Kudos to Eric Lichtblau and Scott Shane of The New York Times for a brilliant story on Sunday exposing efforts by the FDA to spy on its own scientists, in pursuit of some whimsical conspiracy in which the scientists were presumed to be working with critics to "defame" the agency.
Agency officials captured emails from its scientists to members of Congress, lawyers, journalists, and even President Obama. An FDA memo said many of these people were "thought to be working together to put out negative and 'defamatory' information about the agency."
These are the people we entrust to tell us what drugs are safe?
Some of the information obtained by the perverse FDA spying is protected by law, including whistleblower complaints to Congress.
The FDA officials who conducted the spying were responding to a complaint from GE Healthcare, which said agency employees had been leaking confidential information, according to the Times report.
The reporters must have been smiling when they wrote this:
While the surveillance was intended to protect trade secrets for companies like G.E., it may have done just the opposite. The data posted publicly by the F.D.A. contractor — and taken down late Friday after inquiries by The Times — includes hundreds of confidential documents on the design of imaging devices and other detailed, proprietary information
The FDA did a bad thing, and, even worse--it did it badly.
The story is nicely put together, with just enough detail--not too much--to explain what was happening at the FDA. And they managed to get a response, at least in paraphrase, from the FDA:
F.D.A. officials defended the surveillance operation, saying that the computer monitoring was limited to the five scientists suspected of leaking confidential information about the safety and design of medical devices.
While they acknowledged that the surveillance tracked the communications that the scientists had with Congressional officials, journalists and others, they said it was never intended to impede those communications, but only to determine whether information was being improperly shared.
A very, very nice piece. And worthy of a follow-up as the FDA perhaps tries to reassure us that we should trust its scientists, even though it doesn't.
- Paul Raeburn