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Wiretap Whistleblower, a Life in Limbo? 521

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the life-in-the-crosshairs dept.
Newsweek has an interesting report on Thomas M. Tamm, the individual who blew the whistle on the Federal Government's warrantless wiretaps. The piece takes a look at some of the circumstances leading up to the disclosure and what has happened since. "After the raid, Justice Department prosecutors encouraged Tamm to plead guilty to a felony for disclosing classified information — an offer he refused. More recently, Agent Lawless, a former prosecutor from Tennessee, has been methodically tracking down Tamm's friends and former colleagues. The agent and a partner have asked questions about Tamm's associates and political meetings he might have attended, apparently looking for clues about his motivations for going to the press, according to three of those interviewed."
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Wiretap Whistleblower, a Life in Limbo?

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  • by alain94040 (785132) * on Monday December 15, 2008 @03:51PM (#26123355) Homepage

    Very chilling. Do not take your freedom for granted. I'll share my personal story to show how quickly a thriving democracy can turn into an oppresive regime, here in the US.

    Remember the times that led to the invsasion of Iraq? American flags on every highway overpass?

    I just happened to be in the process of getting my green card, which means my future was at the mercy of a faceless US government bureaucrat. A rejection and I'd have to pack with my family (including two US born children) and find another place in the globe to settle.

    I had published a couple of letters to the editors in the San Jose Mercury News, discussing politics. I was reading foreign media which were hinting that US intelligence on Iraq WMD was bogus. Guess what? I stood very quiet, very silent. Who knows who was listening and how far the goverment was willing to go to silence dissent. If it had been just me, I would have stood up and fought for my rights, but with my family in mind, I decided to cave.

    Think about this for a second: the best place on earth, and still scared of what the government might do to me. Call me paranoid, but it felt like a very real threat. It's only in the last two years or so, with Obama rising, that the oppressive feeling has left.

    --
    http://fairsoftware.net/ [fairsoftware.net]

    • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday December 15, 2008 @03:56PM (#26123431) Homepage

      and it's not unexpected. If you blow the whistle on illegal activities the perpetrators of the crime will harass you and your family to pay you back.

      The feds are simply punishing him and his family for outing their illegal activities. nothing different than what the organized crime people will do... well except they kill everyone, the Feds are not at that level yet.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Important note: the "Feds" you mention are the Republicans who were tapping phone lines. Somebody has to say it.

        • by liquidpele (663430) on Monday December 15, 2008 @04:09PM (#26123639) Journal
          Oh come off it. The NSA was doing it, they only got permission from a republican president. Obama even voted for the telecom immunity. The Republicans have problems, but lets not give them credit where they're not due.
          • by CFTM (513264) on Monday December 15, 2008 @04:22PM (#26123813)

            But being an ideologue is so much fun!

            Seriously, Obama had an opportunity to set himself apart when Telco immunity came to the floor but he joined with rank and file on this issue. Government, on both sides of the isle, has no desire to ever give power up.

            • by OrangeTide (124937) on Monday December 15, 2008 @05:15PM (#26124697) Homepage Journal

              In Washington it's all about playing ball with special interests that have the power.

              It would take a massive shift in the way we vote for it to become practical for a politician to stand up for what it right. Right now anyone who stands up gets swatted down and thrown out of DC. To add another cliché, in US politics you better not rock the boat.

            • Follow the money (Score:4, Informative)

              by bussdriver (620565) on Monday December 15, 2008 @05:21PM (#26124791)

              ATnT was the biggest contributor to the party conventions (well to the DFL; don't remember if they were #1 for GOP.)

              Fix the money and then politicians who will not compromise their ethics can get somewhere. When they compromise in order to win it makes you wonder just how far they will let their ethics lapse and if they will get worse with prolonged exposure to corporatism.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by CFTM (513264)

                The flow of money will find a way; for instance were we to set hard caps on campaign money and level the playing field the money (incentives) would just find another way from the constituency to the politician. It's the sickness that is democracy...ironically there's a sense in which it's democracy's greatest strength.

