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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: Do you think the idea of a truth commission is the appropriate way to do that with the possibility of an independent prosecutor?

TT: Yes. Ultimately, I think there will probably need to be an independent prosecutor … someone who really knows what the prosecutor's duty is. If you feel that someone has a valid defense, you should not prosecute them. (Like in the Ted Stevens case. They had information that went in his favor, and yet they hid it from the defense. The ethical prosecutors reveal the bad, plus the good.)

I met with Congressman Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., yesterday, who sponsored some whistle-blower legislation, and I emphasized with him that I thought it was very important for the country to know what was done and then we can decide what, if anything, to do about it.

LS: When, and under what circumstances, did you ultimately leave the FBI?

TT: I think there's very important work done by the FISA unit, but … it really bothered me that I might be participating in something that wasn't really above board, so I left there in March of 2004 and I went over to the U.S. Attorney's office -- which is the federal prosecutor for the District of Columbia -- and started doing court cases like I'd done earlier in my career. …

But in the back of my mind, I was thinking, "When are they going to figure out that I'm the one who did this?"

LS: The Newsweek story painted a pretty dark picture of the consequences of coming forward as a whistle-blower. Do you have any regrets? What would you tell someone in this position?

TT: I think part of it is on me, maybe I haven't handled the pressure as well as I could have. … I think I put my country first with what I did, and I probably put family second. I kind of do regret that.

It never occurred to me that they would search my house. There wasn't anything in my house that would benefit them. And we had the example of Judy Miller of the Times being put in front of a grand jury, refusing to answer who her sources were.

I thought that was the way it would go, that Lichtblau and Risen would eventually be summoned to a grand jury, and I would … give them permission to reveal their source … all of those things.

To be awakened in bed by total strangers that are wearing guns was really unsettling for my family. I do regret that. On the other hand, I am hopeful that I did something somewhat important.

I would support more protection for whistle-blowers, certainly, and I wouldn't say anything to discourage them from coming forward.

LS: It sounds like things have changed for the better since the story broke. You were in a really tough position, with the Newsweek headline posing the question: Is this man "a hero or a criminal?" From what you're describing, it sounds like a lot of Americans would say hero.

TT: I am grateful for that, and it also is humbling.

In the final analysis, I thought it would put pressure on the Bush administration to decide one way or the other [whether to indict] and, by that time -- it was after the election that I decided to permit [Isikoff] to publish it -- there was not much [time] left in the administration's term.

We were hearing that Cheney was running this investigation, and I was concerned that I was going to get indicted, maybe between the election and the inauguration. So, I wanted to bring some public pressure to bear, so that if they did indict me, it would look like a political act. And if they didn't do it, then I was hoping I would get some support. And I did.