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'A Ton More People Were Wiretapped Than We've Been Led to Believe': FBI Whistleblower Thomas Tamm

The man who blew the lid off Bush's spying program believes more details on government spying must, and will, come to light.

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LS: What did you make of the fact that the New York Times held the story until after the [2004] election?

TT: I really was conflicted, questioning my own motives, as to whether I wanted this information released because it might impact the election.

I mean, I hope its not the case; on the other hand, I think people should know what's going on when they go to vote. … It was very disconcerting that the Times did not appear as though they were going to publish it.

I met with Litchblau and Risen again, and they said, "Well, every time we talk about it, the White House says it's critical, people are going to die," And I said, "How is that possible? You guys have lawyers."

The fact that we wiretapped people without a warrant, and we wiretap people with a warrant, how does that implicate anybody's national security? They agreed and basically what happened is: Risen had been working on his book, and he told his editors, "I'm going to publish this book, and you guys can either write this story before my book comes out, or you can write it after it comes out."

LS: The original NSA wiretapping story broke a few years ago now, and the reporters who exposed it -- Eric Litchblau and James Risen -- have published books [about it]. Yet, when the Newsweek story broke, it revealed a whole new chapter in the saga. Why did you ultimately decide to "out" yourself when you did?

TT: Well that's a very good question. In retrospect, I actually wish I had done it sooner.

But because of the fact that I was under a criminal investigation -- [the FBI] had searched my house, and I knew that they were interviewing close friends and neighbors and former colleagues -- the conventional legal advice is that you shouldn't talk to the media.

You don't want to admit anything in the media that may help [prosecutors] put their case together. You know, there are a lot of valid legal reasons not to do so. So, for a very long period of time I followed my attorney's advice -- and I think it probably was sound, although I remain convinced that I did not actually break any of the national security laws.

But I guess it's a legal question, ultimately.

Isikoff actually called me right after my house was searched by the FBI -- it was searched on a Friday, and he called on a Monday, out of the blue -- and he knew what had been taken out of my house, he know that I had had philosophical disagreements with the Ashcroft administration on death-penalty issues … so he put a little blurb on the Newsweek Internet site, and it got picked up by the [Washington] Post and some other media. … Then every few months he would call me and ask if I was ready to talk -- and finally I decided I was.

And quite frankly, it was against legal advice, but I just thought it was in my best interest.

I had hired private counsel and was getting really behind in being able to pay them -- although they were very generous in saying that they weren't concerned about that -- so part of the reason [I spoke out when I did] was to let people know that I had a defense fund.

My family, neighbors and friends had contributed to it, but I needed to cast a wider net. And it's been very gratifying, the response nationwide -- total strangers contributing small amounts, and occasionally some very large amounts.