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Profile: Eric Lichtblau

Eric Lichtblau was a participant or observer in the following events:

Thomas Tamm.Thomas Tamm. [Source: Newsweek]Thomas Tamm, a veteran Justice Department prosecutor with a high-level security clearance, is finishing up a yearlong post with the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), a Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies. As his stint is coming to a close, Tamm learns of the existence of a highly classified National Security Agency (NSA) program that is electronically eavesdropping on American citizens—domestic wiretapping. He later learns that “the program,” as it is referred to by those few who know of it at all, is called “Stellar Wind.”
Concealment from FISA Judges - Tamm learns that the NSA program is being hidden from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, a panel of federal judges who by law must approve and supervise such surveillance for intelligence purposes. OIPR lawyers ask the FISA Court for permission to implement national-security wiretaps. But, Tamm learns, some wiretaps—signed only by Attorney General John Ashcroft—are going to the chief FISA Court judge and not the other ten judges on the FISA panel. The “AG-only” requests are extraordinarily secretive, and involve information gleaned from what is only referred to as “the program”—Stellar Wind. Only a very few White House and US intelligence officials know the name and the nature of “the program.” Stellar Wind involves domestic wiretaps on telephones and computer e-mail accounts derived from, but not necessarily linked to, information secured from captured al-Qaeda computers and cell phones overseas. With the voluntary cooperation of American telecommunications companies (see 1997-August 2007 and After, February 2001, February 2001, and February 2001 and Beyond), the NSA program also collects vast amounts of personal data about US citizens’ phone and e-mail communications. The program also collects an enormous amount of financial information from the Treasury Department (see February 28, 2006), all collected as part of the NSA’s “data mining” efforts (see Late 1999 and After September 11, 2001).
Program Is 'Probably Illegal,' Says DOJ Official - Tamm, suspicious about the unusual requests, asks his supervisors about the program, and is told to drop the subject. “[N]o one wanted to talk about it,” he will recall. Tamm asks one of his supervisors, Lisa Farabee, “Do you know what the program is?” Farabee replies: “Don’t even go there.… I assume what they are doing is illegal.” Tamm is horrified. His first thought, he will later recall, is, “I’m a law enforcement officer and I’m participating in something that is illegal?” Tamm soon finds out from deputy OIPR counsel Mark Bradley that the chief FISA judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, is raising unwanted questions about the warrant requests (see 2004 and 2005), and “the AG-only cases are being shut down.” Bradley adds, “This may be [a time] the attorney general gets indicted.”
Request for Guidance Turned Down - For weeks, Tamm agonizes over what to do. He seeks guidance from a former colleague, Sandra Wilkinson, who now works on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The two have coffee in the Senate cafeteria, and Tamm asks Wilkinson to ask if anyone on the committee knows anything about “the program.” Weeks go by without a response, and Tamm sends Wilkinson an e-mail from his OIPR computer—an e-mail that will later alert the FBI to Tamm’s interest in Stellar Wind. During a second conversation, Wilkinson refuses to give Tamm any information. “Well, you know, then,” he replies, “I think my only option is to go to the press.”
Contacting the New York Times - Tamm finally decides to contact the New York Times’s Eric Lichtblau, who has written several stories on the Justice Department that impressed Tamm. By this point he has transferred out of OIPR and back into a Justice Department office that would allow him to return to the courtroom. Tamm calls Lichtblau from a pay phone near the US District Courthouse in Washington. “My whole body was shaking,” he will recall. He identifies himself only as “Mark” (his middle name), and arranges to meet Lichtblau at a bookstore near the Justice Department. (In his 2008 book Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice, Lichtblau describes Tamm as “a walk-in” source who was “agitated about something going on in the intelligence community.” Lichtblau will describe Tamm as wary and “maddeningly vague,” but as they continue to meet—usually in bookstores and coffee shops in the Capitol District—Tamm’s “credibility and his bona fides became clear and his angst appears sincere. Eighteen months later, after finally overriding a request and warning from President Bush not to print the story (see December 6, 2005), the Times reports on the existence of the NSA program (see December 15, 2005). [Ars Technica, 12/16/2008; Newsweek, 12/22/2008]

