Civil rights groups to feds: Purge your anti-Muslim training materials

August 14, 2014

(RNS) Civil rights and religious groups say efforts to rid federal agencies of anti-Muslim bias have faltered and prejudice against Muslims persists, particularly in the training of anti-terrorism officers.

On Thursday (Aug. 14), 75 groups — including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Auburn Seminary and the NAACP — sent a letter to the White House urging an audit of federal law enforcement training material.

“The use of anti-Muslim trainers and materials is not only highly offensive, disparaging the faith of millions of Americans, but leads to biased policing that targets individuals and communities based on religion, not evidence of wrongdoing,” the letter reads.

A National Security Council representative said the letter will be reviewed and a response issued.

Anti-Muslim sentiment, flagged several years ago, prompted the White House to order an assessment of the intelligence community’s training materials and policies — but that never happened, the letter charges. Instead, the groups wrote, administration officials settled on expanded sensitivity training and other measures that don’t directly address the continued use of anti-Muslim materials.

The letter states that its allegations are based in part on a July 9 article in The Intercept, an online publication created by journalist Glenn Greenwald. According to its website, its immediate goal is “to provide a platform to report on the documents previously provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden,” the former National Security Agency systems analyst now a fugitive living in Russia.

U.S. Spied on 5 American Muslims, a Report Says

July 10, 2014

WASHINGTON — A new report based on documents provided by Edward J. Snowden has identified five American Muslims, including the leader of a civil rights group, as having been subjected to surveillance by the federal government.

The disclosure of what were described as specific domestic surveillance targets by The Intercept online magazine was a rare glimpse into some of the most closely held secrets of counterespionage and terrorism investigators. The article raised questions about the basis for the domestic spying, even as it was condemned by the government as irresponsible and damaging to national security.

The report was based on what The Intercept described as a spreadsheet of 7,485 email addresses said to have been monitored from 2002 to 2008, and one of its writers was Glenn Greenwald, a primary recipient of the trove of documents leaked by Mr. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor.

The documents did not say what the suspicions or the evidence were against the men that prompted the apparent surveillance.

In interviews on Wednesday, several of the men denied wrongdoing, and Mr. Ghafoor said he believed his Muslim faith was a factor in his being monitored. “I try not to play the race card,” he said. “But there’s really no other explanation.”

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issues about 1,800 orders annually for domestic surveillance. To obtain a court order to wiretap an American, the government must convince a judge that there is probable cause to believe the target is engaged in a crime on behalf of a foreign power; non-Americans need only be suspected of being foreign agents.

None of the five have been charged with a crime in connection with the apparent monitoring.

The government refused to confirm whether or why any of the five had been monitored. Several dozen rights organizations sent a letter to President Obama on Wednesday expressing concerns about the potential for “discriminatory and abusive surveillance,” but also acknowledged that “we do not know all of the facts,” and asked for “the information necessary to meaningfully assess” the report.

Meet the Muslim-American Leaders the FBI and NSA Have Been Spying On

By Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain

July 9, 2014

The National Security Agency and FBI have covertly monitored the emails of prominent Muslim-Americans—including a political candidate and several civil rights activists, academics, and lawyers—under secretive procedures intended to target terrorists and foreign spies.

According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the list of Americans monitored by their own government includes:

• 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.

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.

The FBI—which is listed as the “responsible agency” for surveillance on the five men—has a controversial record when it comes to the ethnic profiling of Muslim-Americans. According to FBI training materials uncovered byWired in 2011, the bureau taught agents to treat “mainstream” Muslims as supporters of terrorism, to view charitable donations by Muslims as “a funding mechanism for combat,” and to view Islam itself as a “Death Star” that must be destroyed if terrorism is to be contained.

Other former and current federal officials say such beliefs are not representative of the FBI or Justice Department. But blatant prejudice against Muslim-Americans is also documented in the Snowden archive.

In one 2005 document, intelligence community personnel are instructed how to properly format internal memos to justify FISA surveillance. In the place where the target’s real name would go, the memo offers a fake name as a placeholder: “Mohammed Raghead.”

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Snowden Document: NSA Spied On Al Jazeera Communications

Al_Jazeera_AmericaLeaked documents reportedly reveal the spy agency hacked into Al Jazeera internal communications

 

Documents leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden show that the US spy agency hacked into Al Jazeera’s internal communications, German magazine Der Spiegel reported Saturday.

 

One of the documents, reportedly seen by Der Spiegel and dating back to March 23, 2006, claims the NSA managed to access and read communications sent to the news organization by “interesting targets.” The German magazine did not specify what those targets were.

 

This latest revelation, revealling that NSA’s scope of spy programs extended to monitoring Al Jazeera, comes two days after the Washington Post published Snowden’s leak of the U.S. “black budget” for intelligence agencies. That reports claimed that despite massive spending and a broad network of surveillance and international espionage facilities, the US still had ‘blind spots’ where key national security questions continued to elude the intelligence community.

 

Another report by Der Spiegel last week claimed that leaked documents show that NSA hacked United Nations video calls. The magazine said the European Union and the U.N.’s Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), were also among those targeted by U.S. intelligence agents.

 

US authorities failed to connect Abdulmutallab with al-Qaida’s attack plans, Obama criticizes

Authorities say the National Security Agency (NSA) knew in August 2009 that a branch of al-Qaida in Yemen might try to use a Nigerian for a terrorist attack on Christmas Day. Had the information been examined together with information the State Department, the CIA, and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) put together in October 2009 based on conversations with Abdulmutallab’s father, it may have provided what was needed to uncover the pending attack.

The terrorist’s father gave the US Embassy in Nigeria, including the CIA and the State Department, text messages from his son that indicated his radicalization. “Look at the texts he’s sending. He’s a security threat,” his cousin quoted him as saying. He never directly accused his son of planning to bomb a plane.

In November 2009 upon the warnings, the CIA alerted NCTC, who put his name on the half-million large terrorism watch list. The CIA also compiled biographical data on Abdulmutallab but did not share it with other security agencies. They also decided there was not enough information about him to pursue moving him to smaller, more refined lists of people who require extra scrutiny at airports.

Routine procedure also had an e-notice of Abdulmutallab’s purchase of a plane ticket sent to homeland security officials on December 16.

“The right information did not get to the right people—there’s no question about that,” a senior intelligence official said. “If all known information had been provided, we would have been down a different path.”

Some blame the NCTC for the failure, which was created in 2004 collate information from across the US’s national security system. Others blame the CIA.

Some officials feel information is being shared, and that isn’t the problem. It’s the volume of information collected. Setting thresholds of what’s pointing to impending violence amidst huge amounts of data can be tricky.

Obama calls it a systematic failure that is totally unacceptable.

Republicans are using the failure as ammunition against democrats, positioning Obama as a president who won’t take security seriously enough. Democrats are accusing Republicans of blocking needed resource increases while exploiting public fear.