Top Agency Lawyers Reportedly Approved FDA’s Spying

The Food and Drug Administration is facing increasing pressure to explain who authorized a massive spying campaign that secretly gathered personal emails of agency employees and generated over 80,000 computer documents.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley said in a letter to the FDA this week saying that his staff learned the spying was “explicitly authorized, in writing” by the chief counsel’s office at the FDA.“It is evident from the documents I have obtained that FDA did in fact target communications with Congress for monitoring and then took adverse personnel actions against FDA whistleblowers who were communicating with Congress,” Grassley said in the letter. “FDA’s misconduct cannot be ignored.”

The documents were inadvertently posted online by an FDA contractor and taken down on Friday after the New York Times started asking questions.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” the researcher who discovered the postings told the Times. “I thought: ‘Oh my God, everything is out there. It’s all about us.’ It was just outrageous.”

Documents showed that the FDA installed SpectorSoft spying software on the laptop of one of its medical officers and laid out his Gmail communications with other suspected whistleblowers, the media and members of Congress. The FDA claimed it was investigating the leaking of confidential information on the safety and design of medical devices.

FDA spokeswoman Erica Jefferson told the Washington Post that the agency “did not impede or interfere with any employee communication to Congress, their staff, media or federal investigators.”

The dispute began when FDA scientists claimed that the agency’s flawed review processes at the agency had allowed medical imaging devices that exposed patients to high levels of radiation to be approved. The Washington Post reported in January that several of the scientists had sued the agency over the surveillance. The Office of Special Counsel is also investigating the FDA’s monitoring of its employees.