A hard-hitting New York Times article from Eric Lichtblau and Scott Shane revealed:
A wide-ranging surveillance operation by the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] against a group of its own scientists used an enemies list of sorts as it secretly captured thousands of e-mails that the disgruntled scientists sent privately to members of Congress, lawyers, labor officials, journalists and even President Obama, previously undisclosed records show.Taking a page out of the intelligence community's surveillance handbook, the FDA engaged in widespread, surreptitious monitoring of whistleblowers' legally-protected disclosures to Congress and the media.
The monitoring is eerily similar to that of National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake, except that it occurred at the FDA and not an intelligence agency. The FDA spied on employees, reporters, and congressional staffers in an attempt to target several scientist-whistleblowers who raised concerns about excessive radiation emitted from mammogram and colonoscopy machines.
Many of the communications intercepted are protected whistleblowing disclosures, the Times reported:
. . . the F.D.A. program may have crossed legal lines by grabbing and analyzing confidential information that is specifically protected under the law, including attorney-client communications, whistle-blower complaints to Congress and workplace grievances filed with the government.Like Drake's case, the whistleblowers went through proper channels (such as to Congress), and the government took those protected whistleblowing communications and used them against the whistleblowers. Half a dozen whistleblowers were fired and are suing, and the Office of Special Counsel -- the federal agency that handles whistleblower disclosures -- found the whistleblowers' disclosures worthy of investigation.
Thankfully Lichtblau is back on the surveillance beat and he and Shane (who also covered the Drake case early on) were able to investigate the FDA's spy program.
The kicker is how the New York Times got a hold of the monitoring documents:
The documents captured in the surveillance effort — including confidential letters to at least a half-dozen Congressional offices and oversight committees, drafts of legal filings and grievances, and personal e-mails — were posted on a public Web site, apparently by mistake, by a private document-handling contractor that works for the F.D.A. The New York Times reviewed the records and their day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour accounting of the scientists’ communications.Demonstrating yet again that truth is not a partisan issue, two members of Congress whose own (Van Hollen) or staffers' (Grassley) communications were monitored commendably weighed-in, defending the whistleblowers:
Mr. Van Hollen said on Friday after learning of his status on the list that “it is absolutely unacceptable for the F.D.A. to be spying on employees who reach out to members of Congress to expose abuses or wrongdoing in government agencies.”Licthblau and Shane accurately compared the FDA's surveillance to an "enemies list." If a non-intelligence agency is capable of engaging in such invasive, legally-problematic and chilling spying on employees, imagine what the FBI, CIA, NSA, Department of Defense and State Department can do to employees. Such widespread surveillance should not be permitted to continue unchecked because -- whether it is an intelligence agency or the FDA -- the surveillance will inevitably be used to spy on and silence critics, and will further metastacize in the surveillance state we've already created.
Senator Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican whose former staff member’s e-mails were cataloged in the surveillance database, said that “the F.D.A. is discouraging whistle-blowers.” He added that agency officials “have absolutely no business reading the private e-mails of their employees. They think they can be the Gestapo and do anything they want.”
When will people wake up?