NSA and FBI spied on prominent Muslim American leaders

A newly disclosed Snowden leak reveals that the NSA targeted at least five prominent Muslim American leaders, including a former Republican Congressional nominee who served in GW Bush's Department of Homeland Security.

The story, published in The Intercept after extensive reporting by Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain — who faced a campaign of dirty tricks and misinformation by the NSA, who attempted to spin the story with other Muslim organizations and leaders prior to its publication — documents multi-year surveillance, possibly under FISA court surveillance, of men who are often staunch members of the Washington establishment.

The surveillance is so ham-fisted and stupid that it's hard to understand, even in the context of the NSA's dragnet surveillance. But Greenwald and Hussain attempt to explain it, talking to John Guandolo, a former FBI counterterrorism specialist who claims that the US is riddled with jihadi fifth columnists. Guandolo developed training materials that informed many spooks' outlook on who and how to surveil.

Importantly, this leak provides sorely needed evidence in legal proceedings and investigations into mass surveillance. Richard Clarke, who served as counterterrorism czar under Bush and Clinton, says that his work on the Obama White House's review panel on the NSA would have been framed in a very different light if he'd known that lawyers and activists were being targeted as part of campaign based solely on the expression of lawful views, religious faith, and legal professional activity.

Guandolo's views may be extreme and paranoid, but they're on a spectrum with a mainstreamed, casual racism and xenophobia in America's intelligence apparatus. One Snowden document, a training slide for spies applying for FISA warrants, uses "Mohammed Raghead" as an example of the name of the target for a hypothetical surveillance operation.

Even a U.S. citizen like Faisal Gill, who served his country both in the armed forces and in the White House, found himself spied on by his own government. "I was a very conservative, Reagan-loving Republican," he says. "If somebody like me could be surveilled, then [there are] other people out there I can only imagine who are under surveillance.

"I went to school here as a fourth grader – learned about the Revolutionary War, learned about individual rights, Thomas Jefferson, all these things," he continues. "That is ingrained in you – your privacy is important. And to have that basically invaded for no reason whatsoever – for the fact that I didn't do anything – I think that's troubling. And I think that certainly goes to show how we need to shape policy differently than it is right now."

Meet the Muslim-American Leaders the FBI and NSA Have Been Spying On
[Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain/The Intercept]