These American citizens were targeted for surveillance between 2002 and 2008 due to their political activity. The Intercept reported that the surveillance was not "based solely" on speech.
"No U.S. person can be the subject of FISA surveillance based solely on First Amendment activities, such as staging public rallies, organizing campaigns, writing critical essays, or expressing personal beliefs," the NSA's statement read.
The five names are:
- Faisal Gill, a longtime Republican Party operative and one-time candidate for public office who held a top-secret security clearance and served in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush.
- Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases.
- Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University.
- Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights.
- Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country.
According to the Intercept, "The individuals appear on an NSA spreadsheet in the Snowden archives called "FISA recap"—short for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under that law, the Justice Department must convince a judge with the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there is probable cause to believe that American targets are not only agents of an international terrorist organization or other foreign power, but also "are or may be" engaged in or abetting espionage, sabotage, or terrorism. The authorizations must be renewed by the court, usually every 90 days for U.S. citizens."
These e-mail addresses were among 7,485 others belonging to foreigners with ties to Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah.
"The five Americans whose email accounts were monitored by the NSA and FBI have all led highly public, outwardly exemplary lives. All five vehemently deny any involvement in terrorism or espionage, and none advocates violent jihad or is known to have been implicated in any crime, despite years of intense scrutiny by the government and the press," wrote Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain.
"I just don't know why," Gill told the Intercept. Gill's AOL and Yahoo! email accounts were monitored while he was a Republican candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates. "I've done everything in my life to be patriotic. I served in the Navy, served in the government, was active in my community—I've done everything that a good citizen, in my opinion, should do."
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