An online news site reported Wednesday that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies monitored the emails of several prominent Muslim-American activists and attorneys, prompting cries of protest from civil liberties advocates and a strong rebuttal from the government.
A lengthy article published on Intercept stated that the National Security Agency and the FBI monitored the emails of five Muslim-Americans under procedures meant to target foreign terrorists and spies.
The surveillance, according to the article, apparently was conducted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires the government to have probable cause to believe that the American targets are agents of foreign powers or terrorists. The article stated that it was unclear whether warrants were obtained and what the justification for the targeting was.
The Intercept article said the five men denied any involvement in terrorism or espionage and that none advocated violent jihad or was known to have been implicated in a crime. It quoted some of them as saying they believed they had been targeted because they were of Muslim heritage.
The piece, which resulted from a three-month investigation, elicited charges that the government was conducting surveillance that violated people’s constitutional rights.
Since 9/11, American Muslim communities have been fair game for law enforcement tactics of the sort that were used against African-American civil rights groups in the 1960s and ’70s, said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.
By targeting the leaders of these communities for secret full-scale monitoring, the FBI has taken this tactic to another level. How can any of us who work to advance justice for American Muslims feel free to do our work if we fear the government is watching our every step? Patel said.
The government rejected the allegation.
The article was based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, which included a spreadsheet listing thousands of email addresses monitored between 2002 and 2008.