- Glenn GreenwaldPulitzer Prize-winning journalist. His newest story for The Intercept at First Look Media is “Meet the Muslim-American Leaders the FBI and NSA Have Been Spying On.” His new book is No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State.
- Faisal Gillattorney and former senior policy director with the Department of Homeland Security. He was allegedly targeted by the National Security Agency.
- Asim Ghafoorprominent civil rights attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases. He has also worked extensively on Capitol Hill as a legislative assistant and as a lobbyist for various nonprofit and corporate clients.
A new report by The Intercept has identified five prominent Muslim Americans who were spied on by the National Security Agency. It cites an NSA spreadsheet leaked by Edward Snowden that shows nearly 7,500 email addresses monitored between 2002 and 2008, including addresses that appear to belong to foreigners the government suspects of ties to al-Qaeda, along with Americans accused of terrorist activity. But it also lists the email addresses of a former Republican operative and one-time political candidate, a professor at Rutgers University, and the head of the largest Muslim civil rights group in the country. We speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story for The Intercept based on documents leaked by Snowden. “The only thing they really had in common is that they are all politically active American Muslims,” Greenwald says. “And that seems to be enough in the intelligence community to render these people suspicious.” We are also joined by two people Greenwald names in the article: Asim Ghafoor, a prominent civil rights attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases; and Faisal Gill, an attorney and former senior policy director with the Department of Homeland Security. When asked what needs to be done in response to the revelations, Gill argues Congress should step in and exercise its authority over how the FISA courts approve surveillance. “In our cases, I don’t think there is probable cause … so the entire system needs to be examined,” Gill says. “What happens is you paint somebody with a broad brush, and they’re tainted for life. … Nobody wants a lawyer that the government suspects of being involved in these type of activities.”
AMY GOODMAN: “Shock” by Chilean hip-hop artist Ana Tijoux. She’s performing in Democracy Now!'s studios this week. We'll be posting our full interview with her, including more songs, at democracynow.org. She performs Friday night at Club Europa in Brooklyn, New York. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, a new report by the news website The Intercept has identified five prominent Muslim Americans who were spied on by the National Security Agency. An NSA spreadsheet leaked by Edward Snowden shows nearly 7,500 email addresses monitored between 2002 and 2008. Included in the spreadsheet are addresses that appear to belong to foreigners the government suspects of ties to al-Qaeda, along with Americans accused of terrorist activity, including Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, who were both killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011.
But the list also includes the email addresses of a former Republican operative and one-time political candidate; a professor at Rutgers University; and the head of the largest Muslim civil rights group in the country. What these figures all have in common is that they are Muslim Americans. They appear to have been targeted for their Muslim identities and ties to various Muslim causes or individual cases involving Muslims.
AMY GOODMAN: In total, The Intercept identified five leading Muslim-American activists, attorneys, academics whose email addresses were targeted for monitoring. None have ever been charged with a crime. In a video for The Intercept, Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, the country’s largest Muslim civil rights group, responded to the spying on him.
NIHAD AWAD: I was not aware that I was under surveillance, except recently. And I’m outraged that as an American citizen, my government, after decades of civil rights struggle, still the government spies on political activists and civil rights activists and leaders. It is outrageous, and I’m really angry that despite all the work that we have been doing in our communities to serve the nation, to serve our communities, we are treated with suspicion.
Our doors have been open for over 20 years. The government, obviously, from the scrutiny level that we have seen so far, they know everything. And they know perfectly well that we are a transparent, above-the-board American true success story. And they should celebrate our achievements as a civil rights organization that’s willing to stand up when many people are silent and not willing.
I believe that despite the pain and suffering I’m going through when I feel I’m being surveilled in my communications, wherever I go—here, abroad—all the dealings I deal with is being scrutinized by the government. I don’t feel free. I don’t feel the freedom that other people enjoy in this country. I have been—I feel that I’m being targeted because of my religious identity and my First Amendment activities, that are protected under the Constitution, and solely because I am vocal and I have been doing what every civil rights leader had to do for their communities and for their country. I do not compare myself to Martin Luther King, but he was surveilled. He was spied on. President Obama himself recognized this, and he—I paraphrase—he said, had it not been to the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, he would not be where he is now, the president. And yet, the government spied on Martin Luther King. I’m not like Martin Luther King. We are honored to continue the legacy of defending the civil rights of people. And I believe the government has not changed. When it comes to civil rights organizations, activists and leaders, I’m not surprised that, unfortunately, we have a long way to go.
