Surveillance of a handful of Islamists who been supportive of terror groups is hardly unjust or a persecution of all Muslim Americans.
A 45-member coalition -- including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), two U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entities with extremist histories -- is accusing the Obama and Bush Administrations of persecuting the entire Muslim-American community by monitoring the emails of five Muslims with links to terrorists.
The coalition is responding to a new report based on classified documents leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) employee Edward Snowden. It focuses on the monitoring of five Muslim-American activists, including CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad. The authors of the report are Glenn Greenwald, who has spoken for at least three CAIR fundraisers, and Murtaza Hussain.
The documents provide about 7,500 email addresses monitored by the U.S. government between 2002 and 2008. This is not a shocking number, especially considering the activists’ histories and that there are 2.75 million Muslim-Americans.
Of these, only 202 are listed as Americans and some of these are multiple accounts held by one user. The authors of the report were able to identify five activists who were being monitored.
The Director of National Intelligence said in a statement 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 criticize the government, or for exercising constitutional rights.”
Rather, before monitoring, an independent judge from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court must be persuaded that there is strong enough evidence that the subject is linked to terrorism or under the control of a foreign power.
Public information, much of it cited by the authors, links each of the five to Islamist terrorists. The authors of the report admit they do not know what classified information the NSA and FBI is in possession of; nor do they have any evidence that the NSA failed to get a judge’s approval as required.
Yet, the monitoring of these five activists’ emails is depicted as a scandal by the authors of the report and the coalition, depicting this as an assault on the entire Muslim-American community. Further, the coalition includes groups with their own checkered histories like CAIR, the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Muslim Legal Fund of America.
There are very strong grounds to believe that the government has legitimate reasons for monitoring the five activists. They are as follows:
Nihad Awad, Executive Director of CAIR
Nihad Awad’s emails were monitored by the FBI from July 2006 to February 2008, at which point the surveillance was terminated. In 2007, the Justice Department designated CAIR as an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation, a Muslim Brotherhood front in Texas whose leaders were found guilty of financing Hamas.
The Justice Department listed CAIR as an entity of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood, specifically its secret Palestine Committee that was set up to support Hamas.
In 2009, a federal judge upheld the designation because of “ample” evidence. The FBI stopped using CAIR as an outreach partner because of evidence linking it to Hamas.
In another court case in 2007, federal prosecutors stated in a court filing:
“From its founding by Muslim Brotherhood leaders, CAIR conspired with other affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood to support terrorists … the conspirators agreed to use deception to conceal from the American public their connections to terrorists.”
Nihad Awad was the Public Relations Director for the Islamic Association for Palestine, a Muslim Brotherhood front founded by a senior Hamas operative. The FBI recorded a secret Hamas/Brotherhood meeting in Philadelphia in 1993, which Awad was present for, where they discussed the need to create a new front with clean tracks. Awad and another meeting participant founded CAIR the next year.
In 1993, Awad said, “I am in support of the Hamas movement more than the PLO.” Awad told Greenwald that he does not support Hamas and made that statement before Hamas began carrying out suicide attacks, but the Investigative Project on Terrorism has proven that false.
Even if it were accurate, Hamas was formed as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and was violent and extreme from the beginning. Its charter talks about the killing of Jews as being the fulfillment of Islamic prophecy.
In 2004, Awad refused to condemn Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist groups in an Arabic interview with Al-Jazeera. Instead, he called them “liberation movements.” This tactic of saying different things to English and Arabic audiences was talked about in the 1993 meeting. Most recently, Awad tweeted in Arabic that the prosecution of Sami al-Arian on terrorism charges was due to an Israeli conspiracy.
CAIR continues to have radical leaders and engage in highly suspicious financial activity. The Clarion Project’s documented profile of CAIR can be read here.
In discussing CAIR, Greenwald and Hussain mention its “political moderation” and suggest it is the victim of political persecution by anti-Muslim bigots influencing the government. They write that CAIR became a “primary target of hardline neoconservatives after 911” and has been “publicly maligned as terrorist supporters by the Muslim-focused fringes of the far right.”
For CAIR to be “moderate,” the Justice Department, FBI and Judge Solis would all have to be a part of this anti-Muslim conspiracy. So would the Muslim Brotherhood, whose own internal documents show its ties to CAIR and Awad.
Even Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who no one could say is “far right,” talked about CAIR’s “ties to terrorism” in 2003. Democratic Senators Dick Durbin and Barbara Boxer have also acknowledged CAIR’s extremism, though they subsequently continued to work with the group.
Agha Saeed of the American Muslim Task Force
Agha Saeed’s emails were monitored by the FBI from June 2007 until at least May 2008, when the documents state that the surveillance needed renewing.
In 1999, Saeed spoke at an ISNA conference (which, like CAIR, is an unindicted co-conspirator and U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entity). He said in his speech, “United Nations has a resolution …which says … people in Palestine have the right to resist their oppression by using all means including armed resistance.”
The quote caused Hillary Clinton to return a $50,000 donation from one of Saeed’s organizations during her Senate race in 2000. She said his speech was “offensive and outrageous.”
In the Greenwald report, Saeed says that the NSA may have been concerned by his friendship with Sami al-Arian, a senior leader of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood network who was convicted of being a Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader.
In 1995, federal authorities raided the home of Al-Arian and found a plan they believed he authored. It instructed his colleagues “to infiltrate the sensitive intelligence agencies or the embassies in order to collect information and building close relationships with the people in charge of these establishments.”
Al-Arian’s orders were to “collect information from those relatives and friends who work in sensitive positions in government.”
Al-Arian and another secret Muslim Brotherhood partner, Abdurrahman Alamoudi, had astounding success in this endeavor, especially in regards to the Bush Administration with help from anti-tax activist Grover Norquist. Alamoudi was convicted on terrorism charges in 2004.
