Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain have published an article that identifies five individuals whose emails were intercepted by the NSA, out of 7,485 listed on a spreadsheet. This is the first time that the targets of the NSA spying have been identified by name. All of them were people who, as far as anyone can tell, had led lives that were free from any suspicion of being involved in wrongdoing. Their main ‘crime’ seems to have been that they are all Muslims.
Here are the people:
- Faisal Gill, a longtime Republican Party operative and one-time candidate for public office 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;
- Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University;
- Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights;
- Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country.
The article has embedded three short clips in which Faisal Gill, Asim Ghafoor, and Nihad Awad react to the news that their emails have been intercepted. Those clips are well worth watching to sense their almost palpable sense of betrayal, that after having led law-abiding lives doing what they felt good citizens should do, they have been targeted for surveillance by their own government for no reason other than the fact of their Muslim heritage, even if as in one case he is an atheist.
The article also examines in detail the histories and activities of each of the named people. The main problem seems to be that they were Muslims who were civil rights activists, academics, and lawyers. The racism that permeates the NSA can be seen in how one internal training document puts in the placeholder name ‘Mohammed Raghead’.
[T]he government’s ability to monitor such high-profile Muslim-Americans—with or without warrants—suggests that the most alarming and invasive aspects of the NSA’s surveillance occur not because the agency breaks the law, but because it is able to exploit the law’s permissive contours. “The scandal is what Congress has made legal,” says Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU deputy legal director. “The claim that the intelligence agencies are complying with the laws is just a distraction from more urgent questions relating to the breadth of the laws themselves.”
There is one interesting consequence and that is that now that people who have been spied upon have been identified, the government’s former defense against court challenge is gone.
When Edward Snowden turned over a trove of NSA documents last year, he explained that he included the spreadsheet of monitored emails because he wanted to give people subjected to electronic surveillance the opportunity to challenge the spying as unconstitutional. For years, the government has succeeded in having such challenges dismissed on the ground that the various plaintiffs lack standing to sue because they could not prove that they were personally targeted.
Thanks to Snowden’s disclosures, those seeking to obtain such a ruling now have specific cases of surveillance against American citizens to examine. So do those charged with reforming the FISA process. Richard Clarke, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations, served on the recent White House intelligence review panel convened to address concerns raised by the Snowden revelations. If he had seen the NSA spreadsheet, Clarke says, he would have asked more questions about the process, and reviewed individual FISA warrants.
“Knowing that, I would specifically ask the Justice Department: How many American citizens are there active FISAs on now?” he says. “And without naming names, tell me what categories they fall into—how many are counterterrorism, counterintelligence, espionage cases? We’d want to go through [some applications], and frankly, we didn’t. It’s not something that five part-time guys can do—rummage through thousands of FISA warrants.”
In the wake of these revelations, 44 civil rights groups have demanded from president Obama a full public accounting of why the government is targeting community leaders.