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Five American Muslims were targets of NSA surveillance

  • Article by: Charlie Savage
  • New York Times
  • July 9, 2014 - 7:53 PM

– A new report based on documents provided by Edward Snowden has identified five American Muslims, including the leader of a civil rights group, as subjects of surveillance by the National Security Agency.

The disclosure of what were described as specific domestic surveillance targets by The Intercept, published by First Look, was a rare glimpse into some of the most closely held secrets by counterespionage and terrorism investigators. The article raised questions about the basis for the domestic spying, even as it was condemned by the government as irresponsible and damaging to national security.

The report was based on a spreadsheet of e-mail addresses that were monitored between 2002 and 2008, and was cowritten by Glenn Greenwald, a chief recipient of documents leaked by Snowden, a former NSA contractor.

The document suggests that the eavesdropping took place under the process authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Among those identified as having been subjected to surveillance were Hooshang Amirahmadi, a Rutgers University professor and president of the American Iranian Council, a public policy group, and Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, a Muslim civil rights organization.

Also named were Asim Ghafoor, a defense lawyer who has handled terrorism-related cases; Faisal Gill, a former Department of Homeland Security lawyer who First Look said later did some legal work with Ghafoor on behalf of Sudan; and Agha Saeed, national chairman of the American Muslim Alliance, which supports Muslim political candidates.

No specifics on evidence

In its report, First Look said that the documents did not say what the suspicions or the evidence was against the men that justified the surveillance, acknowledging that “it is impossible to know why their e-mails were monitored, or the extent of the surveillance.”

In video clips, the men denied wrongdoing and said they suspected their religion contributed to any targeting.

Since the Sept. 11, 2011, attacks, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has issued about 1,800 orders each year for surveillance or physical searches on U.S. soil. To obtain a court order to wiretap an American under that law, the government must persuade a judge that there is probable cause to believe the target is engaged in a crime on behalf of a foreign power; non-Americans need only be agents of a foreign power without a suspicion of wrongdoing.

None of the five American Muslims has been charged with a crime in connection with the apparent monitoring.

Government won’t confirm

The government refused to confirm whether any of the five had indeed been subjected to surveillance.

A group of several dozen civil liberties and rights organizations sent a letter to President Obama on Tuesday expressing concerns about the potential for “discriminatory and abusive surveillance” and asking for an explanation.

Gadeir Abbas, a staff attorney with CAIR, called the apparent surveillance of its executive director an outrage.

“It’s but the latest indication that the NSA is spying on Americans based on the exercise of their constitutional rights,” he said.

The Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence denied such accusations, pointing to the standards that a judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court must agree have been met before the government may eavesdrop on an American under FISA.

© 2014 Star Tribune