The U.S. government allegedly spied on prominent American Muslims under the same program it used to keep tabs on suspected terrorists, according to documents held by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Journalists Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain, writing for The Intercept, said Snowden provided them documents that show that at least five American Muslims were monitored by their own government for periods between 2002 and 2008.
The names of Republican Party operative and lawyer Faisal Gill; attorney Asim Ghafoor; international relations professor Hooshang Amirahmadi; Muslim civil liberties advocate Agha Saeed; and the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Affairs, Nihad Awad, all appear on a spreadsheet that purportedly lists individuals under NSA, CIA or FBI digital surveillance.
The spreadsheet shows more than 7,000 e-mail addresses that appear to include the names of foreigners linked to terrorist organizations and U.S. citizens suspected of terrorist activity, according to The Intercept's report.
But also on the list are the names of the five prominent Muslim-Americans, who have never been accused or charged with terrorism, and who deny any involvement in terrorism.
Accusations of profiling
Two of them -- Gill and Ghafoor -- told CNN that they were targeted just because they are Muslim, a violation of their rights.
"I can't think of any other reason," Gill said.
"Absolutely. No other reason," Ghafoor said.
Gill said he had a security clearance working in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
"That's why my No. 1 reaction was of shock and surprise because there's nothing in my background that would lead any law enforcement agency to suspect me of any acts of terror," Gill said.
Ghafoor is a civil rights attorney who represented clients in terrorism-related cases.
"If it's my clients that's causing it," Ghafoor said of the alleged spying on him, "that's a reason for pause -- to find out what benefit does the government have listening in on the lawyer's communications with his or her client? What information can they use in court?
"Imagine a government lawyer telling his or her supervisors we had to listen to his calls and maybe we can go to court to beat him," Ghafoor said.
Ghafoor said that the government apparently spied on his Yahoo e-mail -- not his e-mail with his law firm.
"I feel sorry for the agents who had to read all of that. There's not a whole lot you will get from my Yahoo account," Ghafoor said.
Gill served in the Navy and later became a senior policy adviser in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush.
Gill also worked as a spokesman for American Muslim Council, whose founder and executive director, Aldurahman M. Alamoudi, was sentenced to 23 years in prison in 2004 for activities with nations and groups with ties to terrorism.
But the U.S. government allegedly spied on Gill from 2006 to 2008 -- after Gill left the council and when Gill was the Republican nominee for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, journalist Greenwald told CNN.
Gill said he did not know Alamoudi and hardly had contact with him. Moreover, after he left the Muslim council, Gill disclosed that job to the U.S. government, which eventually gave him a security clearance.