A former Department of Justice lawyer on Tuesday was accused of violating ethics rules of the District of Columbia Bar when he blew the whistle on the U.S. government’s warrantless domestic spying program under the George W. Bush administration.
Though the Justice Department in 2011 said it would not bring charges against Thomas Tamm, the Washington D.C. Office of Bar Council affirmed in charging papers Tuesday that he violated standards held by the organization when he gave information about the government spying program to the New York Times in 2004, thus violating the confidentiality of his client’s sensitive information.
Tamm began working at the DOJ Office of Intelligence Policy and Review in 2001, when he was tasked with applying for warrants needed to conduct electronic surveillance on foreign agents within the United States, according to the document.
Tamm was required to obtain a security clearance for purposes of obtaining the documentation from the issuing body, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
In 2006, The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for its reportage of the government’s warrantless wiretapping program.
The following year, Tamm’s home was raided by the FBI. In a 2008 interview with Newsweek, the former DOJ lawyer said he learned of something called “the program” and was told by a supervisor that it was “probably illegal.” Some 10 percent of warrant requests bypassed the FISA judges to be signed by the attorney general or the chief judge of the court.
“Even though [Tamm] believed that an agency of the Department of Justice was involved in illegal conduct, he did not refer the matter to higher authority within the Department,” the document alleges.
In a 2013 interview with Frontline, Tamm recalled the decision to go to the press.
“I just put everything together and felt that … the fact that we were rendering people to states that we knew tortured them, I just decided to,” Tamm said.
Tamm was familiar with the work of New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau and decided to bring the information to him.
“I knew he was covering the Department of Justice, and I felt like he had a pretty good handle of what was going on in the department, and I reached out to him,” Tamm said.
Tamm declined to comment to the National Law Journal, which broke the story Tuesday, but his attorney, Paul Kemp, told the publication it was “a shame this thing comes about 11 years after the facts that give rise to it.”
In 2009, Tamm was awarded The Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling for exposing “at great personal risk … the lawless activities of powerful forces.”