The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Justice Department released a lengthy statement Wednesday morning in response to a story in The Intercept that claimed it monitored the emails of prominent Muslim-American leaders.
“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 criticise the government, or for exercising constitutional rights,” the joint statement read.
“Unlike some other nations, the United States does not monitor anyone’s communications in order to suppress criticism or to put people at a disadvantage based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.”
The Intercept’s story, co-written by Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain, was the latest shoe to drop based on leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. The documents showed the NSA and FBI monitored the emails of five prominent Muslim-Americans between 2002-2008. The emails of the five Muslim-Americans were included in a list of more than 7,000 email addresses under legal authority meant to target terrorists and foreign spies.
The five Muslim-Americans include Faisal Gill, who worked in Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush; Hooshang Amirahmadi, a Rutgers University professor; and Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organisation in the U.S. All five denied any involvement in terrorism or espionage to The Intercept, the site that was founded by Greenwald.
The five are the first Americans whose names have been identified as NSA targets.
Here’s the full statement from the Obama administration:
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 criticise the government, or for exercising constitutional rights.
Unlike some other nations, the United States does not monitor anyone’s communications in order to suppress criticism or to put people at a disadvantage based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.
Our intelligence agencies help protect America by collecting communications when they have a legitimate foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purpose.
With limited exceptions (for example, in an emergency), our intelligence agencies must have a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to target any U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident for electronic surveillance.
These court orders are issued by an independent federal judge only if probable cause, based on specific facts, are established that the person is an agent of a foreign power, a terrorist, a spy, or someone who takes orders from a foreign power.
No U.S. person can be the subject of surveillance based solely on First Amendment activities, such as staging public rallies, organising campaigns, writing critical essays, or expressing personal beliefs.
On the other hand, a person who the court finds is an agent of a foreign power under this rigorous standard is not exempted just because of his or her occupation.
The United States is as committed to protecting privacy rights and individual freedom as we are to defending our national security.
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