The statement issued July 9 by the Justice Department and Director of National Intelligence in response to Glenn Greenwald's recent story in The Intercept about NSA and FBI spying is disingenuous. It is a direct effort to create confusion about the nature of government surveillance on people engaged in protected First Amendment activity. Greenwald's story reported on targeted surveillance against prominent American leaders who are Muslim or Arab American.
In response, the Director of National Intelligence and the Justice Department released a statement calling it "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." This statement is carefully parsed language designed to give the impression that the government is not carrying out surveillance and spying on people because of their background, religion or engagement in political or free speech activities.
"In fact, the U.S. government, including its intelligence agencies, are engaged in active surveillance and spying on people in the United States purely based on their protected First Amendment activities," stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. "Documents obtained by the PCJF show that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies used their vast anti-terrorism and anti-crime authority, and funds, to conduct a sprawling, nationwide and often hour-by-hour surveillance effort that targeted even the smallest activity of those engaged in the exercise of their First Amendment rights."
The latest of Edward Snowden's revelations show that the NSA and FBI intercepted without warrants the communications of Muslim and Arab American civil rights activists. The list of those targeted confirms the racist character of these surveillance programs. Basic constitutional protections, which are supposed to apply to all citizens, were thrown out the window when it came to these identified Muslim and Arab American lawyers and leaders, who were tracked for no reason other than their background and protected First Amendment activities.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald highlighted one FBI training memo in which the mock target is identified as "Mohamed Raghead."
Verheyden-Hilliard commented: "While J. Edgar Hoover is long gone, the racist and unconstitutional police methods for which he become infamous are clearly very much alive in the FBI."
Carl Messineo, PCJF Legal Director, said, "This continues the historical pattern of targeting particular groups, on account of their religious and political beliefs, as part of mass surveillance programs that target the whole population. There has been documented systematic targeting of Muslim Americans in their places of worship, community and civil rights organizations, and in their private and personal communications."
The PCJF joins with hundreds of other organizations in condemning these racist and unconstitutional programs, carried out under both the Bush and Obama administrations. Thanks to Snowden's revelations and other efforts, the cloak has been removed from surveillance programs that are violating the First and Fourth Amendments. The time is now for action — a mass movement to stop the NSA, FBI and other agencies, and bring these unconstitutional programs to an end.