If we do not speak up against the abuses of the NSA surveillance, if we do not stop the abuse of targeting people because of their religious identity and their First Amendment activities, if we do not stop this, if we do not speak against it, if we do not ask questions, it’s just a matter of time to come to you, as it has come to us.
It is true, and no one can deny, that American Muslims have been viewed with suspicion and have been treated as suspect. Some American Muslims have been put on the no-fly list for no obvious reason. And we stood for these people. Some people are being questioned about their faith—how many times do they pray, which imam do they follow, if they get up to the morning prayer, which mosque they frequent, how often do they read the Qur’an. These questions are asked sometimes to American Muslims at the borders. And we protest these policies. And apparently we are paying the price for speaking up against these, what I believe are, unconstitutional and un-American policies.
AMY GOODMAN: Nihad Awad is the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, the U.S.’s largest Muslim civil rights organization. He has been a guest on Democracy Now!
For more, we are joined by Glenn Greenwald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who broke the story. His newest story for The Intercept at First Look Media is “Meet the Muslim-American Leaders the FBI and NSA Have Been Spying On.” His new book is No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State. In a minute, we’ll speak with two of the Muslim Americans featured in his story.
Glenn, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about how you discovered this and the significance of spying on Muslim-American leaders.
GLENN GREENWALD: There were several documents in the Snowden archive [inaudible]—
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn, we’re going to have to interrupt. We can hardly hear you, so we’re going to try to clean up that line. And we’re going to go to our guests right now in Washington as we do that: Faisal Gill, an attorney and former senior policy director with the Department of Homeland Security, and Asim Ghafoor, the civil rights attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases, previously sued the government for warrantless wiretapping—among the five prominent Muslim Americans who had their email addresses monitored by the NSA.
Faisal Gill, let’s turn to you first. You ran for the House to be a representative in the Legislature in Virginia. You’re a Republican lawyer. You worked for the Department of Homeland Security, had some of the highest clearance. Can you explain when you found out or even suspected you were being targeted by the NSA?
FAISAL GILL: I did not find out that I was suspected by the NSA until I spoke to Glenn. Glenn called me. I went to New York, I met with Glenn, and that’s the first time that I found out that I was targeted by the NSA. Before that, it wasn’t even a thought in my mind that I could be suspected of any sort of wrongdoing or would be surveilled or would be monitored at all.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, well, of course, the government has often said that this surveillance is limited and that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about. What’s your response to that?
FAISAL GILL: Well, if that’s the criteria that we’re going to use, then we just need to throw out the entire Fourth Amendment. Our entire justice system is premised on the fact that not whether somebody has anything to hide or not, but whether law enforcement has a probable cause. I mean, under regular criminal law, what you have is, if the police go in without a warrant or without an effective warrant, they go in and they even find evidence of crimes, those evidence are thrown out, even if they find evidence of a crime, because under our Constitution, the right to privacy exists. Under our Constitution, the question, again, is not whether you have something to hide or not, but whether law enforcement has a reasonable expectation or reasonable suspicion to believe that you’ve committed a crime. So I think that saying that is just ridiculous.
AMY GOODMAN: Faisal Gill, talk about your work experience. I mean, this monitoring started under the Bush administration. You were working for George W. Bush.
FAISAL GILL: Yeah, I mean, I was working for President Bush, worked in the Department of Homeland Security. I was not involved in monitoring, so I, you know, was never involved in any sort of FISA warrants or anything of that sort, so I would not know that. I understand—after 9/11, I understand that there is a need for surveillance, and the program needs to expand. And I also understand that there will be times where you might have a reasonable suspicion for someone that you might have to—that you suspect maybe committed a crime or maybe is involved in terrorist activities, that after you monitor them, you find out that, OK, no, they’re not involved in any of those activities. But there still has to be some start. There still has to be some suspicion. There still has to be some activity that would lead someone to believe that, OK, this person is involved. There is nothing in my background that would lead anybody to believe that. I’ve never had any connection with any terrorist groups, never been involved. I’ve passed polygraphs stating such. So, that’s what’s more troubling to me is that there is no reasonable suspicion or probable cause to suspect me of any of these activities.
