Don't we want U.S. intelligence agencies to spy overseas? Isn't that what they're for? I asked ACLU attorney Melissa Goodman. She replied, "We think that the courts should be involved."
Bill language of course prohibits targeted surveillance of Americans without a warrant. Not good enough, Goodman argued, because "targeted" is not defined. The ACLU wants the courts on top of the safeguards of inspectors general and congressional oversight.
The ACLU warned that journalists could be targets, too. Goodman noted that in 2002, the FBI knocked on the door of author Lawrence Wright, as he was researching his Pulitzer Prize-winning book on al-Qaida, "The Looming Tower," and asked why his daughter had been talking to a Brit who was in contact with al-Qaida. She hadn't. He had been talking to a British lawyer who represented family members of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama's top lieutenant.
That's the downside of intelligence. Sometimes it's downright stupid. But tying the hands of intelligence isn't smart either. Bush has been right to fight suits against telecom companies that cooperated with federal officials.
ACLU attorney Harvey Grossman argued that phone companies broke a "social compact" with their customers when they handed information to the feds. And, he noted, they knew better. Grossman contended that lawsuits against Big Phone would have provided "accountability."
That's a word Democrats who voted against the bill used, too. And it's bunk. They don't want accountability. Bush was held accountable by voters, who in 2004 decided Bush would be better on national security, so they re-elected him.
Now Obama wants to be accountable, too -- in the Bush way, that is.