Muslim Rep. Ellison hits feds over ‘profiling’

Anne Wernikoff

One of two Muslims in Congress had harsh words on Wednesday on government agents’ targeting of a handful of prominent American Muslims.

“An American’s faith does not give law enforcement reasonable suspicion to violate their constitutional rights,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim elected to Congress, said in a statement.

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“Suspicious behavior indicating criminal behavior should be the basis for attracting law enforcement surveillance — not a person’s religion," he added. "Profiling based on religion breeds distrust and resentment in communities that are potential partners in the fight against crime.”

Ellison said a report on Wednesday that the National Security Agency (NSA) and FBI were tracking the email communications of five American Muslims, and included a racial slur in their training materials, “is particularly troubling because it suggests that Americans were targeted because of their faith and civic engagement.”

Previous revelations about FBI training materials instructing agents to be suspicious of all Muslims and a New York Police Department program to map Muslim communities, he added, “makes this concern legitimate.”

A months-long analysis by the Intercept of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that five top lawyers and advocates who were Muslim were targeted for surveillance from 2002 to 2008 under a program meant to root out terrorists and foreign agents.

The news evoked swift condemnation from civil liberties advocates, who compared it to FBI wiretaps of Martin Luther King Jr. and other top civil rights icons.

“The bigger story is that, again, American minorities are being targeted with a broad brush by the government when we had hoped that this lesson had been learned back in the Civil Rights era that that’s not the way to go about things,” said Corey Saylor, head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’s (CAIR) office combating Islamophobia. CAIR’s executive director, Nihad Awad, was one of the people reportedly targeted by the NSA and FBI.

“We’re outraged,” Saylor added.

Among the documents released was an instructional form that used the name “Mohammed Raghead” — a slang term for Muslims and Middle Eastern people — as an example of a terrorist suspect.

A White House offial said that the administration had immediately launched an inquiry into that issue.

“As the NSA has said, the use of racial or ethnic stereotypes, slurs, or other similar language by employees is both unacceptable and inconsistent with the country’s core values,” Caitlin Hayden said in a statement shared with The Hill.

“The administration takes all such allegations extremely seriously, and upon learning of this matter the White House immediately requested that the Director of National Intelligence undertake an assessment of Intelligence Community policies, training standards or directives that promote diversity and tolerance, and as necessary, make any recommendations changes or additional reforms."

Civil rights advocates wanted more.

Ellison called for “a full explanation” about the surveillance from the administration.

Additionally, a coalition of 45 civil rights organizations sent a letter to President Obama demanding a meeting with him, Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director James Comey. The advocacy groups wanted the Justice Department to update its current guidance banning racial profiling to include profiling based on religion, national origin and other “loopholes.”

“We cannot trust government assurances of fairness and legality when surveillance is being conducted without sufficient public oversight,” they wrote.