Whistleblower who disclosed NSA domestic spying program comes forth

Exactly three years ago, New York Times journalists James Risen and Eric Lichtblau revealed NSA’s domestic warrantless spying program, which was secretly authorized by the Bush Administration in the wake of 9/11. Nearly a dozen undisclosed insiders helped the two journalists unravel the NSA scheme. But the initial tip came from what Lichtblau describes in his book, Bush’s Law, as a “walk-in” source with intimate knowledge of the US intelligence community’s practices. That “walk-in” source has now come forth. His name is Thomas M. Tamm, a former US Justice Department official who held a Sensitive Compartmented Security clearance (“a level above Top Secret”) issued by the US government.¬†It is telling that Tamm is hardly the committed liberal leftist insider that many envisaged him to be. He comes from a family of senior FBI officials (both his parents worked at the FBI, while his uncle and father were Assistant FBI Directors at different times) and in his student days he chaired his county’s chapter of the Young Republicans. His decision to become a whistleblower resulted from his disaffection with the Bush Administration’s disregard for US legal standards: “[i]f somebody were to say, who am I to do that? I would say, ‘I had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution'” he admits. In 2004, while supervising wiretap operations for the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), Tamm became privy to NSA’s operation STELLAR WIND, a massive domestic surveillance program involving spying on US citizens. He quickly realized that, under guidance by the US Attorney General, NSA was systematically circumventing the standard authorization process under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court, composed of 11 federal judges. Tamm tried to alert his supervisors, but he was told to “drop the subject” because “the program [was] probably illegal”. Disaffected and disillusioned, he finally decided to call The New York Times from a subway station phone booth. Since then, he has been forced to resign from his job, has had his house raided and his family, friends and associates questioned by the FBI, and has been “living under a pall, never sure if or when federal agents might arrest him”. He is now batting depression and is more than $30,000 in debt as a result of losing his job. “I didn’t think through what this could do to my family” he tells Newsweek magazine, who published his story. [IA]

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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