Thomas Tamm

Last updated
Thomas Tamm
Education Brown University (1974)
Georgetown University Law Center (1977)
EmployerWashington County, Maryland public defender
Known forWhistleblowing at U.S. Department of Justice
Awards Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize [1]

Thomas Tamm (born 1952) is a public defender in Washington County, Maryland. He formerly worked as an attorney in the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) Office of Intelligence Policy and Review during 2004 when senior Justice officials responded to the warrantless NSA surveillance concerning eavesdropping on U.S. citizens. He was an anonymous whistleblower to The New York Times , making the initial disclosures which led to reporters winning Pulitzer Prizes in 2006. Although Maryland agreed to drop ethics charges against him in 2009 relating to those disclosures, and the USDOJ announced it had dropped its investigation in 2011, the D.C. Office of Bar Counsel announced in January 2016 that it had brought disciplinary charges against Tamm relating to those events. Despite some controversy with respect to politicisation of that office and similar charges being brought to silence attorney whistleblowers especially beginning in 2014, Tamm in March 2016 agreed to public censure by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in order to allow him to proceed with his life and career. [2]

Washington County, Maryland County in Maryland

Washington County is located in the western part of the U.S. state of Maryland. As of the 2010 census, the population was 147,430. Its county seat is Hagerstown. Washington County was the first county in the United States to be named for the Revolutionary War general George Washington. Washington County is one of three Maryland counties recognized by the Appalachian Regional Commission as being part of Appalachia.

United States Department of Justice U.S. federal executive department in charge of law enforcement

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ), also known as the Justice Department, is a federal executive department of the United States government, responsible for the enforcement of the law and administration of justice in the United States, equivalent to the justice or interior ministries of other countries. The department was formed in 1870 during the Ulysses S. Grant administration, and administers several federal law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The department is responsible for investigating instances of financial fraud, representing the United States government in legal matters, and running the federal prison system. The department is also responsible for reviewing the conduct of local law enforcement as directed by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

The Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) was a staff agency within the United States Department of Justice. It was responsible for handling all Justice Department requests for surveillance authorizations under the terms of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), advising the Attorney General and Intelligence Community on legal issues relating to national security and surveillance, and intelligence legislation coordination.



The son of a former assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, nephew of another former FBI assistant director who became a U.S. Court of Appeals judge for the District of Columbia Circuit (Edward Allen Tamm), and brother of another career FBI agent, Tamm attended Brown University and graduated in 1974.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Governmental agency belonging to the United States Department of Justice

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the domestic intelligence and security service of the United States and its principal federal law enforcement agency. Operating under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Justice, the FBI is also a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community and reports to both the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence. A leading U.S. counter-terrorism, counterintelligence, and criminal investigative organization, the FBI has jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal crimes.

Edward Allen Tamm was a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and previously was a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Brown University University in Providence, Rhode Island

Brown University is a private Ivy League research university in Providence, Rhode Island. Founded in 1764 as the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, it is the seventh-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution.

After graduating from Georgetown Law School and being admitted to the bar, Tamm joined the state's attorney's office, and after gaining additional experience, joined the United States Department of Justice's Capital Case Unit, where he litigated death penalty cases. He eventually joined the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, where he was liaison with the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court. [3]

United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court U.S. federal court

The United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is a U.S. federal court established and authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) to oversee requests for surveillance warrants against foreign spies inside the United States by federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Such requests are made most often by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Congress created FISA and its court as a result of the recommendations by the U.S. Senate's Church Committee.

A New York Times article on December 16, 2005 [4] [5] exposing the warrantless NSA surveillance for the first time was based on his initial tip-offs. Reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau won a Pulitzer prize for that reporting in 2006. [6]

James Risen American journalist

James Risen is an American journalist for The Intercept. He previously worked for The New York Times and before that for Los Angeles Times. He has written or co-written many articles concerning U.S. government activities and is the author or co-author of two books about the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and a book about the American public debate about abortion. Risen is a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Eric Lichtblau is an American journalist, reporting for The New York Times in the Washington bureau, as well as the Los Angeles Times, TIME Magazine, the New Yorker, and the CNN network's investigative news unit. He has earned two Pulitzer Prizes for his work. He received a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 with the New York Times for his reporting on warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency. He also was part of the New York Times team that won the Pulitzer in 2017 for coverage of Russia and the Trump campaign. He is the author of Bush's Law: The Remaking of American Justice, and The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler's Men.

In 2007, FBI agents raided Tamm's house. [7] on suspicion of his involvement in leaking the details, but it was not until 2008 – online on December 13 [8] and then in the December 22 issue of Newsweek [8] – that his role was confirmed and Tamm began speaking out publicly. [9]

Newsweek is an American weekly news magazine founded in 1933.

On April 26, 2011, after inauguration of President Barack Obama (who had criticized the program) and a lengthy criminal investigation, the Justice Department announced that it would be dropping its investigation of Tamm and would not file charges. [10]

Media Exposure in 2012-2013

On August 22, 2012 The New York Times published an Op-doc (a forum of short documentaries produced by independent filmmakers), produced by Laura Poitras and entitled, The Program. [11] The producer characterized it as preliminary work that would be included in a documentary planned for release in 2013, as the final part of the trilogy based on interviews with William Binney, a 32-year veteran of the National Security Agency, who also became a whistleblower and described the details of the Stellar Wind project that he helped to design. Binney stated that the program he worked on, the facility being built at Bluffdale, Utah, had been designed for foreign espionage, but in 2001 was converted to spying on citizens in the United States, prompting concerns by him and others that the actions were illegal and unconstitutional, which led to disclosures.

