Reporters Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain say, in the online news website Intercept, that based on information provided by Edward Snowden they have evidence that the FBI and NSA used covert surveillance on the email accounts of 202 American Muslims.
The five men named in the story include a lawyer, Asim Ghafoor, a GOP operative named Faisal Gill, Rutgers University professor Hooshang Amirahmadi, activist Agha Saeed, and Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group.
Greenwald and Hussain quote the men as saying they were under NSA surveillance because they were Muslim Americans. The one document cited in the story doesn’t demonstrate that they were in fact being watched because they were Muslim.
Given the information provided so far, in fact one of three things could be going on. Greenwald and Hussain could be right, and the five men are in fact illegitimate targets. (The two authors interview the men and each says there is no reason he ought to be targeted.)
A second possibility is Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court-approved warrants to capture the communications of the five men based on solid evidence that we haven’t seen — so it is impossible to judge whether the surveillance is illegitimate.
Or finally, one or more of the five men they talked to on the list never were targets, but in fact may be on the list for other reasons — such as actually working to help the FBI in a case.
The story also doesn’t say whether these were traditional FISA warrants approved by the FISA court or were instead regular Title III wiretaps issued in a criminal case that had some sort of foreign component that needed the FISA court to issue a warrant.
Several of the men had been involved with government investigations, and it is unclear whether those inquiries had anything to do with their inclusion on the list. Lawyer Ghafoor had done legal work for an Islamic charity that was targeted by the Treasury Department for possible terrorist ties. Gill worked for the Department of Homeland Security in the Bush administration, and his name turned up in a national security investigation in 2003. He was later cleared in an inspector general’s report.
Amirahmadi has run for president of Iran. Activist Saeed speculated he might have found himself on the list because he was a friend of a man in South Florida who pleaded guilty to aiding a Palestinian militant group. And finally, CAIR, the Muslim civil liberties organization that Awad directs, was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the government’s prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation, once the biggest Islamic charity in the U.S.