Thomas Tamm, a former attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, has agreed to be publicly censured for his role in exposing the U.S. government’s warrantless wiretapping program in 2004.
Almost a full decade before the world learned the name Edward Snowden, Thomas Tamm helped educate the public about the Bush administration’s program for intercepting Americans’ international phone calls and email. Tamm worked with The New York Times, leading to public uproar and a Pulitzer Prize for reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau. James Risen would later be pressured for his role in revealing the wiretapping program, as well as the case of CIA whistleblower James Sterling.
Tamm revealed that the Bush administration was bypassing standard legal procedure in order to operate a covert surveillance program in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Shortly before Barack Obama became president, Tamm announced that he was the whistleblower responsible for the leaks. Obama criticized the program and the Justice Department decided not to pursue charges against Tamm.
Thomas Tamm attempted to move on with his life, but as U.S. News reports, he is still facing consequences for choosing to reveal the truth about the program.
But as Tamm got on with his life, the backlogged D.C. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which investigates and prosecutes alleged misconduct by members of the D.C. Bar, kept open its probe.
In late December, the office filed ethics charges against Tamm that could yield disbarment, accusing him of failing to inform superiors in the Justice Department about suspected illegal surveillance and of exposing the “confidences or secrets of his client,” the Justice Department.
U.S. News obtained a copy of “a petition for negotiated discipline” released by the office which recommends a public censure for Tamm, who now works as a public defender in Washington County in Western Maryland.
The document says Tamm “was motivated only by his grave concern that the program was unlawful, based upon his belief that it involved warrantless wire and communication surveillance.” The document notes that, “[Tamm] was careful never to disclose any methods, sources, or specific intercepts about the program to the reporter. Instead, he disclosed only its existence and the fact that it was being conducted without judicial supervision.”
Gene Shipp, who leads the attorney-prosecuting office as disciplinary counsel, told U.S. News in January the delay in filing charges against Tamm was the result of a backlog caused by receipt of about 1,000 complaints a year, less than half of which are investigated.
Tamm has agreed to be censured in relation to the whistleblowing, but it is not clear yet how exactly the censure will affect his current life and work. Tamm’s attorneys declined to comment on the proceedings. The deal will now go to a Board on Professional Responsibility. If approved by a the board, the agreement will be reviewed by the D.C. Court of Appeals.
Supporters of Tamm and critics of the U.S. government’s War on Whistleblowers fear that the D.C. Bar is setting a dangerous precedent by pursuing the censure. ShadowProof writes:
Through the act of bringing these ethics violations against Tamm, the D.C. Bar is sending a message to all of its members in government that it is far more ethical to keep evidence of illegal government activities confidential than it is to expose it to the public so officials may be held accountable for their misconduct.”
Furthermore, for those who think Tamm should have gone through “proper channels” to reveal wrongdoing, you have to understand that he “recognized those at the top were implicated in the criminal activity that was ongoing.”
When Tamm made the decision to reach out to a friend in Congress to discuss the program, he said he did so because he sought to protect the United States Constitution.
“Well, the oath that I took was to preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States against enemies foreign and domestic. And, you know, it’s my belief that we are a stronger country because of our Constitution and because of our democratic institutions, like the courts and the Congress, as well as the presidency. And so, I really thought it was my duty,” Tamm told Democracy Now!.
Thomas Tamm, Jeffrey Sterling, Chelsea Manning, William Binney, Thomas Drake, Jeremy Hammond, Barrett Brown, Edward Snowden, and many others. These are the names of whistleblowers, journalists, and activists who put their lives and careers on the line to expose truths. Every American should know and celebrate these names, especially as the U.S. government, under both the Bush and Obama administrations, has made it clear that they believe in a war on truth and whistleblowing.