Protecting national security is one thing. Fishing expeditions that could intimidate and impede important watchdog reporting are another matter entirely.

The Justice Department certainly appears to have gone too far in trying to ferret out who leaked information on a secret CIA operation that foiled an al-Qaida plot to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner last year around the first anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

According to The Associated Press, federal prosecutors secretly seized phone records for April and May 2012 not only from the reporters and editor involved in that story, but from more than 20 phone lines in the news cooperative's offices in Washington, D.C., New York and Hartford, Conn., that house more than 100 journalists, as well as several of their personal phones.

While the records would not reveal what was said during the calls, they would show the phone numbers of people or agencies that reporters called, potentially including whistle-blowers and confidential sources. The AP is right in calling the sweeping dragnet an unjustified and unprecedented intrusion into its newsgathering. All Americans, not just defenders of press freedom, ought to be alarmed by this threat to the First Amendment.

It is eerily Nixonian in its scope and yet another scandalous distraction in the early months of President Barack Obama's second term. ...

Attorney General Eric Holder, who announced last June he had appointed a U.S. attorney to probe the leak, called it one of the most serious he has seen. "It put the American people at risk and that is not hyperbole," he told reporters Tuesday.

Holder, who removed himself from supervising the investigation because he had been questioned, nonetheless said that prosecutors have followed all department rules. Among them is that phone records from news organizations can be subpoenaed only after "all reasonable attempts" have been made to get the information from other sources.

The Obama administration is telling Americans to trust its assurances that seizing so many phone records from so many reporters was proper and necessary. That's a lot to ask.

The Sacramento Bee, May 15

The "Gang of Eight" immigration-reform bill aims to get border-security numbers right

In the kids movie "Finding Nemo," a small fish's recommendation to "just keep swimming" reflects a brave and admirable trust in the future.

But our nation's "just keep building" approach to border security should be based on something a little more concrete.

And it isn't.

This week's report from the Council on Foreign Relations is not the first time that the U.S. has heard about the Department of Homeland Security's inability to provide meaningful information about the effectiveness of two decades' worth of border enforcement.

In December, a Government Accountability Office report said the DHS missed its own deadline for establishing performance goals and measures to assess how well border-security strategies work.

Last week, U.S. Border Patrol chief Michael Fisher told a Senate hearing his agency lacks "a scientific method" to determine how many people are entering the country illegally. That means they cannot accurately know what percentage of crossers are apprehended.

And that matters.

The Senate "Gang of Eight" immigration-reform bill the nation's best chance in many years of achieving meaningful reform of failed and deadly immigration policies sets a border security "effectiveness rate" goal of catching 90 percent of those who try to come across illegally. ...

Everyone agrees apprehensions along the southern border are down dramatically, and the DHS has made itself dizzy taking bows and talking about how the border is more secure than it has ever been. But the council's report suggests only one-third of the decrease is due to border security. The rest is the result of the economy.

What's more, there is no good way to assess whether interior enforcement or border enforcement is more effective in deterring people from crossing the border illegally, the report says. We should know what's more effective: 100 Border Patrol agents along the line or 100 Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators in interior enforcement.

But we don't know.

Congress and the DHS should not act like cheerful little fish swimming through unknown waters toward a hoped-for happy ending. But that's what's happening.

With all the billions being spent on border security, it's worth targeting a few million at finding what works and why.

Arizona Republic, May 15