At Newsweek, Michael Isikoff has a long article that reveals who tipped off the New York Times on the NSA’s Secret Surveillance Program: a guy named Thomas Tamm. Isikoff’s article is titled:
As you can see from the picture, it’s not hard to guess how Newsweek answers that question.
But, speaking as someone who believes the NSA surveillance program was probably illegal –but who recognizes that there are legitimate arguments to the contrary — I think he’s a criminal. And Isikoff’s story reinforces my view strongly. Because the article (together with other research I have done on Tamm, set forth below) shows him to be an anti-Bush partisan who didn’t even know the details of the program, but notified reporters in part because of an anti-Bush bias, and a disagreement with other actions by the Bush Administration, some of which were indisputably legal. Isikoff tells us:
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.
So he was motivated to disclose a secret program in part because of a perfectly legal aggressive approach to the death penalty that he just happened to disagree with. Hmmm.
But even if his motives were bad, at least he was disclosing something that he knew to be illegal . . . right? Wrong. For all he knew, the program was perfectly legal — because he didn’t really know anything about it:
But, he insists, he divulged no “sources and methods” that might compromise national security when he spoke to the Times. He told reporters Eric Lichtblau and James Risen nothing about the operational details of the NSA program because he didn’t know them, he says. He had never been “read into,” or briefed, on the details of the program. All he knew was that a domestic surveillance program existed, and it “didn’t smell right.”
Of course, for all he knew, it would “smell right” if he knew the details — but he felt comfortable ignoring his oath to his country because something that he didn’t know the details of just “didn’t smell right.”
Tamm first notified New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau in the spring of 2004. He wanted the story to come out and help defeat Bush in the presidential race:
Tamm grew frustrated when the story did not immediately appear. He was hoping, he says, that Lichtblau and his partner Risen (with whom he also met) would figure out on their own what the program was really all about and break it before the 2004 election. He was, by this time, “pissed off” at the Bush administration, he says. He contributed $300 to the Democratic National Committee in September 2004, according to campaign finance records.
After the FBI started an investigation into who had leaked the information, Tamm stonewalled the lead agent, and began screwing up at work. He resigned in late 2006 and “began blogging about the Justice Department for liberal Web sites.”
Exactly what is meant by that, Isikoff does not explain. Politico gives a summary of some possibilities, which I’ll expand on in the extended entry.