The newest NSA document leaked by former NSA technician Edward Snowden indicates that NSA and FBI monitored the emails of seven prominent American Muslims. While Snowden’s supporters are trying to spin this story as discrimination against Muslims and another case of illegal surveillance by NSA, such claims look far-fetched since this email monitoring took place with the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court and appeared to involve persons suspected of having links to Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and Iran.
This NSA document in question was described in an article in “The Intercept,” an online publication founded by Glenn Greenwald, a former London Guardian writer who facilitated most of Snowden’s leaks, and is funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Greenwald is the co-author of the article.
The seven American Muslims named in Greenwald’s article are:
- Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni-American member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who was killed in a targeted U.S. drone strike in Yemen on September 30, 2011.
- Samir Khan, an American Muslim who collaborated with al-Awaki and helped produce Inspire, an online al-Qaeda publication used by the Tsaranev brothers to construct the pressure-cooker bombs they detonated at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Khan was killed by the same drone strike that killed Awaki.
- Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
- Hooshang Amirahmadi, a Rutgers University professor who is president of the American Iranian Council.
- Asim Ghafoor, a defense lawyer who has handled terrorism-related cases.
- Faisal Gill, a former Department of Homeland Security lawyer who Greenwald says did legal work with Ghafoor on behalf of Sudan in a lawsuit brought by victims of terrorist attacks.
- Agha Saeed, the national chairman of the American Muslim Alliance.
The NSA document listed 202 emails belonging to U.S. persons, 1,782 to non-U.S. persons and 5.501 listed as “unknown.”
Greenwald and the New York Times try to depict this surveillance as another example of the U.S. government spying on the American people in violation of the fourth amendment. Both the Times and Greenwald suggest these men were monitored because they are Muslims.
Greenwald and the Times seem to recognize that government monitoring of the communications of al-Awlaki and Khan was a no-brainer. For the other five, Greenwald says “it is impossible to know why their emails were monitored or the extent of the surveillance” and noted that they have not been charged with a crime.
But a closer look at Awad, Ghafoor, Gill, Saeed, and Amirahmadi suggests the government likely had good reasons to request court warrants to monitor their communications.
The Times said Awad’s CAIR organization is “a Muslim civil rights organization.” However, the Times also notes that CAIR has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and in 2007 was an unindicted co-conspirator in its prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation, a Muslim charity later convicted of providing material support for terrorism by funneling money to Hamas.
The Times described Saeed’s American Muslim Alliance as an organization “which supports Muslim political candidates.” But Investor’s Business Daily reported on April 1, 2014 that Saeed’s American Muslim Alliance joined a coalition of other American Muslim organizations with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood – including CAIR – to launch their own political network to turn American Muslims into an Islamist voting bloc.
Greenwald’s article says Asim Ghafoor is an attorney hired in 2003 by the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a Saudi charity with alleged links to al-Qaeda, after its U.S. assets were frozen by the Treasury Department over claims that it funded terrorist operations. According to the article, Ghafoor and al-Haramain sued the U.S. government and were awarded damages over government eavesdropping on Ghafoor’s attorney-client communications with al-Haramain. The damages were later dropped on appeal. According to Greenwald, Ghafoor claims the government monitored his communications “because of his name, his religion, and his legal work.”
Greenwald provides some idea as to about why Faisal Gill’s communications were monitored: he was a consultant for the American Muslim Council, a group founded by Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi who pleaded guilty in 2004 on financial and conspiracy charges for being a senior financier for Al Qaeda. He is serving a 23-year prison sentence. Greenwald says Gill may have had troubling ties to al-Amoudi. According to the Greenwald article:
“In 2003, al-Amoudi was arrested for participating in a Libyan plot to assassinate Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and for illegal financial transactions with the Libyan government, crimes for which he eventually pleaded guilty. Because Gill’s name had turned up in al-Amoudi’s papers, he was investigated by DHS [Department of Homeland Security] security officials and asked not to report to work pending the outcome. He told investigators that he had met al-Amoudi only three or four times and didn’t work closely with him during his time at the American Muslim Council. After passing a polygraph test, Gill says, he was told by DHS that he was “good to go” and returned to work.”
Hooshang Amirahmadi is a former candidate for the Iranian presidency with ties to Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iranian government.
Greenwald does not know the U.S. government’s justification for requesting court warrants to monitor the communications of Awad, Ghafoor, Gill, Saeed, and Amirahmadi. He therefore does not know whether these men were collaborating in some way with foreign terrorist organizations or Iran. However, since Greenwald knew about their suspicious affiliations, it was extremely dishonest for him to claim these are innocent American Muslims targeted by for illegal NSA and FBI electronic surveillance merely because of their ethnicity and religion.
Fred Fleitz, a former CIA analyst, is a Senior Fellow with the Center for Security Policy and Chief Analyst with LIGNET.com.