Entity Tags: Mark Bradley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Eric Lichtblau, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Bush administration (43), ’Stellar Wind’, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Lisa Farabee, Senate Judiciary Committee, Thomas Tamm, Sandra Wilkinson, Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, New York Times, US Department of the Treasury, National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Months after the Bush administration successfully convinced the New York Times to hold off publishing its report on the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early November 2004, December 6, 2005, and December 15, 2005), one of the reporters on the story, Eric Lichtblau, attempts to get a response on the program from one of the few Democrats briefed on it, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA). In his 2008 book Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice, Lichtblau will write about covering a House hearing where Harman launches into a passionate call for stronger civil liberties safeguards in the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act (see March 9, 2006). According to his recollection, Lichtblau approaches Harman and says, “I’m trying to square what I heard in there with what we know about that program.” He will write: “Harman’s golden California tan turned a brighter shade of red. She knew exactly what I was talking about. Shooing away her aides, she grabbed me by the arm and drew me a few feet away to a more remote section of the Capitol corridor. ‘You should not be talking about that here,’ she scolded me in a whisper. ’ They don’t even know about that,’ she said, gesturing to her aides, who were now looking on at the conversation with obvious befuddlement.” Harman tells Lichtblau, “The Times did the right thing by not publishing that story,” but will not discuss the details. When asked what intelligence capabilities would be lost by informing the public about something the terrorists already knew—that the government was listening to them—she simply replies, “This is a valuable program, and it would be compromised.” Lichtblau will add: “This was clearly as far as she was willing to take the conversation, and we didn’t speak again until months later, after the NSA story had already run. By then, Harman’s position had undergone a dramatic transformation. When the story broke publicly, she was among the first in line on Capitol Hill to denounce the administration’s handling of the wiretapping program, declaring that what the NSA was doing could have been done under the existing FISA law.” [TPM Muckraker, 3/19/2008]

Entity Tags: Eric Lichtblau, Bush administration (43), New York Times, House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

James Risen.James Risen. [Source: Publicity photo]The New York Times published reporter James Risen’s December account of NSA domestic wiretapping (see December 15, 2005) without having seen the manuscript of his book on the subject, the media learns. Many observers on the right, most notably Matt Drudge, have accused Risen, who wrote the article with fellow Times reporter Eric Lichtblau, and the Times of printing the article to coincide with the publication of Risen’s book State of War. On the left, critics have blasted the Times for sitting on the story for a year in apparent deference to the Bush administration. The truth is somewhere in the middle, according to numerous informed sources. While the Times did sit on the piece for a year in part because Bush officials did not want the story to run (see December 6, 2005), when Times editors finally approved its publication, they were unsure whether or not Risen’s book manuscript contained the wiretapping story. The editors did not see the manuscript until December 27, a week before it appeared on the shelves. One of the first reviewers of the book, author and national security expert James Bamford, writes, “Among the unanswered questions concerning the domestic spying story is why, if Mr. Risen and The Times had first come upon the explosive information a year earlier, the paper waited until just a few weeks before the release of the book to inform its readers.” It seems that part of the reason is the long, internal disagreement between Risen and the Times over ownership of the book’s contents; internal sources at the Times say that without Risen’s book being published, it is likely that the editors would not have published the article as soon as they did. [New York Observer, 1/19/2006]

Entity Tags: James Bamford, Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, Bush administration (43), James Risen, Matt Drudge, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), working with a civil liberties group about his knowledge of governmental illegality in eavesdropping on Americans’ telephone and Internet communications (see Early January 2006), has contacted Los Angeles Times reporter Joseph Menn about publishing an article expising AT&T’s collusion with the National Security Agency (NSA) to illegally conduct surveillance against American citizens (see January 23, 2006 and After). Klein believed Menn was enthusiastic about exposing AT&T and the NSA in his newspaper. Instead, Klein is shocked to hear from Menn that the Times’s “top guy” is preparing to meet with Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte to discuss any such publication. “I nearly fell down in shock,” Klein will later write. “[T]hey were actually negotiating with the government on whether to publish!” Menn describes himself to Klein as “demoralized,” and says the chances of getting the story published are “grim.” In his seven years at the Times, Menn tells Klein, he has never seen a story “spiked” for “nefarious reasons,” implying that the reason behind the story’s non-publication are “nefarious.” Klein is also dismayed that the Times has now revealed his existence as a whistleblower to Negroponte, and by extension to the US intelligence apparatus. Two days ago, Klein began emailing a New York Times reporter, James Risen, the co-author of a 2005 expose about the NSA’s surveillance program (see December 15, 2005). After hearing from Menn, Klein emails Risen to inform him of the Los Angeles Times’s decision to “consult” with Negroponte, and also of the lack of interest he has received from Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office (see February 1-6, 2006). Risen calls in fellow reporter Eric Lichtblau, his co-author on the 2005 story, and the two begin working on their own story. Klein remains worried about his personal and professional safety, since, as he will write, “[t]he government was on to me, but I did not yet have a published article and the protection that comes with publicity. I had visions, perhaps paranoid in hindsight, of being disappeared in the night, like [nuclear industry whistleblower] Karen Silkwood.” The Los Angeles Times story will drag on until March 29, when Menn will inform Klein that it is officially dead, blocked by Times editor Dean Baquet. Klein will later learn that Baquet had not only been in contact with Negroponte, but with NSA Director Michael Hayden. In 2007, Baquet will tell ABC News reporters that “government pressure played no part in my decision not to run with the story,” and will say that he and managing editor Doug Frantz decided “we did not have a story, that we could not figure out what was going on” with Klein’s documentation (see March 26, 2007). Klein will call Baquet’s explanation an “absurd and flimsy excuse,” and will say it is obvious that the Los Angeles Times “capitulated to government pressure.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 59-62]

