In 1998 he founded the James Madison Project, an organization dedicated to reducing government secrecy. It is interested in the Freedom of Information Act and government whistleblowers. He is co-editor of Litigation Under the Federal Open Government Laws. He is a cofounder of the nonprofit law firm Whistleblower Aid.
While a student at Albany Law School, Zaid interned in the office of New York Lieutenant Governor Stan Lundine.
Zaid practices in litigation and lobbying on matters relating to national security, federal employment, foreign sovereign and diplomatic immunity, international transactions, international torts and crimes, defamation, the Constitution (First and Fifth Amendments), and the Freedom of Information/Privacy Acts (FOI/PA). He practices at Compass Rose Legal Group.
Through his practice, Zaid often represents former or current federal employees, intelligence officers, and whistleblowers who have grievances against agencies of the United States government or foreign governments. Additionally, he represents members of the media and the public in First Amendment and FOI/PA disputes. He has handled national security matters including security clearance revocations/denials, IG investigations, and other employment issues throughout the national security and military communities. He currently teaches the D.C. Bar CLE courses on FOIA and security clearances. He also teaches as an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University.
Some of his cases are well-known, such as suing Libya for the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am 103 which resulted in a $2.7 billion settlement, the largest of its kind against a foreign government for terrorist activities, and obtaining a court-ordered injunction in 2004 that effectively shut down the Department of Defense's mandatory anthrax vaccination program for two years.
As of October 2019 he is one of a team of lawyers advising the whistleblower whose complaint against President Donald Trump sparked a major political scandal and led to the launching of an impeachment inquiry against the president. He said the team is also working with a second whistleblower who has spoken with authorities but has not filed a formal complaint as of October 6.
In September 2017, Zaid and former U.S. State Department whistleblower John Tye co-founded Whistleblower Aid, a nonprofit law firm. Initially focused on employees and contractors of the U.S. federal government, Whistleblower Aid emphasizes it is not WikiLeaks. "No one should ever send classified information to Whistleblower Aid," the firm states. "Whistleblower Aid will never assist clients or prospective clients with leaking classified information." Instead, would-be whistleblowers with classified information will be directed to investigators with security clearances to help expose wrongdoing without breaking the law or incurring criminal liability. "We are trying to hold the U.S. government accountable," Zaid explained, "and provide free legal services to whistleblowers so they don't ruin their careers in the process or be prosecuted." Clients will not be charged. To cover expenses, the firm solicits donations from foundations and crowdsource funding.
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- Center, Electronic Privacy Information (September 26, 2008). Hammitt, Harry A.; Rotenberg, Marc; Verdi, John A.; Zaid, Mark S. (eds.). "Litigation Under the Federal Open Government Laws 2008". Electronic Privacy Information Center – via Amazon.
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- Official Mark Zaid website biography. Accessed October 6, 2019.
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- Kara Scanell, "SEC Gets FOIA Foil in Financial Law: Regulatory Revamp Gives Agency Greater Rein to Deny Document Requests; 'Is That a Good Thing?'." Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2010. Found at WSJ online. Cited at The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, "Freedom of information: Debate continues over scope of SEC FOIA exemption," August 4, 2010, found at The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press website. Both accessed August 6, 2010.
- Andrea Stone, "WikiLeaks Diaries Raise Question: Is Secrecy Dead?" AOL News, July 26, 2010. Found at AOL News website Archived July 29, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. Accessed August 6, 2010.
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- CNN website.
- See MSNBC website and MSNBC website.
- "Former whistleblower starts legal aid group to guide would-be tipsters". Whistleblower Aid. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
- "Want to leak on Trump? A D.C. lawyer will represent you for free". The Outline. Retrieved September 20, 2017.