                The best of a bunch of bad options :)

                • by giorgist (1208992) on Monday December 15, 2008 @06:49PM (#26125957)
                  That is how Aistotle put it 2000 years ago.
                  He also added that the reason Democracy is a good idea is because in a random pool of people
                  the bad guys push in random directions depending on their needs.
                  The good guys push in about the same direction.

                  The net effect in the long term is in the right direction.

                  G
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by greg_barton (5551)

              He had an opportunity to not get elected if he voted against the bill.

              It's the opportunities before him when he takes office that I'm most interested in.

              • by Free the Cowards (1280296) on Monday December 15, 2008 @07:22PM (#26126341)

                In other words, when his principles could actually matter, he caved, but now that he's secure and it makes no real difference, he can do whatever he feels like.

                Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and conveniences, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." As such I think it is far more telling to see what he did when the race was still in question.

          • by Adambomb (118938) on Monday December 15, 2008 @04:54PM (#26124281) Journal

            Oh come off it? Those of us outside your country have long enough memories to remember that Bush did not give PERMISSION to the NSA but ORDERED the NSA to perform these wiretaps [cnn.com].

            I sincerely hope that was ignorance not spin you were displaying there.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          it's both republicans and democrats. they're playing on the same team with the democrats running interference
      • by unlametheweak (1102159) on Monday December 15, 2008 @04:22PM (#26123801)

        nothing different than what the organized crime people will do... well except they kill everyone, the Feds are not at that level yet.

        In something reminiscent of The Prisoner [wikipedia.org], the CIA threw a former LSD researcher out of a hotel window [cognitiveliberty.org] when he told his colleagues that he wanted to quit his job because of ethical issues dealing with his research. Although the CIA denied the claims (and the referenced URL doesn't get into details), there is evidence that contradicts the CIA's claim that he committed suicide by jumping out of the window. In fact the forensic evidence indicated that he was thrown out of the window (according to the American Justice account). "Frank Olson's body was exhumed in 1994, and cranial injuries indicated Olson had been knocked unconscious before exiting the window." (Ref. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_MKULTRA [wikipedia.org]).

        Though that is just one account that was made public and that the CIA denies (even though the government eventually awarded the family financial damages).

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by PhreakOfTime (588141)

        Its not much different in business either.

        I was doing some contract work for a company when i found out they were being hauled into court on an almost weekly basis, for such things as contract breaches, etc... and decided it was time for me to move on.

        When I left for that exact reason, still knowing many people who worked there, it eventually got back to me that they were saying that I was involved in illegal activities in regard to their business. Needless to say, everyone who heard them say this had to

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by kevin_conaway (585204)

      I'll share my personal story to show how quickly a thriving democracy can turn into an oppresive regime, here in the US.

      ...

      I had published a couple of letters to the editors in the San Jose Mercury News, discussing politics. I was reading foreign media which were hinting that US intelligence on Iraq WMD was bogus. Guess what? I stood very quiet, very silent. Who knows who was listening and how far the goverment was willing to go to silence dissent. If it had been just me, I would have stood up and fought for my rights, but with my family in mind, I decided to cave.

      How does that story show anything other than your own paranoia?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's only in the last two years or so, with Obama rising

      Are you talking about the same Obama that put Joe the plumber under intense investigation, getting him fired, airing the fact that he has a late library book in the 5th grade. Is this the Obama that makes you feel warm and fuzzy about the 1st amendment?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by EmperorKagato (689705)

        The people and press spent resources to heavily investigate Joe's background.

        Being in the spotlight has its consequences

        • And Obama could have told them to knock it off. He never did. Obama was the one who pulled Joe out of the masses, and asked for a question. Just because he didn't like being asked if he was a socialist is no reason to destro the poor guy.

