[digg-reddit-me]From Michael Isikoff’s profile of Thomas Tamm in Newsweek:
Tamm’s story is in part a cautionary tale about the perils that can face all whistleblowers, especially those involved in national-security programs. Some Americans will view him as a hero who (like Daniel Ellsberg and perhaps Mark Felt, the FBI official since identified as Deep Throat) risked his career and livelihood to expose wrongdoing at the highest levels of government. Others—including some of his former colleagues—will deride Tamm as a renegade who took the law into his own hands and violated solemn obligations to protect the nation’s secrets. “You can’t have runoffs deciding they’re going to be the white knight and running to the press,” says Frances Fragos Townsend, who once headed the unit where Tamm worked and later served as President Bush’s chief counterterrorism adviser. Townsend made clear that she had no knowledge of Tamm’s particular case, but added: “There are legal processes in place [for whistle-blowers’ complaints]. This is one where I’m a hawk. It offends me, and I find it incredibly dangerous.”
As Hilzoy points out, Townsend was one of the people responsible for making sure that the whistle-blower process worked for Tamm:
Saying that whistleblowers ought to work within the system without adding “if the system is in fact functional” is odd in itself. But saying that when you are one of the people who could have helped to make it functional amounts to saying: well, I and my colleagues have failed to do our jobs, but never mind that: we should expect whistle-blowers to work within the system, even if our own failure means that they have no reason to believe that doing so will actually accomplish anything other than the destruction of their careers.
In a CNN appearance attacking Scott McClellan when he released his book, Townsend seemed to make the exact opposite point of Hilzoy – suggesting that career destruction is the price you must pay:
You know, if there’s policy issue that you think violates your personal values or your integrity and ethics, you do have an option. You can voice it and if you lose, you leave.
Which is probably why Townsend was relieved to have been deliberately marginalized on sensitive national security issues by Vice President Cheney and his staff while she served as a counter-terrorism adviser. (Her very appointment was also opposed by Scooter Libby and was apparently somehow tied in to the Valerie Plame leaking.)
The great irony is the clear double standard applied by people like Frances Fragos Townsend to condemn only those who politically opposed them for acting as renegades who take the law into their own hands thereby violating solemn obligations to protect the nation and its values while giving other a free pass. Yes – Thomas Tamm, a lone individual with few powers, unable to affect what he believed to be flagrant law-breaking (and what later events have proved to be at minimum felony crimes), took it upon himself to protect the Rule of Law, thus breaking one law to uphold the many. And yes – George W. Bush, the most powerful man in the world, unwilling to concede that his powers had limits when he feared bad things would happen, broke many laws and ordered many more laws to be broken, to such a degree that he challenged the very concept of limits on the executive itself, corrupting the entire system that was designed to check his powers. Both men broke the law to protect America.
One man corrupted the system designed to check him; the other took on that corrupted system. Yet Townsend – and many like her – argue that the petty criminal who broke the law (for the common good) should be prosecuted while the master criminals who broke many laws (for the common good) should not be. This demonstrably creates two classes under the law – those above it and those subject to it.
John Adams described the definition of a republic as “a government of laws and not of men.” Thomas Paine declared in Common Sense that “in absolute governments the king is law, [while] in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other.” It is this fundamental American principle which Frances Fragos Townsend and other Bush administration apologists attack when they insist that only the dissenters and the powerless be punished for breaking the law.