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December 16, 2008 9:21 AM   Subscribe

The Fed Who Blew the Whistle: Is he a hero or a criminal? Three years after the New York Times first revealed the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program, whistleblower Thomas Tamm has acknowledged his role in making it public. [Via]
posted by homunculus (51 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
A Defender of the Rule of Law Waits in Legal Jeopardy, While Abusers are Doing Well

The Thomas Tamm Legal Defense Fund
posted by homunculus at 9:25 AM on December 16, 2008


Is he a hero or a criminal?

Well that depends, do you like cakes with "Adolf Hitler" written on them?
posted by Artw at 9:29 AM on December 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


During his childhood, he played under the desk of J. Edgar Hoover...

Suddenly I don't feel so well.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:31 AM on December 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


House Panel to Ask for NSA Spying Probe
posted by homunculus at 9:36 AM on December 16, 2008


Easy - if you're a normal, thinking individual he's a hero. If you're a neocon or fascist of any stripe he's a criminal.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:43 AM on December 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


False dichotomy. He can be, and I think is, both. Also,
During his childhood, he played under the desk of J. Edgar Hoover...

Suddenly I don't feel so well.


Why not? The man was the Director of the F.B.I, the kid had family connections to it. Unless you're trying to coyly refer to the whole 'sex under a desk' thing, in which case why would you accuse the man of pederasty?
posted by Lemurrhea at 9:47 AM on December 16, 2008


Sorry -- I'm not on cable news much, is the anchor on the Tamm youtube link seriously mimicin'g Keith Olbermann? I remember anecdotes from broadcasting lessons that anchors try to mimic more famous anchros to go places, but, uh, she's literally channeling Keith Olbermann. Bizarrrrrooooo
posted by cavalier at 9:48 AM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was moved to tears when I saw the interview on Rachel Maddow's show last night. Thomas Tamm is a hero, no doubt about it.

cavalier, no, Rachel Maddow has always been that awesome. See? I'm pretty sure Keith Olbermann didn't invent sarcastic, exasperated reporting of the news.
posted by giraffe at 9:58 AM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Interview with Michael Isikoff
posted by homunculus at 10:00 AM on December 16, 2008


That's a pretty great clip, thanks giraffe. Yes, guilty of not knowing of her, and I realize maybe now it's an MSNBC mandated thing since they're on the same network. It's not the sarcasm, there's just a certain presentation that I found remarkably similiar. Maybe I'm just looking at intellectual rage.

Anyhoo. Good on that guy.
posted by cavalier at 10:01 AM on December 16, 2008


Hoover up-skirts shots.
posted by Artw at 10:02 AM on December 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


Maybe I'm just looking at intellectual rage.

Personally, I can't get enough. Like Olbermann in the Floating Oval of Disbelief watching Sarah Palin/Turkey slaughter. I hope to one day have a Rhombus of Bewilderment.

Anyway, when people talk about "what our forefathers meant" when the Constitution was written, I'm pretty sure they would've written "private telephone conversations" into the fourth amendment, if such a thing existed at the time. And they probably would've patted Tamm on the back or thumped the table in approval.

Well, maybe not Adams. Does exposing government corruption and lawbreaking count as sedition?
posted by giraffe at 10:16 AM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


He's a hero . . . stuck his neck out for the good of the country.
And Rachel is gutsy and smart enough to have him on her show.
Good on both of them . . . what's the matter with the others?
posted by ahimsakid at 10:22 AM on December 16, 2008


Read some Bamford (esp. his latest book: Shadow Factory) and you will soon learn that what Bush had done has been going on for a number of years. Domestic spying is not new.
posted by Postroad at 10:28 AM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


The underlying question is not whether he is a hero or criminal, but which is more important, loyalty to the bureaucracy or loyalty to the ideals that the bureaucracy is supposed to support? There were dozens of individuals Tamm spoke with and tried to seek counsel from who chose loyalty to the system over loyalty to the Constitution.

I do think he did the right thing, but he also broke the law in doing it. But the level to which the FBI has pursued him and his family is excessive. Those that broke a higher law, to protect the citizens of the United States from unlawful and unconstitutional invasions of privacy are largely un-punished, while the man who risked his career and possibly his life to protect our rights is hounded and harassed.

Just further proof that many of those in power for the last 8 years don't give a flip about the country or the Constitution and are only concerned with maintaining the power and control they've gained.
posted by teleri025 at 10:38 AM on December 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


Some information on US whistleblower protection laws. Looks like Bush is against whistleblowing, not surprisingly, and has actively interfered with recent legislation.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:47 AM on December 16, 2008


Well that depends, do you like cakes with "Adolf Hitler" written on them?

It's not a question of like. Hitlercakes are just damn tasty.

