Editor's Desk: Dec. 22, 2008 issue

He hardly seems suited for the role. As a toddler, Thomas M. Tamm scampered around J. Edgar Hoover's desk. The son and nephew of top FBI officials, Tamm grew up to become a lawyer with the Justice Department, a man whose code, he believed, was in the tradition of the bureau motto his uncle is said to have coined in 1935: "Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity."

He appeared, in other words, an unlikely candidate to do what Michael Isikoff details in this week's cover: duck into a Metro station near the U.S. District Courthouse in Washington and use a pay phone to tip off The New York Times to the existence of a vast classified domestic intelligence-gathering operation. The call helped lead to the exposure of the Bush administration's warrantless-wiretapping program—and to an ongoing criminal investigation to determine whether to prosecute Tamm for the leak.

To some, Tamm may be the Daniel Ellsberg of the war on terror; to others, even Tamm admits, he may be a traitor. As Mike's story makes clear, the story of Tamm's decision to leak is not a straightforward Manichaean tale of the triumph of good over evil. For one thing, Tamm was not completely certain what he was calling the press about: all he knew was that something that was possibly illegal was underway. Blowing the whistle led to reform; taking the matter outside the government was fraught with risk. Those looking for a triumphant narrative of one man's crusade against the dark arts of the war on terror will, I think, be surprised by the complexities and ambiguities of the Tamm saga.

In a separate exclusive, Daniel Klaidman reveals the truth about the fabled 2004 Justice Department revolt against the White House. In that episode, chief of staff Andrew Card and counsel Alberto Gonzales came to ask an ill John Ashcroft, the incumbent attorney general, to extend a massive domestic-spying program. If Ashcroft did so, a number of lawyers at Justice said they would resign. Why? Because, Dan has learned, the lawyers were concerned about a little-understood element of the program that was mining the records of calls and e-mails of tens of millions of Americans between September 2001 and March 2004.

Elsewhere, Lally Weymouth has a frank conversation with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari about the Mumbai bombings and the enduring issue of his country and terrorism. Daniel Gross explores what lessons the alliance between overseas auto companies and the American South might have for Detroit, and Jeffrey E. Garten of Yale suggests that what we really need is a global bailout—and the number he has in mind has more zeroes than most of us have contemplated.

In this largely bleak season, we hope you might find some enlightening distraction—or at least some fun—in our look back at the arts in the age of George W. Bush. From "American Idol" and "Borat" to Rick Warren's "The Purpose-Driven Life," our critics around the magazine try to capture what it has been like to live through a tumultuous era that began, as you will recall, with an Election Day that lasted until the middle of December. By any measure, the country is ready to turn the page on the last eight years, but at least we'll always have "Battlestar Galactica."