          • by Rycross (836649) on Monday December 15, 2008 @05:28PM (#26124911)

            I don't see anything that suggests Obama had a problem with being asked a question. He handled it extremely well. The only problem is that he said "Share the wealth," which the Republicans and Libertarians twisted into "OMG Socialism! Obama is after your mooooniiiiiiiessssss!!11!one"

            The issue is that the McCain campaign took that dialog with Joe and ran with it, and tried to make it a large part of their platform. The whole "socialism" scaremongering was coming from the Republicans. McCain, not Obama, was shoving Joe into the spotlight, name-dropping him in debates and rallies, in attempt to drum up support. And the press, loving a story that sells, ran with it. Turns out that Joe is a hypocrite, which is great news, when "news" is "shit that isn't important but sells lots of papers."

            Maybe Obama could have said "Hey guys, knock it off." Maybe some of the Dems would have listened. But I'm not sure why you think that the press or McCain would care to listen. There's nothing that suggest that Obama drug Joe's name through the dirt. At best you had a couple of overzealous Dems acting independently. Trying to make him responsible for that is intellectually dishonest and unfair, especially when you overlook the way in which Joe and the Republicans were fanning the flames.

      • Joe Joe Joe (Score:3, Interesting)

        You mean Joe the plumber who didn't pay his taxes so my own tax burden is larger? I don't care about his library record, but if you are going to whine about taxes on the public stage and didn't pay them, expect to be given the big 'naughty, naughty'.

        People love to be angry about hypocrites.

      • by Haeleth (414428) on Monday December 15, 2008 @04:50PM (#26124209) Journal

        Are you talking about the same Obama that put Joe the plumber under intense investigation

        No more intense than everyone else who stood up in the spotlight. Doesn't the public have a right to know whether the claims people are making are true or not? And it was the press as much as Obama who went and investigated. I don't think we really want to discourage our free press from investigating claims that someone is trying to use to influence a presidential election, do we?

        So, not everything they uncovered was nice. That's not their fault. If you want to stand up and complain about taxes, it helps if you've actually paid them. Joe the plumber learned that the hard way.

        Is this the Obama that makes you feel warm and fuzzy about the 1st amendment?

        Joe the plumber had the right to speak freely, he exercised that right, and nobody did anything to restrain him or to prevent him having plenty of media exposure where he was positively encouraged to go into great detail about his beliefs.

        He got a massive audience for his speech, which is way more than the First Amendment guarantees.

        So there were bad consequences? Too bad. The First Amendment says nothing, nothing at all, about the consequences of exercising your right. All it says is that Congress can't make any laws taking that right away.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 15, 2008 @04:08PM (#26123631)

      An article everybody should read: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/apr/24/usa.comment [guardian.co.uk]

      I'm afraid it could be too late already.

    • >It's only in the last two years or so, with Obama rising, that the oppressive feeling has left.

      Explain this.

      Seriously, the "Bush is bad, Obama is good!" chanting reminds me too much of animal farm.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tomhath (637240)
      FTA: "Tamm concedes he was also motivated in part by his anger at other Bush-administration policies...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." There proper are ways to report illegal activity. Making a secret phone call to the NYT in hopes of swinging the presidential election is not one of them.
  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Monday December 15, 2008 @03:55PM (#26123413)
    Am I the only one to notice the irony of having a guy named Agent Lawless at the Justice Department?
    • Am I the only one to notice the irony of having a guy named Agent Lawless at the Justice Department?

      Think we all did :-)

    • Re:Agent Lawless? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Monday December 15, 2008 @04:06PM (#26123589) Homepage Journal

      What the hell is this Lawless dude's deal anyway? Checking out Tamm's motivations? Oh, I'm sure he must be a terrorist, right?

      Fsck that. Tamm reported what he clearly felt was illegal activity being performed by the federal government. As far as I'm concerned, I don't want Lawless spending another red cent of my tax dollars going after Tamm. Tamm is a patriot as far as I'm concerned. We should all stand up and applaud his efforts in exposing this ugly, terrible government corruption. These acts are illegal, going against our highest laws, morals and ideals. The Founding Fathers are rolling in their graves at this immense injustice.

