What the Heck’s Going On at the FDA?

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The Cold War may be over, but apparently spying is still a growth industry. The latest spy craft news comes from the seemingly staid Food and Drug Administration, which appears to have more George Smiley and John LeCarre types than we’d ever imagined.

According to reports in The New York Times, Washington Post and others, the FDA has engaged in heavy-handed, systematic spying on its own scientists.  This is not exactly the way to encourage the best and the brightest to do their best and brightest work.

The agency says it was only trying to make sure that information wasn’t improperly leaked.  But at least one United States Senator, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, isn’t buying that rationale at face value.   As reported in the Post, Grassley wants to see the internal FDA memo authorizing the surveillance and who authorized it.  Hearings aren’t unlikely, either. Watch for some FDA officials to get live grillings on C-Span in the coming months.

We’ve written about the tip of the iceberg earlier when it comes to politics and hiring at the FDA. You’ll recall its media office came under fire for allegedly forcing out some of the more experienced and, in some instances, conservative types in favor of a new and younger breed of folks who weren’t always demonstrably qualified for their positions.

Unfortunately, some with recent ties to the FDA say the place has become even more political than it was during the George W. Bush years, and that’s saying something.

Look, I love spy movies. Millions enjoy the novels of John LeCarre and many other masters.  Just last year, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” was a critically acclaimed film about spying at the highest levels in the British government.

The FDA’s spying games may not have quite the taut excitement of those thrillers, but they ought to scare us more.  When the FDA even appears to be intimidating its scientists and other employees, it puts us all at risk.

We’ve already got a CIA in the alphabet soup of government, we don’t need the FDA to get into the act, too.

What the Heck's Going On at the FDA?
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What the Heck's Going On at the FDA?
The latest spy craft news comes from the seemingly staid Food and Drug Administration. According to reports in The New York Times, Washington Post and others, the FDA has engaged in heavy-handed, systematic spying on its own scientists.
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Showing 6 comments
  • Reply

    There’s a lot more to this story. If you’d like to know how things got to this point, click here.


    • Reply

      Good stuff Mark. Please keep me posted on what you uncover! Best, Michael

  • Reply


    Glad to see you on top of this. These people need to be outed and pressure kept on the agency. This is so disheartening. Those of us in the public interest community were so hopeful when Obama was elected. We (apparently naively) thought that the new administration would turn the agency around, from the bad-old days of Bush. There was certainly a lot of change needed!

    But, alas, Obama has done no better so far that Bush — and Bush wasn’t even TRYING to do the right thing! One of the lessons here — a lesson that I have “learned” many times before — is that politicians come and go but bureaucrats are forever. They are the ones who actually run agencies. They are there for a lifetime. They implement (or fail to implement) the policies of the executive and legislative branches. That makes change, or even oversight, very, very difficult.

    Perhaps public disclosure, press scrutiny and Congressional hearings will help. But in the end, if FDA higher-ups don’t support change, there will be no real change.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Reply

      DJ thanks for your comments. I think you are right on the mark! Please keep your thoughts coming. If you have any topics you’d like me to pursue, please don’t hesitate to make a request, Best, Michael

  • Reply

    CORRECTION: It is Sen. Charles Grassley, not Levin, who has raised the questions. I apologize for the error.

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  • […] items to take a look at again with updates as Summer 2012 winds down: The FDA’s embarrassing ‘Spygate’ scandal where agency officials are alleged to have eavesdropped on their own scientists, and the […]

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