AMY GOODMAN: We have Glenn Greenwald back with us, on the line with us from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. So, Glenn, start again by talking about how you found out this information.
GLENN GREENWALD: There were many documents in the Snowden archive which pertain to NSA and FBI targeting of Americans on U.S. soil, one of the most interesting of which was this spreadsheet called ”FISA recap” from 2008 that listed roughly 7,000 emails, at least several hundred of which were American citizens. And so we began the very arduous task of trying to determine the identity of the people who were using those email addresses. In most of the cases, it was actually quite difficult, if not impossible. But in some of the cases, we were able to find who the people were who were using these email addresses.
And we had maybe 20 or so Americans that we thought we should report on, and we narrowed it down to five, based on a variety of factors, including who was willing to be identified publicly as a surveillance target. A lot of people were very afraid of the stigma that it would have for them on their careers or their reputation forever and didn’t want to be named. And so, that was one big factor. And another one was making sure that we were reporting on people who clearly led very law-abiding, exemplary lives, as the five people here did.
And once we were able to determine their identities, and they were willing to go on the record, we began the process of reporting about how they were spied on and what possible rationale the government might have had. And what we found was that the only thing they really had in common is that they’re all politically active American Muslims who, in some form or another, have expressed criticism of the U.S. government or just been politically active in their communities and in the nation. And that seems to be sufficient within the intelligence community to render these people suspicious.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Glenn, since the file was labeled ”FISA recap,” was there any indication that these were actually all surveillance done pursuant to FISA warrants?
GLENN GREENWALD: The NSA and the FBI use the word ”FISA” in a very broad way, pretty much to mean any kind of authority they have to surveil. It doesn’t mean at all getting a specific warrant from the FISA court. During the three months that we were doing the reporting, the NSA was urging us not to publish any of their targets and were telling us that the reason—one reason was because they do everything under the aegis of the FISA court. So we had assumed, based on what the NSA said, that all of this surveillance was done pursuant to individual FISA warrants. But as we were about to publish last week, literally hours before we were going to publish, Justice Department sources began telling other media outlets that in fact they didn’t have FISA warrants for at least one of the people we were naming—Nihad Awad, the executive director of CAIR—and possibly others, that they may have surveilled them pursuant to other theories that allowed them to surveil Americans without individual FISA warrants. So we don’t actually know if they got specific FISA warrants or general FISA warrants for all or any of these individuals. That’s something that I think the Obama administration ought to answer.
AMY GOODMAN: The NSA and FBI both declined our request to join us on today’s program, but the NSA sent a joint statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice, which reads, quote: “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. … 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,” the government said. Your response, Glenn Greenwald?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, first of all, I find it fascinating what they basically conceded there. They’re not denying that they take into account people’s political activism and their political views when deciding who should be surveilled. All they’re saying is, “We don’t base our decisions solely on those criteria.” But I think it’s very clear, based on that statement and the reporting that we did that’s in the article, that people’s political opinions and what they express and the nature and extent of their political activism is a significant factor in deciding who their surveillance targets are, which is incredibly disturbing. These are American citizens who, under the Constitution, are guaranteed the right to engage in this political expression and political activism, and it’s clearly being used as a grounds for surveillance.
The second issue I would add is that although we don’t know that they’ve been targeted pursuant to a FISA court warrant, because prior to the 2008 law the government could actually target Americans, for example, if they were on foreign soil, just by getting the attorney general to OK it—they didn’t need to go to the FISA court. Even if they got FISA court approval, everybody knows the FISA court is notoriously a rubber-stamping tribunal. They meet in complete secrecy. Only the government can attend. In the 30-year history of the FISA court, they have approved something like 35,000 government requests and rejected a grand total of 12 of those requests. We had a source who said, “You just show up at the FISA court judge’s house at 2:00 in the morning, and if he knows you and likes you, he’ll sign whatever warrant you put in front of him.” And so, I think everybody now knows that the fact that something was done with FISA court approval means absolutely nothing, given what a rubber-stamping and malleable tribunal that is.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Glenn, I want to ask you about the document you highlight in your report that instructs intelligence personnel how to format internal memos to justify FISA surveillance. In the place where the target’s real name would go, the memo offers the fake name “Mohammed Raghead” as a placeholder. The NSA issued a statement in response, saying it, quote, “has not and would not approve official training documents that include insulting or inflammatory language. Any use of racial or ethnic stereotypes, slurs or other similar language by employees is both unacceptable and inconsistent with NSA policy and core values.” Your response?