      If anyone is a criminal, it's Agent Lawless.

    • ...is gonna kick this guy's arse.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by noidentity (188756)

      Am I the only one to notice the irony of having a guy named Agent Lawless at the Justice Department?

      Actually, I think the irony is the name "Justice Department".

  • by PrescriptionWarning (932687) on Monday December 15, 2008 @03:57PM (#26123457)
    here's a clue: he believed it was illegal
  • Motivations? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MosesJones (55544) on Monday December 15, 2008 @03:57PM (#26123459) Homepage

    Errr I'm taking a massive shot in the dark here but I'm guessing that the motivation would be

    CONCERN ABOUT THE MASSIVE SUBVERSION OF INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS AND THE CONSTITUTION

    I mean I know its a crazy mad sort of idea that someone might be motivated by decency and the desire for what is right rather than some political ideology. When George W. Bush and Dick Cheney talk about the principles of American freedom... well that is what this man has stood up to defend.

    How sad that its the defender of freedom who is being shafted, while those who look to subvert the constitution are getting away scot free.

    • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

      From reading the article, there is a question as to his motivations. Apparently he had been very uncomfortable with the administrations push for capital punishment, and so its supposed that he may have had a political axe to grind, and that this may have muddied his judgement on how to proceed.

      Basically my interpretation is that if he hadn't had other motivations as well, he may have tried more to go through legal means to do something about the program before contacting the press. The fact that he was ve

      • by Retric (704075)
        I would be annoyed if a newspaper was withholding information which helps to re-elect someone who had failed to uphold the constitution last time and had ordered criminal acts to take place. Presumably voters should have all available information before voting but perhaps that's just me.
  • One Day (Score:5, Interesting)

    by earthforce_1 (454968) <earthforce_1@@@yahoo...com> on Monday December 15, 2008 @03:58PM (#26123479) Journal

    He will be recognized as a hero for defending the constitution, like those civil rights advocates who once violated state/local ordinances on segregation.

    Unfortunately, today is not that day. But he is a true hero none the less.

    • Re:One Day (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nickmalthus (972450) on Monday December 15, 2008 @05:24PM (#26124835)
      Yes, Mr. Tamm is a REAL American hero, sacrificing his career and potentially his freedom to preserve and protect the basic rights that are the pillars of our society. As the saying goes, "Evil prospers when good men do nothing." Shame on the cowards at the FBI Justice Department who retaliated against him.
  • Agent Lawless, a former prosecutor from Tennessee...

    Most ironic... name... ever...

    I'm sure he never got ridiculed for that name from other students while studying for his law degree. (Yeah, I read the story earlier about sarcasm [slashdot.org])

    • by CompMD (522020)

      I hear that. I knew a guy who was in law school whose name was Case Collard. Great name for a lawyer/investigator.

  • by arkham6 (24514) on Monday December 15, 2008 @03:59PM (#26123487)
    How about basic patriotism?
    • by Boogaroo (604901)

      No no! Today's definition of "Patriotism" is letting the government give you the shaft and saying "Thank you." Well, at least if you believe those that say they support the president no matter what.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Matt Perry (793115)

      How about basic patriotism?

      Didn't you get the memo? Being patriotic today means wearing flag pins; hating those that aren't like you, particularity if the government tells you they are bad; not questioning anything the government does, vilifying those who would dare to question authority (how dare they!); and parroting anything that right-wing liberals like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh say. Any deviation from this means you are a terrorist, don't believe in god, and hate America.

      Get with the program guy, a

  • Why do all these controversies keep having names like something out of a Sheridan play?
  • by Jabrwock (985861) on Monday December 15, 2008 @04:01PM (#26123513) Homepage

    blew the whistle on the Federal Government's warrantless wiretaps... [agent] looking for clues about his motivations for going to the press

    Concern over illegality and the fact that his superiors didn't seem to care that it was? Isn't that the obvious answer? Are they expecting to find that he's a communist mole, sent to destroy us by exposing our blatant disregard for our own laws? I thought that's what whistleblowers were *supposed* to do. Who cares why?

