Whistleblowing in Society

Tales from Two Who Told the Truth

Tue, 03/04/2014
4:30 PM, Dodds Auditorium, Robertson Hall
Event Category: 
Panel Discussion


  • Cathy Harris, former senior inspector for the U.S. Customs Service (USCS) who disclosed  the USCS practice of discriminatory racial profiling
  • Thomas Tamm, former Justice Department Attorney who disclosed NSA warrantless wiretapping during the Bush administration

In conversation with Beatrice Edwards, Executive Director & International Director at The Government Accountability Project, and commentary from Paul Frymer, Professor of Politics and Princeton and acting Director of the Program in Law and Public Affairs.

Cathy 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.

Thomas 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 (OIPR) – perhaps the most sensitive unit within the Justice Department. While working there, Tamm became aware of a program that bypassed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) 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 NSA warrantless wiretapping program. The program was in fact 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, Tam received the 2009 Ridenour Truth-Telling Award.

Beatrice Edwards is both the Executive Director and the International Program Director at The Government Accountability Project, responsible for the organization's actions defending whistleblowers through the Congress, the media and the courts. She has thirty years experience working on labor issues, anti-corruption measures and public service reforms in international and national settings. Before joining GAP, Ms. Edwards managed the International Financial Institutions (IFI) Project for Public Services International, a Global Union Federation for public sector labor unions, where she monitored IFI loans to Latin American and Caribbean governments for compliance with international labor standards and anti-corruption mandates. 

Paul Frymer writes and teaches about democratic representation in the United States with particular interests in the historical place of political institutions such as courts and parties in responding to racial and class inequality. He is the author of Black and Blue: African Americans, the Labor Movement, and the Decline of the Democratic Party; and Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America, as well as articles on topics ranging from race theory and affirmative action, to lawyers and workplace discrimination, to electoral politics and social movements.

Cosponsored with the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and  International Affairs