Posts Tagged NSA

Thomas Tamm, NSA Whistleblower and a man of courage

BUSH LETS U.S. SPY ON CALLERS WITHOUT COURTS, that was the New York Times headline Dec. 16, 2005. It was three years ago today that we began learning about this illegal NSA program.

Rachel Maddow last night had the first television interview with NSA whistleblower Thomas Tamm. Tamm was a Justice Department official and former prosecutor when he learned that private American citizens were being spied on illegally by the NSA without the necessary approvals from the FISA court. The story is in Newsweek:

In the spring of 2004, Tamm had just finished a yearlong stint at a Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies—a unit so sensitive that employees are required to put their hands through a biometric scanner to check their fingerprints upon entering. While there, Tamm stumbled upon the existence of a highly classified National Security Agency program that seemed to be eavesdropping on U.S. citizens. The unit had special rules that appeared to be hiding the NSA activities from a panel of federal judges who are required to approve such surveillance. When Tamm started asking questions, his supervisors told him to drop the subject. He says one volunteered that “the program” (as it was commonly called within the office) was “probably illegal.” (emphasis mine)

Tamm agonized over what to do . . . For weeks, Tamm couldn’t sleep. The idea of lawlessness at the Justice Department angered him. Finally, one day during his lunch hour, Tamm ducked into a subway station near the U.S. District Courthouse on Pennsylvania Avenue. He headed for a pair of adjoining pay phones . . . and called The New York Times. [snip]

The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for its story. . . But Tamm—who was not the Times’s only source, but played the key role in tipping off the paper—has not fared so 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.

Exhausted by the uncertainty clouding his life, Tamm now is telling his story publicly for the first time. . . against the advice of his lawyers

Tamm is learning the consequences of being a whistleblower, especially with the Bush administration. It is thanks to Tamm that we even know about this illegal program. That people with no ties to terrorism whatsoever had very private and personal conversations eavesdropped on. He knew he risked his career and security to do what he did. But his commitment to the rule of law was too important to him and he couldn’t ignore the illegal activity and do nothing about it.

I know some of our readers may be inclined to call Tamm a traitor for his actions. But remember, the thing he revealed was a crime punishable by five years in prison.

Congress created the FISA court in 1978 because of well-publicized abuses by the intelligence community. It was designed to protect the civil liberties of Americans who might come under suspicion. The court’s role was to review domestic national-security wiretaps to make sure there was “probable cause” that the targets were “agents of a foreign power”—either spies or operatives of a foreign terrorist organization. The law creating the court, called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, made it a federal crime—punishable by up to five years in prison—for any official to engage in such surveillance without following strict rules, including court approval.

American citizens’ constitutional rights were violated by this illegal surveillance. Indictments should be brought by the Obama administration. But I’m expecting to see pre-indictment pardons on this one.

, , ,

3 Comments

%d bloggers like this: