(CBS/AP) A former Justice Department lawyer says he tipped off the news media about the Bush administration's warrantless eavesdropping program because it "didn't smell right," Newsweek magazine reported Sunday.
Thomas Tamm, whose suburban Washington home was searched by federal agents last year, told the magazine he leaked the existence of the secret program to The New York Times 18 months before the newspaper broke the story.
"I thought this was something the other branches of the government and the public ought to know about. So they could decide: do they want this massive spying program to be taking place?" Tamm told Newsweek in what the magazine said were a series of recent interviews that he granted against the advice of his lawyers.
"If somebody were to say, who am I to do that? I would say, 'I had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution.' It's stunning that somebody higher up the chain of command didn't speak up," the magazine quoted Tamm as saying.
Tamm, 56, told the magazine he called the Times from a subway station pay phone in Washington.
In December 2005 the Times published a story exposing the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program to eavesdrop on international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. residents without court warrants.
The eavesdropping had been conducted without public knowledge and without any court approval.
The story cited multiple anonymous sources. Newsweek said the Times reporters who wrote the story refused to say whether Tamm was one of them.
If somebody were to say, who am I to do that? I would say, 'I had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution.'
Thomas TammIt has since been put under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Tamm, who left the Justice Department in 2006, had worked in the department's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (now the Office of Intelligence), a secretive unit that oversees surveillance of terrorist and espionage targets, according to Newsweek.
Tamm told Newsweek that he felt duty-bound to expose the National Security Agency program that one superior described to him as "probably illegal." Coming from a family of FBI officials (as a child he reportedly played under J. Edgar Hoover's desk), Tamm was a prosecutor before he began handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists. The magazine reports that, angered at the thought of lawlessness at the Justice Department, Tamm agonized over what to do.
After a former colleague who worked with the Senate Judiciary Committee cut short a conversation about the program, Tamm contacted the Times.
President Bush, who authorized the illegal wiretaps, called the leak a "shameful act."
Tamm told the magazine he has since struggled to make a living in private practice. FBI agents raided his house, grilled his family members, and questioned friends and associates. Though not formally charged with a crime, he has resisted pressure to cop a plea for divulging classified information.