  • Content minus crud (Score:4, Informative)

    by oDDmON oUT (231200) on Monday December 15, 2008 @04:19PM (#26123767)

    Print link [newsweek.com].

    And a damned interesting read, no matter your political stripe.

  • UnConstitutional (Score:5, Insightful)

    by writerjosh (862522) * on Monday December 15, 2008 @04:43PM (#26124065) Homepage

    I think this statement says it all: "..If somebody were to say, who am I to do that? I would say, 'I had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution'..."

    I think that counts for a lot. If the gov is doing something unconstitutional, then it's your duty to uphold that document first. As a gov official, you have an oath to that body of laws first and foremost. Loyalty to gove agencies or executives is secondary at best.

    • by rgviza (1303161) on Monday December 15, 2008 @05:07PM (#26124555)

      "I had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution"

      In the military you swear an oath to obey the commander in chief. In intel agencies you swear an oath of secrecy, like this one for NSA:

      " Upon being cleared to protect the sensitive information of the National Security Agency, I subscribe to this oath freely, without mental reservation, and with the full intent to exercise meticulous care in abiding by its items.

              I solemnly swear that I will not reveal to any person any information pertaining to the classified activities of the National Security Agency, except as necessary toward the proper performance of my duties or as specifically authorized by a duly responsible superior known to me to be authorized to receive this information.

              I further solemnly swear that I will report without delay to my security representative the details and circumstances of any case which comes within my knowledge of an unauthorized person obtaining or attempting to obtain information concerning the classified operations of the National Security Agency.

              I fully appreciate and understand that the security of the information and activities of the National Security Agency is of vital importance to the welfare and defense of the United States. I affirm that I am familiar with the provisions of Section 793, 794 and 798, Title 18 United States Code.

              I do hereby affirm any understanding that the obligations of this oath will continue even after severance of my connections with the National Security Agency and that they remain fully binding on me during peacetime as well as during wartime. "

      This doesn't mention the constitution... which means NSA plays by a different set of rules than the justice department.

      However, as a Justice department appointment, he is *required* by his oath to report what he found the NSA doing. He isn't being a hero, defender of freedom or "whistle blower" he just did his job as he swore, in an oath, that he would....

      If the DOJ doesn't like it, maybe they should change their oath and mission so their employees are *allowed* to stay mum when they discover people violating the constitution and bill of rights (which would kind of eliminate them from doing their job).

      Then again, maybe the NSA needs to do their job better so people don't find out what they are doing.

      Yet again, maybe agencies shouldn't violate the constitution and bill of rights.

      If the gov is going to violate it's own rules, maybe it should just burn them and start a totalitarian state of some sort and be done with it. Why beat around the bush (no pun intended)?

      -Viz

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by illumin8 (148082)

        This doesn't mention the constitution... which means NSA plays by a different set of rules than the justice department.

        What part of the constitution being the highest law of the land don't you understand? The NSA is a government entity, and all government entities are governed by the constitution. You can't just pick and choose and create a shadow government that claims it doesn't have to obey the basic written law of our country. Of course, that seems to be what the Bush administration has done over the

  • Hero (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nightfire-unique (253895) on Monday December 15, 2008 @04:51PM (#26124233)

    With all the bad news I read about every day, it warms my heart to read about heroes. Even in terrible circumstances like this.

    Thomas M. Tamm is a hero to the world and to the American public. He put the needs of the greater good above those of his own. He is fighting the fight that the vast majority of us are too scared to fight - a fight for his country, and a fight for freedom.

    When the perpetrators of this current facism are vanquished, like they always are, we will look back and remember the good that rose to counter.

