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FBI and NSA targeted prominent Muslim-American leaders for surveillance


Pictured: NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland

Both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency monitored the emails of five prominent Muslim-Americans, documents from former-NSA contractor Edward Snowden reveal. The Intercept detailed those documents early this morning, which show the email addresses of Faisal Gill, Asim Ghafoor, Hooshang Amirahmadi, Agha Saeed, Nihad Awad. The list ranges from a former Department of Homeland Security staffer to the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secretive United States court that oversees surveillance requests from the intelligence community, is ruled by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That act states that Americans can only be targeted if they are working for a foreign power, or if they're involved in a terrorist organization. Further, said targets must be plotting or engaging in one of a variety of nefarious acts: "espionage, sabotage, or terrorism," The Intercept states.

Beyond the five prominent, public men listed, 7,485 email addresses are identified as under surveillance between 2002 and 2008; 202 of those addresses are tied to "U.S. persons," while 1,782 are tied to "non-U.S. persons." Another 5,501 don't contain identifying information. Other standouts on the US side include Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, two men accused of terrorist activity (both were killed in a US drone strike in 2011).

The scope of the US government's surveillance efforts was widely revealed last summer when former-NSA contractor Edward Snowden began leaking classified documents to reporters at The Guardian. The documents detailed a variety of programs, including PRISM -- which allows the mass collection of data on US citizens -- and MYSTIC -- which allows data to be retrieved from the past.

This morning's news is especially interesting as it's the first we're hearing of US surveillance efforts specifically targeting prominent religious and ethnic leaders. At least in recent years: the US government, through a program named "COINTELPRO," specifically targeted US political groups (like the Black Panthers and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in the mid-20th century. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 -- the law at the heart of the FISA court which approved the surveillance of five Muslim-Americans -- is intended to curtail such surveillance overreaches.

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