NSA spying on prominent American Muslims should trouble us all


JUL 10, 2014, 10:30 AM

NSA spying on prominent American Muslims should trouble us all

Journalists Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain just released a story based on the Snowden leaks that the National Security Agency (NSA), in conjunction with the FBI, has been spying on thousands of law-abiding Americans, including a former Senior Policy Advisor for Homeland Security under the Bush administration, a criminal defense attorney and a prominent civil rights leader.

This piece, differing from other stories about pervasive NSA surveillance, shows for the first time five American faces who were targeted, all five being American Muslims. One of them, Nihad Awad, is the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which I am of course affiliated with.

I’d like to point out three issues regarding these new revelations that should disturb all Americans.

First, all five men appear to have been targeted for their political positions or activism in the Muslim community, not due to credible national security concerns, which is supposed to be the NSA’s scope.

Keep in mind that after years of intrusive surveillance, the government did not bring even a single criminal charge against any of those five. Hence, the Greenwald – Hussain story described them as being Americans who continue to maintain “highly public, outwardly exemplary lives.” If there were any doubts before, this can happened to any American, since it happened to them.

Second, the leaked documents also show that racism is clearly in play in how some senior intelligence analysts view the Muslim community. This is clear given NSA officials used an example to instruct agents on how to properly record Muslims under surveillance in their files under the title of “Mohammed Raghead.”

In response, a White House spokesperson said that the usage of the slur is “unacceptable and inconsistent with the country’s core values.”

Condemning the use of slurs and seeking to eliminate their usage in official government programs is fine and dandy. My major concern pertains to the pervasive spying of the American Muslim community and its leadership, which is informed upon in part due to bias, not just using slurs in official government databases.

Last, such surveillance has a basic chilling effect on citizens’ religious practice and political engagement.

As in the era of former FBI head J. Edgar Hoover during the 1960s and early 1970s, activists’ intimate communications are being captured by government.

History shows that our intelligence services have used embarrassing moments in the leaders’ personal lives as a form of blackmail.

This tactic was used against Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pertaining to his extra-marital relations. More recently, an informant in California named Craig Monteilh used pillow talk with Muslim women on behalf of the FBI.

People may fear not getting involved in religious organizations or in forms of political dissent out of fear that a personal indiscretion could be used against them by their own government. This did not happen in the case of the five Muslims in the highlight in the story, but easily could have given different circumstances.

The KGB-style surveillance informed by the political and religious persuasions of American citizens must end. I hope that these recent revelations with spark more discussions by the public and in Congressional hearings, which leads to true NSA and FBI surveillance reform.

Perhaps this all may be sorted out in federal court, given that these five men have what appears to be strong legal standing to bring forth a lawsuit.