When the New York Times published its investigation of the NSA's warrantless wiretap program,
the paper ignored President Bush's request to hold off on revealing
details of the secret program. In an Oval Office meeting, Bush gave the
following message to Executive Editor Bill Keller: "You'll have blood on your hands."
Since the piece ran in Dec. 2005, reporters James Risen and Eric
Lichtblau have both published books and won the Pulitzer, while still
never revealing their government sources.
But now, one of them has come forward. Newsweek's Michael Isikoff
gets former Justice Department lawyer Thomas Tamm to open up for the
first time, explaining why he blew the whistle, in the magazine's 5,600-word cover story. (The Times reporters don't comment on whether he's a source).
Tamm's name had been floated before as a suspect. In Aug. 2007, Isikoff wrote
that Tamm was being investigated by the FBI for possible involvement in
the leak, information seized upon by both right and left sites.
On Daily Kos he was referred to as the new "Deep Throat," while Newsbusters found
that Tamm - or someone using his name - had been leaving comments on
sites like NYTimes.com and Media Matters. And Tamm, Isikoff reports,
"began blogging about the Justice Department for liberal Web sites."
(It had been suspected
that someone involved with the NSA leak could have been writing in the
Talking Points Memo comments section. Isikoff doesn't say what sites he
was writing for).
So why did he do it? Tamm told Isikoff that he first learned about
"the program" in spring 2004, and believing that there was something
illegal going on - while not knowing all the specifics - tipped off The
Times, first arranging a meeting from a pay phone. The Risen-Lichtblau
front page scoop ran 18 months later.
Although Tamm considered contacting the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, he said he didn't know how to reach him. (Not sure why the number
would be that hard to find). But Tamm had also read stories by
Lichtblau, who was on the Justice Department beat, and supplies some
backstory on the meeting to Isikoff.
When he went to make the call to the Times, Tamm said, "My
whole body was shaking." Tamm described himself to Lichtblau as a
"former" Justice employee and called himself "Mark," his middle name.
He said he had some information that was best discussed in person. He
and Lichtblau arranged to meet for coffee at Olsson's, a now shuttered
bookstore near the Justice Department. After Tamm hung up the phone, he
was struck by the consequences of what he had just done. "Oh, my God,"
he thought. "I can't talk to anybody about this." An even more
terrifying question ran through his mind. He thought back to his days
at the capital-case squad and wondered if disclosing information about
a classified program could earn him the death penalty.
In his book, "Bush's Law: The Remaking of American Justice,"
Lichtblau writes that he first got a whiff of the NSA surveillance
program during the spring of 2004 when he got a cold call from a
"walk-in" source who was "agitated about something going on in the
intelligence community." Lichtblau wrote that his source was wary at
first. The source did not know precisely what was going on-he was, in
fact, maddeningly vague, the reporter wrote. But after they got
together for a few meetings ("usually at a bookstore or coffee shops in
the shadows of Washington's power corridors") his source's "credibility
and his bona fides became clear and his angst appeared sincere." The
source told him of turmoil within the Justice Department concerning
counterterrorism operations and the FISA court. "Whatever is going on,
there's even talk Ashcroft could be indicted," the source told
Lichtblau, according to his book.