Lawyer Who Blew Whistle on NSA Gets Public Censure

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By Joan Rogers

Aug. 25 — A former Justice Department lawyer who leaked confidential information about the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretaps to a reporter received a public censure Aug. 25 from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ( In re Tamm, 2016 BL 276061, D.C., No. 16-BG-690, 8/25/16 ).

The case involves Thomas M. Tamm, who worked as a lawyer at the DOJ's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review and acted as a source for a New York Times article on the Bush-era secret wiretapping program at the NSA.

It's the first time a whistleblower has been disciplined for breaching the ethical duty of confidentiality in the District of Columbia, according to the hearing committee's report.

Part of Tamm's job involved applying to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for warrants to conduct electronic surveillance in national security matters. During his work, he became aware that some surveillance applications were getting special treatment and came from a source referred to as “the program.” He asked a supervising attorney and other people within the office about the program, and concluded it was probably illegal.

Tamm then told a newspaper reporter about what he believed were illegal, secret wiretaps. He didn't reveal any sources or methods of collecting intelligence, according to the hearing committee report.

Mitigating Circumstances

In accepting the negotiated discipline, the court said Tamm admitted he disclosed client confidences or secrets in violation of D.C. Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6.

A public censure isn't too lenient in light of several mitigating circumstances and the discipline typically imposed for previous Rule 1.6 violations without any aggravating factors, the court said.

The court noted these mitigating circumstances:

  •  Tamm cooperated with disciplinary counsel;
  •  His sole intent was to further government compliance with the law;
  •  The disclosure was limited;
  •  He didn't receive any financial compensation for the disclosure; and
  •  The investigation into his conduct was stressful and expensive.

The panel comprised Judges Phyllis D. Thompson, Corinne Ann Beckwith and Michael W. Farrell.

Assistant Disciplinary Counsel Hamilton Fox represented the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. Ethridge, Quinn, Kemp, McAuliffe, Rowan & Hartinger represented Thomas.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joan C. Rogers in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ethan Bowers at

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