The NSA and FBI spied on prominent Muslim-Americans and people of Muslim-American heritage with no direct link to terrorism or espionage, according to a fairly explosive piece in The Intercept.
The Wednesday article identified 5 Americans who were listed on a spreadsheet of email addresses that were under surveillance between 2002 and 2008. According to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain, the practices exposes loopholes in the FISA surveillance authorization process.
This follows revelations over the weekend of how the NSA records and retains the communications of tens of thousands of Americans, just because they communicated with someone under active surveillance.
Professors and patriots
The individuals named by The Intercept include 2 high-profile civil rights activists (Nihad Awad and Agha Saeed), an attorney who has represented people in terrorism-related cases (Asum Ghafoor), a secularist Iranian-American Rutgers professor (Hooshang Amirahmadi), and a former Republican Party candidate and Homeland Security employee (Faisal Gill).
NSA leaker Edward Snowden, the source who provided the spreadsheet and many other documents to Greenwald and others, included the spreadsheet in the cache “because he wanted to give people subjected to electronic surveillance the opportunity to challenge the spying as unconstitutional,” the article said. The U.S. administration has previously swatted away surveillance challenges because the complainants had no evidence they had been targeted.
According to Ghafoor:
“I believe that they tapped me because my name is Asim Abdur Rahman Ghafoor, my parents are from India, I travelled to Saudi Arabia as a young man, and I do the pilgrimage.”
Gill meanwhile, said of his surveillance during his candidacy for the Virginia House of Delegates:
“I just don’t know why. I’ve done everything in my life to be patriotic. I served in the Navy, served in the government, was active in my community—I’ve done everything that a good citizen, in my opinion, should do.”
The report suggested that “many if not most” of the 7,485 people in the spreadsheet are of Muslim heritage, and cited training documentation that uses the racist term “Mohammed Raghead” as a placeholder for the name of a theoretical target. It also points out the involvement of John Guandolo, who expresses highly Islamophobic views in the article, in investigating some of those on the list.
While many law enforcement officials cited in the report insisted that the FISA vetting process is robust – notably in making sure Americans can’t be spied upon solely for their activism or free expression – one claimed that many FISA warrants are granted by judges because the agent claiming probable cause seems credible.
An unidentified senior prosecutor also said that, when someone is suspected of working with a foreign power, FISA rules mean a warrant may be granted on the basis that their activities “may involve” or are “about to involve” criminal activity.
The report followed a 3-month investigation by The Intercept, a specialist site set up by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media in the wake of the Snowden leaks. It’s been keenly anticipated, with Greenwald hinting that a big piece was coming that would identify specific targeted individuals.