Seriously, is this even a question? We need more of this. Is this more of the "new balanced reporting" that features ridiculously imbalanced opposite views as equal, or is this just an easy way to get a rise out of the readers?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:49 AM on December 16, 2008


While I agree basically with Teleri025, I think this is a useful jumping-off point for discussion about whistle-blowers in general.

In the context of inter/national security, when should it be okay for someone like Tamm to leak to the public details about a secret intelligence program? What if, instead of being illegal and unconstitutional, it was legal and someone leaked it because they disagreed with the policy or implementation?

Also, while we might agree with the outcome here specifically, when should it be okay for someone lower down on the totem pole to blow the whistle on a sensitive, yet (adjudged after the fact) legal intelligence program? I'm not totally comfortable with the idea of saying every person in the federal bureaucracy has the discretion to go public with information if they, personally, decide it's a) not legal/constitutional; b) bad policy; c) badly implemented.
posted by R_Nebblesworth at 10:50 AM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


The man broke the law. But maybe that law needed breaking. And maybe the nation is a better place because of it.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:51 AM on December 16, 2008


I should add, I agree with the outcome as in: I think it was the right thing for Tamm to do (not for his life to be ruined).
posted by R_Nebblesworth at 11:08 AM on December 16, 2008


This is just the sort of thing that executive pardons were created for. I don't have much faith that this man will get one, but he certainly deserves it.

He broke the law because the law was being used to hide and protect something that was shameful and wrong; by any standard that I can imagine, that means that means the law was itself wrong.

He did the right thing, and now we get to see whether our leaders will recognize that, or scurry away from moral rightness like cockroaches from light.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:11 AM on December 16, 2008


Just to add to what you're saying, R_Nebblesworth, many whistleblower regimes are designed so as to reward/protect those who disclose actions/events that are later substantiated in a court of law and are sufficiently serious to warrant the breach of secrecy. Given that the potential whistleblower is really not in the best position to judge what evidence is going to see the light of day (what gets tossed out; what gets discovered and brought in) this puts him or her in a rather unfortunate position of gambling on, potentially, their own freedom if they turn out to be wrong or don't amass sufficient evidence.

But then maybe that's a policy decision and part of the balance to ensure that the kind of vindictive personal disclosures you mention are less likely to occur.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:14 AM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Or not even vindictive but personal and short-sighted -- though if so, how they can be dissuaded I'm not sure.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:15 AM on December 16, 2008


This is just the sort of thing that executive pardons were created for. And a President can do a pardon on his first day in office just as easily as on his last day. It would send a powerful signal that would encourage others afraid to speak out (which could be more disruptive of the effective running of institutions than the moderate Mr. Obama would like, but some things ARE more important).
posted by wendell at 11:19 AM on December 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


The Fed Who Blew the Whistle: Is he a hero or a criminal?

Hero. Next question?

(Newsweek magazine could save so many trees.)
posted by rokusan at 11:23 AM on December 16, 2008


Suddenly I don't feel so well.

J. Edgar Hoover was a closeted gay man, and a pretty awful human being, but he was not a child molester, as far as we know.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:28 AM on December 16, 2008


Durn, do you know much about whistleblower statutes as they apply to the government?

I guess that's sort of the problem - even if the program is declared unconstitutional after the fact, that could take months or years. But I wonder if there's a standard we could come up with for when it's morally/ethically acceptable to whistleblow on sensitive or secret government programs a priori, without reference to if/when they're ever evaluated legally?
posted by R_Nebblesworth at 11:42 AM on December 16, 2008


You like the idea of a child playing under the desk of Edgar Hoover?!?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:44 AM on December 16, 2008


“J. Edgar Hoover was a closeted gay man, and a pretty awful human being, but he was not a child molester, as far as we know.”

Well, he’d accuse other folks of being child molesters, and blackmail them (true or not) with the info.
And he’d accuse other folks of being homosexuals and blackmail them as well.
So - maybe, yeah.
Still, some people are so thoroughly corrupt you’d believe almost anything of them.

Hitler? Involved in a hit and run accident? No way! I mean, sure he’d murder millions of Jews, gypsies, dissenters, etc, but I’m pretty sure he’s the kind of guy who would at least leave a note.
I just can’t see Hitler driving off. Speer - now that guy’s just an all around asshole.
But there’s no way Hitler would dent your fender and flee the scene.

... can you see that note? (Dear sir, I apologise for running into your automobile. Please send me a bill for the repairs and I will pay for them. Unless you are a filthy Jew. Sincerely, Adoph Hitler. P.S. Why aren’t you driving a people’s car you pig dog? Aren’t you a true Aryan?
P.P.S. Again, my apologies. Perhaps you are an Aryan of true blood. But then, why park so far off the curb? It’s just like one of the mongrel races to impede the proper course of pure German... again, sorry. Send me the bill. I promise not to have my people shoot you in the head and send your family to be exterminated.
P.P.P.S Unless they look Jewish - ho ho ho.)
posted by Smedleyman at 11:58 AM on December 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


I’m with Batman on the whole ‘hero’ thing. Of course they’re criminals. They *have* to be criminals (especially given this administration).
posted by Smedleyman at 12:00 PM on December 16, 2008


Hero.
posted by wrapper at 12:00 PM on December 16, 2008


In lawless times, only a criminal can be a hero.

