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 (FDA), which appears to have more George Smiley and John le Carré types than we’d ever imagined.
According to reports in The New York Times, The 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 U.S. senator, Sen. Charles E. Grassley R-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 grilling on C-Span during the coming months.
I’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 le Carré 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.
This article first appeared in the July 19, 2012, issue of the AssurX blog.