Quis custodiet custodes?
"I think most Americans understand the need to find out what the enemy's thinking, and that's what we're doing," Mr. Bush said earlier this month.Sure, but that's not all. If the program had safeguards that restricted it to real terrorists, I'd be prepared to withdraw my objections.
But as we learn today:
In the anxious months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the National Security Agency began sending a steady stream of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and names to the F.B.I. in search of terrorists. The stream soon became a flood, requiring hundreds of agents to check out thousands of tips a month.Monitoring our enemies is OK. Monitoring innocent Americans isn't.
But virtually all of them, current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans.
And wasting FBI time is inexcusable.
F.B.I. officials repeatedly complained to the spy agency that the unfiltered information was swamping investigators.… Some F.B.I. officials [including FBI Director Mueller] and prosecutors also thought the checks, which sometimes involved interviews by agents, were pointless intrusions on Americans' privacy.The ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights have both filed separate suits over the program. CCR is working to protect the human rights of detainees at Gitmo and elsewhere in the American Gulag. That work involves international phone calls, and they are concerned that their research may have been illegally monitored.
"We'd chase a number, find it's a schoolteacher with no indication they've ever been involved in international terrorism - case closed," said one former F.B.I. official, who was aware of the program and the data it generated for the bureau. "After you get a thousand numbers and not one is turning up anything, you get some frustration."
"It affected the F.B.I. in the sense that they had to devote so many resources to tracking every single one of these leads, and, in my experience, they were all dry leads," the former senior prosecutor said.
The ACLU is not just suing on behalf of its employees.
One of the A.C.L.U. plaintiffs, Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, said that a Stanford student studying in Egypt conducted research for him on political opposition groups, and that he worried that communications between them on sensitive political topics could be monitored. "How can we communicate effectively if you risk being intercepted by the National Security Agency?" Mr. Diamond said.As it now stands, anyone who made an international phone call in the last few years, or sent an email to almost anyone, may have been one of the "dry leads" of this program. Since it operated outside the checks and balances established by Congress, we are all victims.
Also named as plaintiffs in the A.C.L.U. lawsuit are the journalist Christopher Hitchens, who has written in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; Barnett R. Rubin, a scholar at New York University who works in international relations; Tara McKelvey, a senior editor at The American Prospect; the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; Greenpeace, the environmental advocacy group; and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country's largest Islamic advocacy group.
If they just would have gone through FISA, none of these problems would come up. If they just would have followed the law.
“Desolation Row” by Bob Dylan from the album Highway 61 Revisited (1965, 11:22).
"At midnight all the agents
and the superhuman crew
come out and round up everyone
that knows more than they do.
Right now I can't read too good
don't send me no more letters no
not unless you mail them
from Desolation Row."