Two Government Whistleblowers to Visit Princeton University March 4


Two prominent government whistleblowers will visit Princeton University on March 4. Cathy Harris, a former senior inspector for the U.S. Customs Service who disclosed the practice of discriminatory racial profiling, and Thomas Tamm, a former Department of Justice attorney who exposed the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping during the George W. Bush administration, will both share their stories.

The event, “Whistleblowing in Society: Tales from Two who Told the Truth” is sponsored by Princeton University’s program in law and public affairs and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The event is free and open to the public. It will take place in Dodds Auditorium, Robertson Hall, at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 4.

Harris, a former senior inspector for the U.S. Customs Service (USCS) at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, disclosed to the media the USCS practice of discriminatory racial profiling. She verified her suspicions that women of African descent were wrongfully targeted for detention and strip searches as possible drug couriers. It was found that only three percent of those women were actually carrying drugs, whereas drugs were found on 30 percent of white travelers who were detained and searched. Harris’ revelations resulted in a damning U.S. Government Accountability Office study of USCS profiling practices, and federal legislation to reform these unconstitutional practices.

Tamm was a well-regarded Justice Department attorney in the Capital Cases Unit who, in 2003, transferred to the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, one of the most sensitive units within the Justice Department. While working there, Tamm became aware of a program that bypassed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. After Tamm’s inquiries about the program repeatedly ran into walls of silence, he contacted the New York Times, which in 2005 ran an explosive Pulitzer Prize-winning cover story about the George W. Bush administration’s wiretapping program.

The program was part of wide-ranging covert surveillance activities authorized by President Bush in the aftermath of 9/11. Although the law creating the FISA court made it a federal crime for any official to engage in such surveillance absent adherence to strict rules, including court approval, it was Tamm who became a target of law enforcement officials. In August 2007, 18 FBI agents raided Tamm’s home, executing a search warrant in furtherance of locating the source of the Times story. Tamm was also the subject of a six-year federal criminal investigation. As the result of his courage and the ensuing ordeal, Tamm received the 2009 Ridenour Truth-Telling Award.

Dana Gold, director of the American Whistleblower Tour, will participate in the discussion with Paul Frymer, who teaches in Princeton’s politics department. Frymer is an expert in American politics, institutions, law, state theory, and American political development, particularly as they intersect with issues of democratic representation, race and civil rights, and labor and employment rights. An author of several books, he currently serves as acting director of the school’s  law and public affairs program.

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