  • by unity100 (970058) on Monday December 15, 2008 @04:56PM (#26124333) Homepage Journal
    these are the correct treatments for the individuals who work for a government that has grown to see itself OVER and ABOVE its citizens, trying to intimidate them down, trying to subdue them.

    disobedience. this is what such a government deserves.

    this is what had happened in 1774.
  • by 5pp000 (873881) on Monday December 15, 2008 @05:44PM (#26125145)
    Thomas Tamm Legal Defense Fund
    Bank of Georgetown
    5236 44th Street
    Washington, DC 20015

    Everyone who cares about freedom in the US should chip in. I'm going to (despite being quite strapped at the moment).

  • SOP (Score:3, Insightful)

    by goofballs (585077) on Monday December 15, 2008 @05:47PM (#26125199)

    "After the raid, Justice Department prosecutors encouraged Tamm to plead guilty to a felony for disclosing classified information -- an offer he refused. More recently, Agent Lawless, a former prosecutor from Tennessee, has been methodically tracking down Tamm's friends and former colleagues. The agent and a partner have asked questions about Tamm's associates and political meetings he might have attended, apparently looking for clues about his motivations for going to the press, according to three of those interviewed."

    uh, that's maybe supposed to sound all spooky and scary and stuff, but that's stuff that happens BEFORE you even get a clearance!

  • He's a hero (Score:3, Insightful)

    by EvilIntelligence (1339913) on Monday December 15, 2008 @06:40PM (#26125857)
    From my perspective, the man is a hero. The Constitution was put in place to protect the people from a tyrannical government. In the spirit of the Constitution, he saw a tyrannical government on the horizon, and with a sworn duty to protect the Constitutional rights of the people, he made a sacrifice to stop it. That's the definition of an American hero. Anything else that the Bush administration tries to state about him and is actions is nothing more than the Bush administration trying to cover their own asses.
  • Motivations?! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rnturn (11092) on Monday December 15, 2008 @06:41PM (#26125879)

    "The agent and a partner have asked questions about Tamm's associates and political meetings he might have attended, apparently looking for clues about his motivations for going to the press, according to three of those interviewed."

    I think it's indicative of just how fouled up the government is when one's motivations are investigated when you spill the beans on blatantly illegal government activities. Seems to me that questioning one's motivations in a case like this isn't too far removed from the old Soviet Union's practice of labeling anyone that criticized the government of being mentally ill.

    Tamm wasn't an elected official and likely never had to swear to uphold the Constitution, the laws of the land, and all that, but I am sure glad he took it upon himself to call the New York Times when he found out what the government was up to.

  • by budword (680846) on Monday December 15, 2008 @07:33PM (#26126487)
    This is exactly like a woman jaywalking on the way to the police station to report her own rape. When she gets there, the police not only refuse to arrest or even investigate her rapist, because the rapist is the chief of police, but they do make strenuous efforts to investigate her jaywalking while running to the station to report the rape. Those at the Justice Department (no irony in the name huh ?) who are abusing their authority to harass a genuine Patriot should be sacked, disbarred, and charged themselves. Perhaps our new Chief Executive can do something about this, I don't think he will though. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Like his vote on telcom immunity.
  • Let's All Help (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DynaSoar (714234) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @04:28PM (#26136985) Journal

    If everyone who ever had anything to do with Tamm (to the best of their admittedly human and therefore fallible memory can recall) got word to Agent Lawless that they might have something to contribute, said Lawless (Agent) might suddenly suffer an overabundance of leads to follow.

    The fact that he (Tamm) apparently smuggled his sister out of a research hospital aboard a Firefly class ship would probably be at the extreme end of such reports. Most would probably be more plausible. "He told me he knew how to make free long distance calls." (Later - He said all I needed to do was call those that started with 800.)

    Tamm might go down for this. The guy who did the same to the tobacco companies did too. But, they made a movie based on it ("The Insider") so people could know there was a story, and all the billions of dollars the tobacco companies paid to the states (most subsequentely wasted by the states) were a pay off they made before the statute of limitations expired and their true culpability became known. One day it will.

    Hopefully Tamm will get picked up by a large enough concern to protect him. There are, after all, corporations that are large enough to deflect such puny attempts at law enforcement, whether questionable or not.

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