Saeed’s American Muslim Political Coordination Council Political Action Committee endorsed then-Governor Bush’s presidential campaign in 2000. Ironically, Greenwald reports that Saeed was among a group of Muslim activists due to meet with President Bush on September 11, 2001, but the terrorist attacks caused its cancellation.
Another person involved in the Islamist network friendly with Norquist and the Bush Administration was Faisal Gil, another activist monitored by the NSA.
Faisal Gill, Former Homeland Security Official
Faisal Gill’s emails were monitored by the FBI from April 2006 until February 2008 when the surveillance was terminated.
Gill was a spokesman for the American Muslim Council, the organization led by Alamoudi before he was arrested on terrorism-related charges. Gil claims he only met Alamoudi few times despite his prominent position.
In 2001, Gill became the director of governmental affairs for the Islamic Free Market Institute. This organization was founded by Norquist and Alamoudi’s close aide. As we chronicled here, the Institute had strong links to Islamist groups at this time.
After the 9/11 attacks, Gill joined the White House Office of Homeland Security, listing Norquist as a reference. He then became the policy director for the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence division. He was suspended after it was reported that the FBI discovered that he did not disclose his links to Alamoudi’s organization in his paperwork. Gill was then cleared.
In 2007, Gill ran for the Virginia House of Delegates as a Republican candidate and lost. His campaign received $3,000 from three companies belonging to the Safa Group, a Muslim Brotherhood-linked group in Virginia that was raided as part of a terrorism investigation after 9/11. The Safa Group also financed the Islamic Free Market Institute.
Greenwald reports that Gill travelled to Sudan in 2007 as part of work with his law firm that he formed with Asim Ghafour, another target of surveillance. The pair met with officials from the Sudanese government, which is designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism by the U.S. State Department.
The meetings were to discuss representing Sudan in a lawsuit by victims of Al-Qaeda terrorism. The report says “Ghafoor was ultimately retained, and Gill performed the contract work on one case.”
To be fair, former government employees often do business with foreign governments. However, Sudan is a State Sponsor of Terrorism. This relationship alone may not warrant surveillance, but it certainly gives credence to the Intelligence Community’s claim that it had some kind of undisclosed justification for the monitoring.
Asim Ghafoor, lawyer and former congressional staffer
Asim Ghafoor’s emails were monitored by the FBI from March 2005 until at least March 2008 when the documents show the surveillance needed renewing.
Greenwald reports that Ghafoor worked as a legislative assistant for Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX), who was in office from 2007 to 2011. Ghafoor left his position not long after the 9/11 attacks to pursue work in the private sector.
In 2003, the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a charity based in Saudi Arabia that had its assets frozen by the U.S. government because of its links to Al-Qaeda, hired him. As the report explains, this led to him being hired by other suspicious characters like Osama Bin Laden’s brother-in-law.
As previously mentioned, Ghafoor also did business with the government of Sudan starting in 2007 with Faisal Gill.
In his interview with Greenwald, Ghafoor claimed he was monitored just because he has a Muslim name, Indian parents, and went to Saudi Arabia to fulfil his religious obligation of pilgrimage.
Hooshang Amirahmadi’s emails were monitored by the FBI from August 2007 until at least May 2008 when the documents show the surveillance needed renewing.
As Greenwald reports, Amirahamdi is the president of the American Iranian Council. He has been a professor at Rutgers University since 1983 and used to be the director of the school’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies.
He has a reputation as a non-religious moderate. He twice tried to run for president of Iran but the regime rejected his candidacy. He alternatively refers to himself as a “secular Muslim” or an atheist. However, the Iranian government (a designated State Sponsor of Terrorism) apparently found him useful.
The Alavi Foundation, an Iranian government front linked to its nuclear program and propaganda campaign in the U.S., donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Rutgers University.
Greenwald acknowledges that the Alavi Foundation contributed to Amirahamdi’s operations at the school and that Amirahmadi said in 2007 that allegations that Iran sponsors terrorism are a “myth.” He also stated, “Hezbollah and Hamas are not terrorist organizations, they are defending their country and their nations.”
Based on these backgrounds, it isn’t hard to imagine that the NSA and FBI have strong classified evidence to justify its monitoring of these five activists. CAIR, ISNA and their coalition are using dramatic rhetoric to persuade audiences into assuming the NSA is guilty and their activist allies are innocent.
The coalition’s letter to President Obama says federal, state and local agencies are “targeting entire communities—particularly American Muslims—for secret surveillance based on their race, religion, ethnicity or national origin.”
CAIR says “The Obama administration continues to allow some government agencies to treat Americans as objects of suspicion.”
The group also stated, “This is an outrageous continuation of civil rights-era surveillance of minority community leadership elements who see threats in all patriotic dissent.”
ISNA President Magid went so far as to say that the NSA’s monitoring lacked probable cause, even though the NSA’s evidence is secret. He claimed, “This news report only confirms our worst suspicions: American Muslims have been subjected to profiling and surveillance by the NSA neither without probable cause nor in the act of committing any crime.”
The Muslim Public Affairs Council stated, “All of the surveillance victims appear to have been targeted because of their Muslim backgrounds and their activities defending Muslims.”
Their hysteria is not in harmony with the facts and numbers. We’re talking about five Muslim-American activists, each with backgrounds pf concern, over a six-year period. Even if you consider the total of 202 American email addresses that were monitored, the number is miniscule compared to a total of 2.75 million Muslim-Americans.
The Islamist propaganda machine is distorting the justified surveillance of five Muslim-American personalities who have been supportive of terrorist groups into a picture of persecution of the entire Muslim-American community.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.