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NSA 'spied on prominent Muslim-Americans' - Americas - Al Jazeera English

NSA 'spied on prominent Muslim-Americans' - Americas - Al Jazeera English

An online magazine has reported that the National Security Agency
(NSA) and the FBI covertly scanned the emails of five prominent
Muslim-Americans under the US government's secret surveillance programme
aimed at national security threats.


The article in the Intercept, a venture by journalist Glenn
Greenwald, said on Wednesday that the targets included a lawyer, a
Republican political operative, a university professor and two civil
rights activists.


The Intercept said all five denied any involvement in terrorism or espionage and had not been accused of any crimes.


The magazine questioned whether the government obtained legal permission for its surveillance.


The account said that a three-month investigation using classified
documents obtained from former NSA contract systems analyst Edward
Snowden showed that "the system for authorising NSA surveillance affords
the government wide latitude in spying on US citizens".


The article also said that some government training materials included a slur against Muslims, the AP news agency reported.


The NSA and Justice Department officials denied on Wednesday that US activists are targeted for criticising the government.


While not discussing the individual cases, officials said Americans
are only targeted for email surveillance if there is probable cause.


"It is entirely false that US intelligence agencies conduct
electronic surveillance of political, religious or activist figures
solely because they disagree with public policies or criticise the
government, or for exercising constitutional rights," the NSA and
Justice Department said in a joint statement.


Racial slurs


The White House on Wednesday ordered national security agencies to
review their training and policy manuals in light of the article's
assertion that a 2005 government training document contained an
anti-Muslim slur.


"Upon learning of this matter, the White House immediately requested
that the Director of National Intelligence undertake an assessment of
Intelligence Community policies, training standards or directives that
promote diversity and tolerance," said Caitlin Hayden, a White House
national security spokeswoman.


Hayden said that "the use of racial or ethnic stereotypes, slurs, or other similar language" was unacceptable.


The magazine identified the targeted Muslim-Americans as lawyer Asim
Ghafoor, Republican operative Faisal Gill, Rutgers University professor
Hooshang Amirahmadi, activist Agha Saeed and Nihad Awad, executive
director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil
rights group.


All five raised questions in the account about why their emails would
have been targeted by surveillance. The report said that several of the
men had been subjected to previous government inquiries.


National security investigation


Gill, who worked for the Department of Homeland Security in the
administration of George W Bush, was scrutinised by the department in
2003 after his name turned up in a national security investigation.


He was cleared in a later inspector general's report, the Intercept account said.


Ghafoor had done legal work for an Islamic charity targeted by Treasury Department sanctions for suspected terrorism ties.


Saeed told the Intercept he may have been targeted for his
friendship with a south Florida activist who pleaded guilty to aiding a
Palestinian armed group.


Amirahmadi has twice tried to run for president of Iran.


Awad's group was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the
government's prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation, once the biggest
Islamic charity in the US, but which has been scrutinised for its ties
to Hamas, a Palestinian group branded by the US as a terrorist
organisation.

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