The Whistleblower

| Sun Dec. 14, 2008 12:49 PM EST

THE WHISTLEBLOWER....Michael Isikoff has a long, very interesting piece in Newsweek today about the guy who first tipped off the New York Times about the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program. Turns out his name is Thomas Tamm, a Justice Department lawyer who learned in 2002 that the government was probably torturing terrorism suspects in its custody. He wasn't happy about it:

But still, Tamm says he was fully committed to the prosecution of the war on terror and wanted to play a bigger role in it. So in early 2003, he applied and was accepted for transfer to the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), probably the most sensitive unit within the Justice Department....But after arriving at OIPR, Tamm learned about an unusual arrangement by which some wiretap requests were handled under special procedures....Tamm says he found the whole thing especially curious since there was nothing in the special "program" wiretap requests that seemed any different from all the others. They looked and read the same. It seemed to Tamm there was a reason for this: the intelligence that came from the program was being disguised.

....At one point, Tamm says, he approached Lisa Farabee, a senior counsel in OIPR who reviewed his work, and asked her directly, "Do you know what the program is?" According to Tamm, she replied: "Don't even go there," and then added, "I assume what they are doing is illegal." Tamm says his immediate thought was, "I'm a law-enforcement officer and I'm participating in something that is illegal?" A few weeks later Tamm bumped into Mark Bradley, the deputy OIPR counsel, who told him the office had run into trouble with Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the chief judge on the FISA court. Bradley seemed nervous, Tamm says. Kollar-Kotelly had raised objections to the special program wiretaps, and "the A.G.-only cases are being shut down," Bradley told Tamm. He then added, "This may be [a time] the attorney general gets indicted," according to Tamm.

....The next few weeks were excruciating. Tamm says he consulted with an old law-school friend, Gene Karpinski, then the executive director of a public-interest lobbying group. He asked about reporters who might be willing to pursue a story that involved wrongdoing in a national-security program, but didn't tell him any details. (Karpinski, who has been questioned by the FBI and has hired a lawyer, declined to comment.) Tamm says he initially considered contacting Seymour Hersh, the investigative reporter for The New Yorker, but didn't know where to reach him. He'd also noticed some strong stories by Eric Lichtblau, the New York Times reporter who covered the Justice Department — and with a few Google searches tracked down his phone number.

The rest, as they say, is history. As with many whistleblowers, Tamm's motivations were tangled and a little messy — like so many things in life — and the whole thing is very much worth reading.

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.