The Timothy McVeigh Finishing School »« Broccoli Wars

Thank You for Blowing that Whistle, Mr. Tamm

We could’ve used a lot more like him during these past eight years.

Newsweek has a fascinating story about the person who first leaked the warrantless surveillance story:

“Thomas M. Tamm was entrusted with some of the government’s most important secrets. He had a Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance, a level above Top Secret. Government agents had probed Tamm’s background, his friends and associates, and determined him trustworthy.

It’s easy to see why: he comes from a family of high-ranking FBI officials. During his childhood, he played under the desk of J. Edgar Hoover, and as an adult, he enjoyed a long and successful career as a prosecutor. Now gray-haired, 56 and fighting a paunch, Tamm prides himself on his personal rectitude. He has what his 23-year-old son, Terry, calls a “passion for justice.” For that reason, there was one secret he says he felt duty-bound to reveal.

In the spring of 2004, Tamm had just finished a yearlong stint at a Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies — a unit so sensitive that employees are required to put their hands through a biometric scanner to check their fingerprints upon entering. While there, Tamm stumbled upon the existence of a highly classified National Security Agency program that seemed to be eavesdropping on U.S. citizens. The unit had special rules that appeared to be hiding the NSA activities from a panel of federal judges who are required to approve such surveillance. When Tamm started asking questions, his supervisors told him to drop the subject. He says one volunteered that “the program” (as it was commonly called within the office) was “probably illegal.”

The man got put through hell after he decided to blow the whistle. Hilzoy takes the anti-whistleblower logic apart. It’s definitely worth your time.

I haven’t anything to add to the subject aside from this: people who risk their careers, their health and their families doing the right thing when others won’t deserve our gratitude.

Comments

  1. says

    I don’t often quarrel with your point of view. Most of the time I’m blinded by your enlightened perspective.But not here. To be blunt, shut up already about needing whistle blowers, calling for whistle-blowing and blowing polluted smoke of faux gratitude at whistle-blowers.If you aren’t actively helping someone who has blown the whistle, or you haven’t done so yourself, you have no business advocating for it, because it is a literal agonizing death.It is akin to standing on safe high ground holding a life preserver and rope and demanding that the drowning swimmer keep on swimming while intentionally withholding the rope, the life preserver and continuing to be a voyeur all the while refusing to help or to bring help.The drowning person is all the more tormented fully aware of his or her situation while also knowing that others are, too and are refusing to help.You, my cuber friend, are committing an obscenity. And the people which cause whistle blowers real harm are cruel.When I looked for the research literature about whistleblowers, I discovered that I wasn’t ever going to find a support group because whistle-blowers die alone and intentionally tormented by those they exposed, and intentionally forgotten by the beneficiaries of that exposure.Tamm, like me, and like most other WBs, is facing the reality that his suffering will stop only when he’s dead.

  2. says

    and intentionally forgotten by the beneficiaries of that exposureI think that’s the phrase you need to consider, Annie. I realize that there’s no material help we can provide by writing about these things. However, letting the issue just go away doesn’t help, either, does it? If we let that happen, then the people who torment whistleblowers win. I think that the least we can do is make those peoples’ lives miserable, knowing that the truth of their misdeeds will live on past the people who exposed them.

  3. says

    @Cujo359:In a post above, the War on Science, there is a quote from a person who claims he is a govt. employee who knows all sorts of damning information. For him to go through his channels to expose these and try to rectify them would be the act of a whistle-blower. It would ruin his life. So he’s quoted anonymously, and the intended response is for the reader to have a big lovin’ spoonful of righteous indignation.But for him to actually whistle-blow would be lethal to him and perhaps, to his family.Instead of simply ratcheting up the sanctimony engines, DO something about it so that people don’t have to face corruption and violence of people bring to bear the outsized power of enormous entrenched and corrupt systems, actions and intentions against a single person who cannot bring effective shielding and defense weaponry to protect himself or herself, let alone the victims s/he has identified from the malfeasance of the exposed acts.To you, this is all abstract, sterile, hypothesizing and speculating. To whistle-blowers, it’s agony and devastating to see people such as yourself, express recognition of problems without any concomitant actions.The government has several formal whistle-blowing mechanisms, and yet only about 3% of related suits brought by whistle-blowers get decided in their favor. Three-fricking-percent.That’s three hundred percent higher than the protections afforded to private citizens. In my case as a director, there were no NLRB protections, no government protections, and even my employer-purchased legal services benefit is nullified if there is a claim against the employer.And try being a private citizen whistle-blowing against any level of government. “You can’t fight city hall” has a real, visceral and terrorized meaning to me.What you don’t seem to understand is that there are no good guys. There are predators and prey. And as long as you take no action, you are a predator, too, getting entertained by playing with “stories” about whistle-blowers.If you sensationalize it enough, you can get a rush of emotion – at a real person’s direct expense. Your rush is my wave of terror of dreadful memories.I know I’m not explaining this well – partly because so much of it is raw emotion and is not ever articulated, is not rational, and is not in the norm of most people’s experience.Maybe if you took a genuine interest and became involved, the bloom would be off the rose, and you would get a taste, however, unappetizing, at the harm you do by talking about it without taking action – which just taunts victims. Meanwhile, those of us who have done this are locked out of ever working again in our fields, and some, like me, are ostracized so completely that we cannot sustain ourselves. I’m just the funny looking, starving homeless bum now.I spend a lot of my empty endless time fantasizing about such dreams as buying a tube of toothpaste or finding edible food from rubbish bins or finding someone to purchase the very few remaining personal possessions (mostly things that I have advertised and failed to sell).The things and relationships you all take for granted as the norm – jobs, shelter, friends, family, socializing, social engagements – these have all been stripped from me and others like me. I haven’t received a phone call or mail in over a year. No one speaks to me voluntarily except for the rare grunts of store clerks when I have coins to purchase something. “here’s your change” and “paper or plastic” are the sum of all human interaction I have had for YEARS.Can you imagine? I hope you never have to.From a very practical point of view, Tamm and I are better off dead.