Oh, shit. I just had an idea for a movie.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:03 PM on December 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon writes "J. Edgar Hoover was a closeted gay man, and a pretty awful human being, but he was not a child molester, as far as we know."

Isn't there a rumor of a Hoover party involving a Mob-supplied nine-year-old boy in a dress?
posted by orthogonality at 12:11 PM on December 16, 2008


I think maybe the director of the FBI's office should be off-limits to children.

Thanks, Tamm.
posted by graventy at 12:20 PM on December 16, 2008


orthogonality - ridiculous! There is no such thing as the mob!
posted by Artw at 12:22 PM on December 16, 2008


Isn't there a rumor of a Hoover party involving a Mob-supplied nine-year-old boy in a dress?

There is now.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:28 PM on December 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


Isn't there a rumor of a Hoover party involving a Mob-supplied nine-year-old boy in a dress?

There is now.
posted by mikelieman at 4:14 PM on December 16, 2008


Ouch. I gotta work on that Comprehension part of Reading.
posted by mikelieman at 4:15 PM on December 16, 2008


Durn, do you know much about whistleblower statutes as they apply to the government?

Not in the U.S., no.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:31 PM on December 16, 2008


I wonder if there's a standard we could come up with for when it's morally/ethically acceptable to whistleblow on sensitive or secret government programs a priori, without reference to if/when they're ever evaluated legally?

I did a bit of work on one, and was chiefly concerned with not putting the potential whistleblower in this state of uncertainty and forcing them to gamble. But as you may have noticed from my previous post, I've come around somewhat on that perspective now to thinking that it may be a necessary part of the system. It's like the civil disobedient. We need adherence to laws. We recognize there are times where the right thing is to disobey the law. You should be willing to face the punishment despite the justness of your act, because taking the penalty is part of your participation in civil disobedience -- to do so without consequence would mean that your act came at no price and would essentially render it a common and thus valueless act. Of course extreme circumstances can call for exceptions to that.

What you're describing though... no, I don't see how that would work. We do need people to keep secrets. Secretive information is by necessity often compartmentalized. People who know bits of things are often not in the best situation to evaluate the whole. What do you do with that if not create a disincentive to disclose and then reward people who manage to discover that on the whole an evil is being perpetrated?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:49 PM on December 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh I will throw in one other unfortunate consequence, though: if you need a certain amount of proof to in effect exonerate yourself if you decide to go public with something secret, it creates an incentive to do all kinds of things people really don't want you to do. Store documents that should be destroyed. Copy documents that should not be copied. I don't mean the evidence of ill doing. As I said, the person is often not in the best position to know, and besides, what may become evidence of ill-doing later? What if you are acting on a hunch? So you copy and you store, and maybe the cleaning lady gets ahold of it or the maintenance man and suddenly there's stuff out there that's doing harm because it's out there, all because you were trying to cover your ass and expose someone else's.

A good policy should create incentives for the behaviours we want and punish the ones we don't. Whistleblower regimes tend to do both, sometimes at cross-purposes.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:53 PM on December 16, 2008


I don't really care what happens to Tamm, but I hope they never catch his sister, River.

Two by two
Hands of blue.
posted by rockhopper at 8:32 PM on December 16, 2008


In lawless times, there are no criminals.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:57 PM on December 16, 2008


In other news: Appeals court puts restrictions on NSL gag orders
posted by homunculus at 10:02 PM on December 16, 2008


I don't really care what happens to Tamm, but I hope they never catch his sister, River.

I was wondering when that would happen.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:31 PM on December 16, 2008


Right now I have a hammer in my hand chiseling his head in Rushmore.

No law trumps the constitution, the NSA warrantless taps were in violation of at LEAST the 4th, 5th and 14th Amendments.
posted by Kensational at 9:16 AM on December 17, 2008


'Deep Throat' Mark Felt Dies at 95
posted by homunculus at 11:19 PM on December 18, 2008


Cheney says top congressional Democrats complicit in spying
posted by homunculus at 9:34 PM on December 22, 2008


Judge: 'Sufficient Facts' Exist That U.S. Spied on Islamic Charity Lawyers
posted by homunculus at 10:03 AM on January 6, 2009


The DOJ pursues the "real criminal" in the NSA spying scandal
posted by homunculus at 11:28 PM on January 7, 2009


Cheney: It ‘Always Aggravated Me’ That The NYT Won A Pulitzer For Exposing Warrantless Wiretapping
posted by homunculus at 1:59 PM on January 13, 2009


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