The NSA Isn't Spying on Enough People

That mysterious wait is over! At zero dark one last night, Glenn Greenwald's media venture The // Intercept posted the long-promised results of their ongoing investigation into which specific U.S. civilians were targeted by the NSA's most invasive surveillance programs.

All told, the story profiles five NSA-targeted Muslim-Americans — one a longtime GOP operative, two academics, a lawyer who has previously defended clients in terrorism-related cases, and the executive director of America's largest Muslim civil rights group:

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. Some have even climbed the ranks of the U.S. national security and foreign policy establishments.

The general impression left by the Intercept is that these surveillance programs have been perversely—almost exclusively—warped by statist overreach, and the decidedly Islamophobic racism of people like former FBI counter-terrorism official John Guandolo, who comes across like a paranoid racist fruit basket here. (And, seriously, fuck that guy. Like: Wow. You will be disgusted and amazed by the ignorant shit he is quoted as saying/believing in this piece.)

To hear Guandolo tell it, Faisal Gill, the former homeland security official under Bush, was "a major player in the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States." Asim Ghafoor, Gill's fellow attorney, is "a jihadi" who was "directly linked to Al Qaeda guys" simply because of his representation of the Al Haramain Foundation. "He had knowledge of who they were and what they were doing," Guandolo says. (Such logic would subject every lawyer representing defendants accused of terrorism to government surveillance.) To Guandolo, Agha Saeed was yet another secret operative for the Muslim Brotherhood. "He's a pretty senior guy with them," Guandolo says, "affiliated with several groups." ("That's a big lie," Saeed says, "and given my life history, absurd" because he has "always been a leftist.")

The case of Asim Ghafoor (the lawyer) has received a reasonable amount of press coverage over time from the Washington Post, Wired, the Associated Press and others—much of it dutifully logged at places like History Commons where (let's say certain kinds of) people like to go to collaboratively try and figure out what the hell is going on, post-9/11.

As the Intercept piece makes clear, one reason why Ghafoor was targeted was his representation of a now-defunct Saudi Arabian charity, based in Oregon, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, "at a time when it was under so many terrorism investigations." (In 2011, the 9th Circuit U.S Court of Appeals ruled that the Treasury Department was correct in finding Al Haramain connected to terrorism.)

Ghafoor has no doubts that he was placed under government surveillance because of his name, his religion, and his legal work. When he would go to court to represent Saudi interests, he points out, "there were over 40 lawyers from every blue-chip law firm in D.C. representing the Saudi government, Saudi princes—I'm not the only lawyer representing a foreign government.

"There were former Bush Administration officials representing Saudi entities, and I doubt their emails were tapped," he continues. "And if they were, at some point some official would've said, 'Why are we tapping [former Bush Justice Department official] Viet Dinh?' I'd be shocked if they were tapping Viet Dinh. But Asim Ghafoor—'Oh, well he's Muslim.'"

Just thinking out loud, but maybe part of the problem in this instance is that they really should have tapped Viet Dinh? Frankly, fuck it: they should have tapped all of those former Bush Administration officials and their Saudi clients.

Former Senator Bob Graham, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee during its difficult and incomplete inquiry into the 9/11 attacks, has devoted the better part of his retirement to criticizing the government for continuing to classify 28 pages of their report pertaining to Saudi involvement in the attacks. Teasing out the knowable details of this involvement, and how it reflects on the Bush family's longstanding special relationship with the Saudi royal family, was something of the driving force in Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan's Pulitzer Finalist history of 9/11, The Eleventh Day. It is a genuine unsolved mystery.

So—in addition to the statist overreach and the Islamophobia—isn't it perhaps, arguably, equally true that some honest men and women in law enforcement and the intelligence agencies have also had their hands tied when it comes to which actors in these terrorist networks they're allowed to target? Perhaps these restrictions are due to some pretty basic facts about our political culture, like namely that wealth, and power, and privilege are not very evenly distributed?

It is a difficult pair of opinions to hold, but perhaps the NSA's massive, dubiously legal surveillance program is at once way too invasive into the lives of some people, and simultaneously not invasive enough into the lives of others.

I'm specifically talking about former President George W. Bush and the former director general of Saudi intelligence, Prince Bandar. The NSA should be spying on them, their acquaintances, and their families, day and night, until we get to the bottom of this.

[photo of NSA domestic target Asim Ghafoor with President George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton via The Intercept, courtesy of Ghafoor]