From its relatively secure seat in 2009, the ACLU wants to act as though 9/11 was blip on the chart of American history.
The American Civil Liberties Union has accused former New Jersey U.S. Attorney Chris Christie of using the attack to track people through their cell phones without first obtaining a warrant.
As proof, the group offered documents provided by the Department of Justice to show that federal prosecutors in New Jersey and Florida obtained judges’ approval for “mobile phone location information without making a judicial finding of probable cause.”
Christie, a GOP gubernatorial candidate in New Jersey, oversaw an office that pursued 79 such cases on or after Sept. 12, 2001 — 66 of which resulted in criminal prosecutions, the records show.
“This search also found that nineteen applications were granted after November 16, 2007, to permit the government to obtain GPS or similarly precise location data on target cell phones without a judicial determination of probable cause,” the document by the Department of Justice says. “Seventeen of these cases resulted in a criminal prosecution.”
The ACLU says this “highly invasive” practice violates the Constitution, that it reveals “intimate details of their daily routines.”
To a large degree, they’re right. But they’re wrong, too.
They’re wrong for pursuing it now, at a point in our history when we can say we’ve gone nearly eight years without unspeakable horror — or readily acknowledged danger — within our borders.
Memories are short, though. People forget the confused combination of fear, anger and helplessness many of us felt in the wake of the attacks. It was an unusual time, and those entrusted with protecting us took unusual steps.
The ACLU knows full well that federal laws don’t really address cell phones — or GPS devices — head-on. Besides, you can’t use the stuff in court, anyway. A prosecutor needs a lot more than that to build a case.
If the people I entrust to protect me somehow wiggled through that crawl space, so be it. I’m not about to pitch a fit.
And y’know why?
Because I used to.
I once beat the drum against those who’d impinge on our civil rights. I feared the slippery slope we were stepping onto. I warned about the coming of a police state.
But then I’d look across the Hudson and see an empty sky down near the Battery. I’d flash on the first moment I looked up from my desk at TV images of people who chose to leap to their deaths, some holding hands. I’d recall the memorials I wrote about, the tales my colleagues and I heard and translated.
When something like that happens, I’m sorry: Better to have a bleeding heart than a dead one.
The stats don’t tell you the results of those criminal prosecutions. They don’t tell you whether any of the taps that didn’t make their way to court led to information that helped prevent — oh, say, a subway bombing.
Full disclosure: I know Chris Christie well enough for him to pick me out of a crowd of people packed into a large room for a college reunion. I make no bones about the fact that I think he was an outstanding U.S. Attorney and that he’d make a great governor. He talks down to no one, surrounds himself with good people (including someone dear to me), and loves playing the corruption buster.
But he was only one of dozens of U.S. attorneys nationwide who were summoned by their superiors in Washington and directed how to proceed — including telling judges what they were up to.
What’s more, Christie was the top federal lawman in a state where, we later learned, some of the terrorists hung out — dining at our eateries, sleeping in our motels, plotting their strategies.
No one ever we were changing the rules for good. And no one in the FBI or any other federal agency had the time to monitor anyone for any other reason besides preventing more danger. I can personally vouch for that.
For his loyalty to his country in a time of incomprehensible need, I commend Christie. I suggest the ACLU do the same.