Citing daily terror threats and briefings, Attorney General Michael Mukasey on Friday once again urged Congress to pass an electronic surveillance bill that grants telephone companies retroactive immunity for their past cooperation.
"The folks who are out there, who I hear about every morning, have a very long attention span," Mukasey said in reference to terrorist groups. "Fatwahs and other directives do not have an expiration date, and the only weapon we have is intelligence."
The House and Senate have passed competing bills to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a portion of which expired last month.
The House version offers a case-by-case judicial review of lawsuits against the telephone companies suspected of having aided the government's warrantless surveillance program after Sept. 11, 2001. The Senate legislation gives blanket retroactive legal protection to the companies.
"We need to stay engaged here because the stakes are tremendous," Mukasey said. "We're willing and happy to work with Congress on a workable bill. The Senate passed a workable, bipartisan bill that contains some compromises. The House passed a bill that was neither bipartisan nor workable."
While Mukasey offered no hint that a compromise is in the works, he said the House proposal does not offer guarantees to the communications industry.
"The people we work with need to know that they can be secure in working with us," he said. "That would introduce the same level of uncertainty that would be introduced by having litigation go on in public...If you tell somebody that you've received assurances, but the propriety of your conduct is now up for grabs, that's not exactly reassuring."