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.
In August 2007, Tamm’s home was raided — an event that made Newsweek within days . . . and caused conservative bloggers and commenters to investigate Tamm’s online presence. At the Just One Minute blog, commenter “kubob” noted that a Thomas Tamm had left this sarcastically lefty comment about the situation in Iraq at a New York Times blog post in November 2006:
It is not yet a civil war. It won’t be a civil war until there are two armies, one from the north, one from the south. The two armies must wear blue and gray respectively, and must be led by U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. Only then will it meet our definition of a civil war.
Name: Thomas M. Tamm
Hometown: Potomac, Maryland USA
Dear Eric: Is not the administration’s position that they would not permit the U.S. Attorney to prosecute a Congressional Contempt referral an implicit admission that they allow politics to impact prosecutions? They are admitting that they would interfere with the independent judgment of a prosecutor on a specific case. I suggest that this is precisely what the firings of the U.S. Attorneys are ultimately about. Yes, they serve at the pleasure of the president, but they do not prosecute at the pleasure of the president. The White House is guilty of taking the blindfold off lady justice, not just covering her breasts. I am a former DOJ lawyer, for what that is worth.
The conservative commenters’ observations regarding Tamm’s online comments were repeated and amplified by Clarice Feldman at the American Thinker, and later by Newsbusters. As usual, Ms. Feldman had some interesting additional observations, as did A.J. Strata.
(Then there were other postings that were made anonymously, but which seemed to betray an insider’s knowledge of certain key information. Many at liberal sites started to suspect these comments had come from the leaker. On August 1, 2007, a DailyKos diarist noted a number of very detailed and knowledgeable postings by a commenter going by the name “Anonymous” at TPMMuckraker, in this thread. The anonymous TPM commenter started to gain a cult status, and was dubbed “Deep Modem.” On August 29, 2007, a Democratic Underground poster claimed to have found the source for many of the “Deep Modem” posts at TPM: a series of comments left between April 2007 and August 2007 at the website of CREW (“Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington”). Whether any of these anonymous comments are connected to Tamm is yet to be determined.)
So why is the guy blabbing now? I think the answer is clear: he knows that any decision to prosecute him will be made under a Barack Obama administration:
Paul Kemp, one of Tamm’s lawyers, says he was recently told by the Justice Department prosecutor in charge of Tamm’s case that there will be no decision about whether to prosecute until next year—after the Obama administration takes office.
Asa Hutchinson, who is identified in Isikoff’s article as a former under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, is now assisting in Tamm’s defense and says that Tamm did not harm national security. At Power Line, Scott Johnson observes:
Given his former position, his opinion might be entitled to some weight. But Hutchinson resigned from his DHS position effective March 1, 2005 to run for governor of Arkansas. The Times’s story was published on December 16, 2005. Isikoff leaves these details out of his very long story and therefore withholds sufficient information for the interested reader to evaluate the credibility of Hutchinson’s assertion.
Aside from this and a few other details, together with the picture used, Isikoff’s article isn’t bad. It’s long, but worth your time.
I’m not holding out any hope that an Obama/Holder DoJ will prosecute Tamm, now that he has confessed all over the pages of a national magazine. The hard left would see it as a betrayal after Obama’s repeated statements that Bush had acted illegally in authorizing the Secret Surveillance Program.
But if Obama and Holder decline prosecution, it will be an outrage. Tamm didn’t know the details of what he was disclosing. He let his judgment be clouded by his lefty tendencies, and his disdain for Bush and his policies — and he violated his oath and endangered national security over a program of which he was almost entirely ignorant.
I can see close cases for determining whether to charge whistleblowers, especially when they are disclosing clearly illegal activity and cannot get out the information any other way. But based on Isikoff’s article, this is not a close case.
You just got your confession. Now prosecute the son of a bitch.
P.S. Frankly, now that there’s a confession, I don’t even see the need to wait for Obama to take the oath of office. You know, any U.S. Attorney could win the case against Blago. Why don’t we give the Tamm prosecution to Patrick Fitzgerald? After all, he’s the only guy in recent memory to cause a New York Times reporter to see the inside of a jail cell. He gets my vote for that reason alone.