Michael Isikoff at Newsweek offers a pointed portrayal this week of whistleblower Thomas Tamm, who tipped off the New York Times to illegal domestic NSA surveillance. Tamm's journey has made him the target of a relentless investigation by FBI agents, in which they've trawled his personal life, interrogated his friends and family, raided his home, and forced him to live under the constant threat of prosecution.
Perhaps channeling Marie Antoinette, former White House counterterrorism advisor Frances Fragos Townsend argues that government employees who witness illegal activity should simply pursue whistleblower complaint processes. Just about anyone in the know will tell you that filing a whistleblower complaint, especially if you are a national security whistleblower, is usually the first step toward committing career suicide. And, as Tamm experienced first-hand when he was rebuffed by a Senate Judiciary staff member, whistleblowers who go to Congress are frequently ignored, often because staffers are either inexperienced working with whistleblowers or don't believe that working with whistleblowers should be part of their job.
Asa Hutchinson, another former Bush Administration official, has a different and more reasonable take:
"When I looked at this, I was convinced that the action he took was based on his view of a higher responsibility," says Asa Hutchinson, the former U.S. attorney in Little Rock and under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security who is assisting in Tamm's defense. "It reflected a lawyer's responsibility to protect the rule of law."
Previous efforts to protect national security whistleblowers have failed, even though Congress has the most to gain from ensuring that employees inform them of Executive Branch wrongdoing. As a result, whistleblowers will be forced to continue to go to the news media anonymously, since this is currently the safest channel for disclosing illegal activities by the government.
-- Beth Daley