Newsweek’s hero

Newsweek’s cover story by Michael Isikoff identifies one of the major sources for the New York Times article blowing the government’s terrorist surveillance program. He is one Thomas Tamm. Newsweek asks: “Is he a hero or a criminal?”

The perspective of the photograph accompanying the article — looking up at Tamm’s craggy face — leaves no doubt about where Newsweek stands. It’s a little like Monica’s accustomed perspective on Bill Clinton.

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Unfortunately, Newsweek doesn’t directly address the criminal component of the question posed in the article, but it’s not particularly difficult. Among other things, Tamm violated section 793 and section 798 of the espionage laws. The harder question is whether the New York Times should be prosecuted for violating these laws, a question I took up in the Standard column “Exposure.”

One learns from the article that the government is conducting a criminal investigation related to the Times’s disclosure of the NSA terrorist surveillance program. Tamm is, not surprisingly, a subject of the investigation. Newsweek reports that a decision on his prosecution will be made by the Obama administration.

Toward the end of the article, Newsweek quotes former DHS official Asa Hutchinson to the effect that Tamm’s misconduct caused no detriment to the United States. Given his former position, his opinion might be entitled to some weight. But Hutchinson resigned from his DHS position effective March 1, 2005 to run for governor of Arkansas. The Times’s story was published on December 16, 2005. Isikoff leaves these details out of his very long story and therefore withholds sufficient information for the interested reader to evaluate the credibility of Hutchinson’s assertion.

I seriously doubt whether Hutchinson has sufficient knowledge to answer the question fairly, but he is any event an attorney representing Tamm. It’s a shame that Newsweek didn’t choose to pursue that issue in any greater depth. Doing so would shed great light on the “hero or criminal” question that Newsweek’s story only pretends to address.

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