(CNN) — The U.S. government allegedly spied on prominent American Muslims under the same program it used to keep tabs on suspected terrorists, according to documents held by National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
The journalists Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain, writing for The Intercept, said Snowden provided them documents that show that at least five American Muslims were monitored by their own government for periods between 2002 and 2008.
The names of Republican Party operative and lawyer Faisal Gill; attorney Asim Ghafoor; international relations professor Hooshang Amirahmadi; Muslim civil liberties advocate Agha Saeed; and the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Affairs, Nihad Awad, all appear on a spreadsheet that purportedly lists individuals under NSA, CIA or FBI digital surveillance.
The spreadsheet shows more than 7,000 e-mail addresses that appear to include the names of foreigners linked to terrorist organizations and U.S. citizens suspected of terrorist activity, according to The Intercept’s report.
But also on the list are the names of the five prominent Muslim-Americans, who have never been accused or charged with terrorism, and who deny any involvement in terrorism.
“I’ve done everything in my life to be patriotic,” Gill told The Intercept. “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.”
Gill told the publication that he believes that his e-mails were intercepted because he is Muslim.
“Look, I’ve never made an appearance or been a lawyer for anyone who’s been (associated with terrorism),” he told The Intercept. “But there are plenty of other lawyers who have made those appearances and actually represented those governments, and their name isn’t Faisal Gill and they weren’t born in Pakistan and they aren’t on this list.”
In a joint statement, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Justice Department denied that the U.S. government conducts surveillance based on anyone’s politics, religion or activism.
“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 said.
Any surveillance of U.S. citizens requires a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance, or FISA, Court, the statement says.
“These court orders are issued by an independent federal judge only if probable cause, based on specific facts, are established that the person is an agent of a foreign power, a terrorist, a spy, or someone who takes orders from a foreign power,” the statement says.
But The Intercept reported that at least one of the five American Muslims was spied on without a FISA warrant.
In addition, one of the documents provided to The Intercept by Snowden instructs agents on the proper way to compose a memo to request FISA surveillance. In the example, it lists a fake name — “Mohammed Raghead” — as a placeholder.
An NSA spokeswoman quoted in the report said that the agency would not allow such insulting language to be used in its training documents.
CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties group and led by Awad, called for a full accounting of government spying on American Muslims.
“This is an outrageous continuation of civil rights era surveillance of minority community leadership by government elements who see threats in all patriotic dissent,” the group said in a statement.