Thomas Tamm: Whistleblower on NSA Warrantless Surveillance
Michael Isikoff of Newsweek scores a huge exclusive, NSA warrantless wiretap whistleblower Thomas Tamm's story, in his own words.
Exhausted by the uncertainty clouding his life, Tamm now is telling his story publicly for the first time. "I thought this [secret program] was something the other branches of the government—and the public—ought to know about. So they could decide: do they want this massive spying program to be taking place?" Tamm told NEWSWEEK, in one of a series of recent interviews that he granted against the advice of his lawyers. "If somebody were to say, who am I to do that? I would say, 'I had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution.' It's stunning that somebody higher up the chain of command didn't speak up."
Tamm concedes he was also motivated in part by his anger at other Bush-administration policies at the Justice Department, including its aggressive pursuit of death-penalty cases and the legal justifications for "enhanced" interrogation techniques that many believe are tantamount to torture. But, he insists, he divulged no "sources and methods" that might compromise national security when he spoke to the Times.
As for what Tramm is doing now:
He is no longer employed at Justice and has been struggling to make a living practicing law. He does occasional work for a local public defender's office, handles a few wills and estates—and is more than $30,000 in debt. (To cover legal costs, he recently set up a defense fund.) He says he has suffered from depression. He also realizes he made what he calls "stupid" mistakes along the way, including sending out a seemingly innocuous but fateful e-mail from his Justice Department computer that may have first put the FBI on his scent. Soft-spoken and self-effacing, Tamm has an impish smile and a wry sense of humor. "I guess I'm not a very good criminal," he jokes.
Nor is Tamm sorry he tipped off the Times:
Tamm understands that some will see his conduct as "treasonous." But still, he says he has few regrets. If he hadn't made his phone call to the Times, he believes, it's possible the public would never have learned about the Bush administration's secret wiretapping program. "I don't really need anybody to feel sorry for me," he wrote in a recent e-mail to NEWSWEEK. "I chose what I did. I believed in what I did."
While the Times earned a Pulitzer for its coverage of the NSA warrantless wiretapping program, Tamm hasn't fared very well:
The FBI has pursued him relentlessly for the past two and a half years. Agents have raided his house, hauled away personal possessions and grilled his wife, a teenage daughter and a grown son. More recently, they've been questioning Tamm's friends and associates about nearly every aspect of his life. Tamm has resisted pressure to plead to a felony for divulging classified information. But he is living under a pall, never sure if or when federal agents might arrest him.
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