Entity Tags: James Risen, Dean Baquet, AT&T, Dianne Feinstein, Eric Lichtblau, Joseph Menn, Michael Hayden, John Negroponte, Douglas Frantz, National Security Agency, Los Angeles Times, Mark Klein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), working with a civil liberties group about his knowledge of governmental illegality in eavesdropping on Americans’ telephone and Internet communications (see Early January 2006), is concerned that the New York Times will not publish a story featuring his allegations and evidence against AT&T and the National Security Agency (NSA). Klein was “outed” by Los Angeles Times editor Dean Baquet to the US intelligence apparatus after Klein approached a Los Angeles Times reporter about his story, and Klein is concerned that he lacks the protection that publicity would afford him (see February 11, 2006 and After). New York Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau fail to contact Klein for weeks during this time period, leaving Klein to wonder if the New York Times, like the Los Angeles Times before it, will fail to publish his story. Klein emails Risen and Lichtblau his full set of AT&T documents proving his allegations in mid-February (see December 31, 2005). Meanwhile, he sends emails containing selected documents to a number of Congressional members. Only one, House Representative Pete Stark (D-CA), responds, promising that he will present Klein’s information to the House Judiciary Committee, but, as Klein will write, “I never heard anything from the Judiciary Committee, or any other committee for that matter.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 63]

Entity Tags: James Risen, Dean Baquet, AT&T, Eric Lichtblau, House Judiciary Committee, Los Angeles Times, Mark Klein, New York Times, National Security Agency, Fortney Hillman (“Pete”) Stark, Jr

