researchers, and journalists were targeted as collaborators working to “defame” the FDA.
The process began simply enough: the FDA was looking into the possibility that confidential agency information had been leaked. Before long, though, the investigation blossomed into a full-blown campaign to hush critics of the FDA’s medical review process. The agency used spy software to monitor workers’ work and home computers.