Targeted for performing haj in Saudi Arabia: Ghafoor.
By Deepak Chitnis
WASHINGTON, DC: Despite the fact that it’s been a full year since Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA’s controversial spying tactics, the bombshells continue to drop from the intelligence that he leaked, with the latest being that the US government was spying on five prominent Muslim Americans with tactics intended for those suspected of terrorist activities.
The five individuals in question are: Faisal Gill, a prominent Republican who once served under President George W. Bush in the Department of Homeland Security; Asim Ghafoor, an attorney who has dealt with a number of terrorist-related cases; Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-origin Professor of International Relations at Rutgers University; Agha Saeed, a Political Science Professor at California State University who advocates for Muslim and Palestinian rights; and Nihad Awad, the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights group in the US.
The information comes from an exposé published by FirstLook.org on Wednesday, from research conducted by The Intercept. The data says that these men’s names were found in the “FISA Recap.” FISA is short for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which essentially allows the US government to spy on Americans who they believe are agents of another government and who “are or may be” involved with terrorism, espionage, or sabotage.
A background investigation on all these men shows no criminal activity within the US, and in speaking to The Intercept, all men said that they believe they have been targeted simply because of their names, countries of origin, and travel patterns. Several are fully naturalized US citizens, an Gill has even served in the US Navy. Ghafoor is originally from India, has travelled to Saudi Arabia in the past, and performs the Muslim pilgrimage known as the “haj,” which he strongly believes was responsible for him being listed.
The report lists the FBI as the “responsible agency” for carrying out the surveillance. When asked about whether or not the allegations of spying on Muslim American citizens was true, the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (currently James Robert Clapper, Jr.) released a joint statement denouncing the accusations.
“It is entirely false that U.S. intelligence agencies conduct electronic surveillance of political, religious or activist figures solely because they disagree with public policies or criticize the government, or for exercising constitutional rights,” the statement said. “Unlike some other nations, the United States does not monitor anyone’s communications in order to suppress criticism or to put people at a disadvantage based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.”
The statement, however, did say that individuals who were found to be guilty of illegal espionage and terrorist activities would be investigated and, if necessary, prosecuted to the full extent of US law.
“No U.S. person can be the subject of surveillance based solely on First Amendment activities, such as staging public rallies, organizing campaigns, writing critical essays, or expressing personal beliefs,” the statement said. “On the other hand, a person who the court finds is an agent of a foreign power under this rigorous standard is not exempted just because of his or her occupation.”
These five individuals, however, are just a drop in the bucket; according to The Intercept’s findings, the US government surveyed 7,485 email addresses between 2002 and 2008, and a significant portion of those are likely still under surveillance even now, if Snowden’s data and repeated allegations are to be believed.