By Julian Hattem - 07/09/14 09:14 AM EDT
The National Security Agency (NSA) and FBI have been secretly monitoring top public Muslims in the U.S., according to revelations from documents provided by Edward Snowden.
The Intercept on Wednesday highlighted five prominent American Muslims caught up in a list of more than 7,000 email addresses tracked by the spy agencies from 2002 to 2008 under legal authority meant to target terrorists.
All five denied working as foreign agents or terrorists to The Intercept and suggested that their race and religion alone may have singled them out.
“I believe that they tapped me because my name is Asim Abdur Rahman Ghafoor, my parents are from India, I travelled to Saudi Arabia as a young man, and I do the pilgrimage,” Ghafoor, the lawyer, told the outlet.
Other documents seemed to show an anti-Muslim bias at the intelligence agencies.
One instructional form from 2005, for instance, uses the name “Mohammed Raghead” as an example name for a target of surveillance.
Civil rights groups immediately jumped on the new revelations.
The head of the Center for Constitutional Rights said that the targeting “fits the same pattern” as the FBI’s tracking of top civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X in previous decades.
“The government is targeting an organization for its lawful political activity and conflating peaceful support for Palestinians and equal treatment for Muslims in the U.S. with suspicious activity,” Vincent Warrant said.
The group Muslim Advocates added that the report “confirms the worst fears of American Muslims: the federal government has targeted Americans, even those who have served their country in the military and government, simply because of their faith or religious heritage.”
President Obama and Congress should “immediately” act to rein in the NSA, the group said.
In a statement on Wednesday morning, the administration denied that its activities were based on politics or religion.
“It is entirely false that U.S. intelligence agencies conduct electronic surveillance of political, religious or activist figures solely because they disagree with public policies or criticize the government, or for exercising constitutional rights,” the Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a joint statement.
Any U.S. citizens or organizations targeted by the government, they note, must first be approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
“No U.S. person can be the subject of surveillance based solely on First Amendment activities, such as staging public rallies, organizing campaigns, writing critical essays, or expressing personal beliefs,” the agencies added.
Critics have claimed that the secretive spy court effectively acts as a rubber stamp for intelligence agencies.
The FBI has previously come under hot water for training materials that taught agents to treat all U.S. Muslims as potential terrorists.