On October 29, 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the constitutionality of the amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that were used to authorize the creation of such facilities and justify such actions. The determination of the court was not unanimous in James R. Clapper, Jr., Director Of National Intelligence, et al., Petitioners v. Amnesty International USA et al., [12] as Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, with whom Justice Ginsburg, Justice Sotomayor, and Justice Kagan joined.

In December 2013, the Public Broadcasting System's Frontline documentary series interviewed Tamm concerning the FISA Court. [3]

Bar Discipline

In January, 2016, the District of Columbia Office of Disciplinary Counsel announced, first to the National Law Journal, that in December it had filed ethics charges against Tamm (a member of the D.C. Bar since 1978) as a result of an investigation that it claimed dated back to 2009, for violating the confidences of his then-client the U.S. Department of Justice. [6] Whistleblower lawyers analogized this to the ongoing disciplinary case brought in 2014 upon a complaint by General Electric against Washington D.C. whistleblower lawyer Lynne Bernabei and Notre Dame Law School professor G. Robert Blakey for advising in-house counsel Adriana Koeck to make her disclosures publicly to a New York Times reporter, as well as to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and federal prosecutors. [13] In December, the 80-year old and retired Blakey agreed to accept similar unappealable discipline with respect to his advice to former student Koeck. [14] Tamm's attorney said the Maryland Bar had investigated Tamm for the same disclosures in 2009, and decided not to press charges. [13] On March 24, 2016, the National Law Journal reported that Tamm had agreed to accept censure by the D.C. Court of Appeals to resolve that disciplinary proceeding and allow him to continue his life and career, rather than face the prospect of many years of litigation before many courts. [15]


See also

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Project MINARET was a domestic espionage project operated by the National Security Agency (NSA), which, after intercepting electronic communications that contained the names of predesignated US citizens, passed them to other government law enforcement and intelligence organizations. Intercepted messages were disseminated to the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD), and the Department of Defense. The project was a sister project to Project SHAMROCK.

NSA warrantless surveillance (2001–2007)

NSA warrantless surveillance refers to the surveillance of persons within the United States, including United States citizens, during the collection of notionally foreign intelligence by the National Security Agency (NSA) as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. The NSA was authorized to monitor, without obtaining a FISA warrant, the phone calls, Internet activity, text messages and other communication involving any party believed by the NSA to be outside the U.S., even if the other end of the communication lay within the U.S.

James A. Baker is a former American government official at the Department of Justice who served as general counsel for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In December, 2017 he was replaced as general counsel and reassigned to a different position within the FBI. It was revealed on April 19, 2018 that he was a recipient of at least one Comey memo. On May 4, 2018, Baker resigned the FBI and joined the Brookings Institution as a fellow who will write for the justice-focused blog, Lawfare. In January 2019, Baker left Brookings to become the director of national security and cybersecurity at the R Street Institute, a conservative think-tank in Washington, D.C. He also teaches at Harvard Law School.

Terrorist Surveillance Program electronic surveillance program implemented by the National Security Agency

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Warrantless searches are searches and seizures conducted without court-issued search warrants.

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Protect America Act of 2007

The Protect America Act of 2007 (PAA),, is a controversial amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that was signed into law by U.S. President George W. Bush on August 5, 2007. It removed the warrant requirement for government surveillance of foreign intelligence targets "reasonably believed" to be outside the United States. The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 reauthorized many provisions of the Protect America Act in Title VII of FISA.

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Stellar Wind warrantless surveillance program of the NSA in the United States

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James Robertson (judge) American judge

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Presidents Surveillance Program collection of secret intelligence activities authorized by George W. Bush

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Trailblazer Project

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Thomas A. Drake former NSA executive and whistleblower

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<i>Jewel v. NSA</i>

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William Binney (intelligence official) former U.S. intelligence official and cryptoanalyst; whistleblower

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Diane Roark American whistleblower

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  1. 1 2 "The Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize". 2009. Archived from the original on September 30, 2010. Retrieved June 4, 2010.
  3. 1 2
  4. "Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts". NYT's Risen & Lichtblau's December 16, 2005 "Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts". Archived from the original on February 6, 2006. Retrieved February 18, 2006. via
  5. Calame, Byron (August 13, 2006). "Eavesdropping and the Election: An Answer on the Question of Timing". The New York Times . Retrieved May 25, 2010.
  6. 1 2
  7. "Looking For a Leaker". Newsweek. August 13, 2007. Retrieved June 4, 2010.
  8. 1 2 Isikoff, Michael (2008-12-13). "The Fed Who Blew the Whistle: Is he a hero or a criminal?". Newsweek. Archived from the original on 2008-12-15.
  9. Goodman, Amy (16 April 2009). "Whistleblower Defends Decision to Leak Bush Domestic Surveillance Program & Calls for Prosecution of Gov't Officials and Telecoms". Democracy Now! . Retrieved June 4, 2010.
  10. Asokan, Shyamantha (April 26, 2011). "No charges for man who leaked surveillance program". The Washington Post.
  11. Poitras, Laura, The Program, New York Times Op-Docs, August 22, 2012
  12. Clapper v. Amnesty International USA ( ) 638 F. 3d 118, reversed and remanded, No. 11–1025. Argued October 29, 2012—Decided February 26, 2013
  13. 1 2