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Eric Lichtblau.Eric Lichtblau. [Source: PBS]Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003 and June 17, 2004), is subpoenaed to testify in the Justice Department’s investigation of the leaks that resulted in the New York Times’s dramatic disclosure of the NSA domestic wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). Goldsmith had spoken to one of the two Times reporters, Eric Lichtblau, in October 2004, three months after his resignation from the OLC, but lied to Lichtblau, saying he knew nothing of the program. He immediately alerted his former boss, Deputy Attorney General James Comey, of the interview.
'Stunned' By Subpoena - In his September 2007 book The Terror Presidency, Goldsmith will recall being “stunned” at the subpoena, though the two FBI agents who give him the subpoena—in public—say that they don’t suspect him as the source of the leak. Goldsmith later recalls, “What angered me most about the subpoena I received on that wet day in Cambridge was not the expense of lawyers or a possible perjury trap, but rather the fact that it was Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department that had issued it. As [the two FBI agents] knew, I had spent hundreds of very difficult hours at OLC, in the face of extraordinary White House resistance, trying to clean up the legal mess that then-White House Counsel Gonzales, David Addington, John Yoo, and others had created in designing the foundations of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. It seemed rich beyond my comprehension for a Gonzales-led Department of Justice to be pursuing me for possibly illegal actions in connection with the Terrorist Surveillance Program….”
Supported Surveillance of Terrorism - Goldsmith will continue, “I was not opposed to the leak investigation itself or to vigorous surveillance of terrorists. I agreed with President Bush that the revelations by [James] Risen and Lichtblau had alerted our enemies, put our citizens at risk, and done ‘great harm’ to the nation. I hoped the FBI would find and punish the leakers, and I had spent many hours trying to help them do so. I also shared many of the White House’s concerns with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the 1978 domestic wiretapping law that required executive officers, on pain of jail, to get a court warrant before wiretapping suspected enemies in the United States. We were at war with terrorists who were armed with disposable cell phones and encrypted e-mails buried in a global multibillion-communications-per-day system. It seemed crazy to require the commander in chief and his subordinates to get a judge’s permission to listen to each communication under a legal regime that was designed before technological revolutions brought us high-speed fiber-optic networks, the public Internet, e-mail, and ten-dollar cell phones. But I deplored the way the White House went about fixing the problem. ‘We’re one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious [FISA] court,’ Addington had told me in his typically sarcastic style during a tense White House meeting in February of 2004 (see February 2004). The vice president’s counsel, who was the chief legal architect of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, was singing the White House tune on FISA. He and the vice president had abhorred FISA’s intrusion on presidential power ever since its enactment in 1978. After 9/11 they and other top officials in the administration dealt with FISA the way they dealt with other laws they didn’t like: They blew through them in secret based on flimsy legal opinions that they guarded closely so no one could question the legal basis for the operations. My first experience of this strict control, in fact, had come in a 2003 meeting when Addington angrily denied the NSA inspector general’s request to see a copy of OLC’s legal analysis in support of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Before I arrived in OLC, not even NSA lawyers were allowed to see the Justice Department’s legal analysis of what NSA was doing.”
Difficult to Justify Legally - Goldsmith will write of the difficulties he found in finding legal justifications for the program. “I first encountered the program in 2003-2004, long after it had been integrated into the post-9/11 counterterrorism architecture. Putting it legally aright at that point, without destroying some of the government’s most important counterterrorism tools, was by far the hardest challenge I faced in government. And the whole ordeal could have been avoided.…In 2004, I and others in the Department of Justice had begun the process of working with the FISA court to give the commander in chief much more flexibility in tracking terrorists. From the beginning the administration could have taken these and other steps to ramp up terrorist surveillance in indisputably lawful ways that would have minimized the likelihood of a devastating national security leak. But only if it had been willing to work with the FISA court or Congress. The White House had found it much easier to go it alone, in secret.” [Slate, 9/10/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, New York Times, Terrorist Surveillance Program, John C. Yoo, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), James B. Comey Jr., Eric Lichtblau, David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, James Risen, Jack Goldsmith, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Newsweek reveals that Thomas Tamm, a former high-level Justice Department official, was one of the whistleblowers who revealed the government’s illegal domestic wiretapping program, known as “Stellar Wind,” to the New York Times (see December 15, 2005). Tamm, an ex-prosecutor with a high security clearance, learned of the program in the spring of 2004 (see Spring 2004).
Intense FBI Scrutiny - As of yet, Tamm has not been arrested as one of the leakers in the criminal leak investigation ordered by President Bush (see December 30, 2005), though since the December 2005 publication, Tamm has remained under Justice Department suspicion—FBI agents have raided his home, hauled away his personal possessions, and relentlessly questioned his family and friends (see August 1, 2007). He no longer has a government job, and is having trouble finding steady work as a lawyer. He has resisted pressure to plead to a felony charge of divulging classified information. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff writes, “[H]e is living under a pall, never sure if or when federal agents might arrest him.” Perhaps his biggest regret is the impact the FBI investigation has had on his wife and children. “I didn’t think through what this could do to my family,” he says. But, “I don’t really need anybody to feel sorry for me,” he says. “I chose what I did. I believed in what I did.”
No Decision to Prosecute Yet - The Justice Department has deferred a decision over whether to arrest and prosecute Tamm until after the Bush administration leaves office and a new attorney general takes over the department. Both President-elect Barack Obama and the incoming Attorney General, Eric Holder, have denounced the warrantless wiretapping program. In one speech Holder gave in June 2008, he said that President Bush had acted “in direct defiance of federal law” by authorizing the NSA program. Former US Attorney Asa Hutchinson, who is helping in Tamm’s defense, says: “When I looked at this, I was convinced that the action he took was based on his view of a higher responsibility. It reflected a lawyer’s responsibility to protect the rule of law.” Hutchinson has no use for the idea, promulgated by Bush officials and conservative pundits, that the Times story damaged the “war on terror” by alerting al-Qaeda terrorists to Stellar Wind and other surveillance programs. “Anybody who looks at the overall result of what happened wouldn’t conclude there was any harm to the United States,” he says. Hutchinson is hopeful that Holder’s Justice Department will drop its investigation of Tamm.
The Public 'Ought to Know' about NSA Eavesdropping - Recently Tamm decided to go public with his story, against the advice of his lawyers. “I thought this [secret program] was something the other branches of the government—and the public—ought to know about,” he tells Isikoff. “So they could decide: do they want this massive spying program to be taking place?… 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.” Tamm also admits that he leaked information to the Times in part over his anger at other Bush administration policies for the Justice Department, including its aggressive pursuit of death penalty cases, and its use of “renditions” and “enhanced” interrogation techniques against terrorist suspects. He insists that he divulged no “sources and methods” that might compromise national security when he spoke to the Times. He could not tell the Times reporters anything about the NSA program, he says, because he knew nothing specific about the program. As Isikoff writes, “All he knew was that a domestic surveillance program existed, and it ‘didn’t smell right.’” (Times reporter Eric Lichtblau refuses to confirm if Tamm was one of his sources for the stories he wrote with fellow Times reporter James Risen.) [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]

Entity Tags: Michael Isikoff, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Asa Hutchinson, ’Stellar Wind’, Eric Holder, Eric Lichtblau, Newsweek, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Thomas Tamm, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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