As speculation continues as to the precise nature of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigation believed to be targeting Lance Armstrong and his former US Postal team, a one long-time FDA collaborator has tried to shed light on the agency's involvement.
The source, who did not want to be named but who has worked alongside the FDA for the last 30 years in areas of counterfeiting and diversion of drugs, believes that the agency would not have come to Europe without hard evidence of a supply of drugs that are either not approved or are still under clinical trial.
"I found it really interesting that they (FDA) got involved at all," the source told Cyclingnews.
"To me it means there's something deeper there than an athlete or athletes using drugs because that's not their mandate. They have no authority or interest in drug use by an athlete. They're not going to get this far down the road unless they have hard evidence on something.
"Their mandate is to approve trials for new drugs, monitor administration and the distribution of new drugs. They look at the import and export of drugs from the US."
"It could be a case of distribution of a drug before it's approved. It could be clinical trial drugs that are being used without approval, distribution of drugs by someone without a license - but being the receiver of drugs they wouldn't be interested in."
According to the source, the investigation, which is being led by Jeff Novitzky, the agent also responsible for leading the BALCO probe, will have little interest into the personal use of banned substances.
"The use of drugs on a team is not of interest to the FDA. However, if someone was supplying a team with a non-approved drug or an experimental drug, well that would be something they'd be interested in. If a company had produced an untraceable new steroid like in the Balco case, they'd be interested.
"If an individual athlete was involved in the investigation it would have to be because that individual athlete was involved in distributing drugs or something that's not approved."
As evident from the BALCO case, individual athletes can still wind up being punished if they are called to testify as part of the investigation and are found guilty of perjury, as several athletes such as Marion Jones and cyclist Tammy Thomas were.
Novitzky and US federal agents have met with Italian police, in addition to their French counterparts and the AFLD. AP and Reuters had previously reported that the US government officially asked the French authorities for their cooperation before the delegation arrived, and the French had agreed to assist the investigation. The mere fact that the investigation has reached European shores, has surprised our source.
"It's unprecedented, really. It's interesting who they are meeting. They're not meeting with the European evaluation agency for example, they're meeting with the sporting drug control groups. It's unusual. They're not meeting with their traditional counterparts. Again that suggests more to do with distribution of drugs."
As for next steps, the source believes that the FDA will follow the chain in order to reach the start of any drug trafficking.
"If the FDA were to operate by their normal efforts they would follow up to where the products came from. Where did these drugs come from? That would be most in line with their mandate.
Armstrong, who was implicated in the allegations made by Floyd Landis earlier this year, which may have sparked the investigation, has denied all allegations levelled at him.
"He brings publicity to the case but the FDA will be most interested in an organisation that's behind all of this, if there is one. Like a Balco was," the source said.
"Unless an athlete is more involved in distributing or exporting drugs for further distribution I don't think that they would be facing prosecution from the FDA."
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