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FBI, NSA targets Muslim-American lawyers, rights activists

FBI, NSA targets Muslim-American lawyers, rights activists
The National Security Agency has been tracing the email communications of prominent Muslim-Americans, including civil rights activists, lawyers and even a political candidate, according to the latest batch of Snowden revelations.

According to documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and published by Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain in The Intercept, at least 202 Muslim-Americans have fallen under the surveillance of their government, including:

  • Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University; Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country; Faisal Gill, member of the Republican Party and a former political candidate who held a top-secret security clearance and served in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush; Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases; and Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who advocates on behalf of Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights.

A selection from the FISA Recap spreadsheet; the highlighted entries are email accounts belonging to Nihad Awad (the cair.com address) and Faisal Gill (the Yahoo! and AOL addresses)

The five Americans were identified from information leaked to Greenwald last year by whistleblower Edward Snowden, which shows 7,485 email addresses that were designated for surveillance between 2002 and 2008. The targets of the email surveillance were not listed by their names, but The Intercept determined the five identities based on email addresses.

The NSA spreadsheet was clearly interested in the ethnic origin of its targets, categorizing the “Nationality” of 202 of the addresses as belonging to “US persons”. Another 5,501 addresses were marked “unknown” or left blank, while the remaining 1,782 accounts were tagged as belonging to “non-U.S. persons.”

Prominent Muslim attorney (and surveillance target) Asim Ghafoor whose attorney-client priv was violated by his gov pic.twitter.com/mKy1GhMi2m

— Micah Lee (@micahflee) July 9, 2014

The files were cached in a spreadsheet marked “FISA Recap” – which stands for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. In order to legally place an individual under electronic surveillance, the NSA must get approval from the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there is probable cause that the targets “are or may be” aligned with a terrorist organization with the purpose of carrying out acts of terrorism against the United States.

The authorizations to conduct surveillance must be renewed by FISA every 90 days.

Many argue the FISC not only wields too much power, it rarely refuses a request. Since its founding 35 years ago, the court has approved 35,434 government requests for conducting surveillance on individuals, while denying just 12.

Revelations of the NSA’s campaign to draw Muslim-Americans into its global spy ring is being greeted with condemnation, especially since the individuals targeted for surveillance are - aside from being overwhelmingly Muslim - prominent members of their community with respectable professions.

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“I just don’t know why,” Faisal Gill, whose AOL and Yahoo! email accounts were hacked while he was running for public office in the Virginia House of Delegates. “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.”

Although the targeted individuals come from diverse backgrounds, they do share one thing in common: they appear to have been targeted by the US intelligence agencies due specifically to their Muslim backgrounds and their pro-Muslim activities.

Most tellingly, perhaps, is that six years after the period the leaked information covers, none of the targeted individuals has been charged with a crime connected to terrorism or otherwise.