GLENN GREENWALD: This is a critical point. I think this is the critical context to understand the reporting. That document that we found, where they use this slur, “Mohammed Raghead,” as a sample for who they would get a FISA warrant against, is by no means the only evidence of rampant bigotry and anti-Islamic prejudice within the intelligence community. There was an award-winning story by Wired magazine from Spencer Ackerman in 2011 that found that huge numbers of training materials in the FBI instructed the FBI to view even moderate, law-abiding Muslims as serious national security threats. And he said they apologized, and they were going to revamp the program.
You know, if you look at what these surveillance targets have in common, one of the things they have in common is that they became the obsessive focus of some of the furthest right-wing, neoconservative, anti-Muslim fringes, like people like Frank Gaffney and that crowd, Pam Geller. They became obsessed, for example, with Faisal Gill when he was running for office in Virginia. They have long been obsessed with CAIR. And what I think that you see from all of this evidence is that these radicals, these anti-Muslim radicals in the United States, have enough of a foothold within the intelligence community to be able to use these vast surveillance weapons, that we’ve spent the last year documenting, to further their warped and bigotry-driven political agenda.
And just to go back to that statement that you asked me about, Juan, from the DNI, I mean, it’s really reprehensible what they’re doing. On the one hand, they’re saying, “We won’t in any way comment on why these people were surveilled,” on the other hand, “Now we’re going to smear them with innuendo by saying we would only surveil people if they’re agents of a terrorist organization or a foreign power and have done something that constitutes espionage or terrorism.” So, they’re smearing them while at the same time preventing them from actually addressing what it is that they supposedly did that merited this surveillance. And I think the only evidence we have publicly, based on all of the evidence that you just asked me about, all these documents, the history of the FBI and the NSA, is that they regard American Muslims, American citizens who are Muslims, who exercise their political rights, as being inherently suspicious and worthy of surveillance. It is exactly the same kind of surveillance abuses from the ’60s and ’70s, when the activists who were considered threatening of that time, like civil rights leaders or antiwar activists or antigovernment advocates on the left and the right, were similarly regarded as threatening if they exercised their political rights, and were also subjected to surveillance.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to bring in Asim Ghafoor on this issue, the civil rights attorney. You actually learned that you were being surveilled even before the Glenn Greenwald articles came out years ago. Could you talk about that?
ASIM GHAFOOR: Yes, sir. In 2004, a charity in Oregon that was under investigation by the U.S. Treasury Department—a group of lawyers were given a stack of documents, four pages of which I still cannot talk about today, because of warnings from the government that they would prosecute me if I did. But it has been publicly reported that those four pages were a summary of conversations of some overseas individuals with myself, my fellow lawyers and other staff here in the U.S., about a legal strategy on how to get delisted from Treasury designation. So, it wasn’t exactly terrorism. It was a group of people who were falsely accused of terrorism who were trying to hire a lawyer, use the civil justice system, suing the Treasury Department, suing the Office of Foreign Assets Control and other organizations in the U.S., government agencies in the U.S. That investigation ended up freezing the assets of the U.S. charity, jailing the leader for two years—and your show has covered that in the past—and freezing the assets of several individuals overseas. This was evidence of the government not only conducting warrantless surveillance, but then using that information to cause a very unjustified legal distress.
Ironically, in that case, we sued, we were found to have standing, and the case went on from 2006 until 2012, until the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed it on a technicality, saying that under the Section 1810 that we did of the original FISA, which was amended, of course, in 2008, we did not—while we had standing, while we were able to prove we were surveilled without a warrant, the government had immunity on use of that information, so we could not collect damages. It was a technicality, which Congress has to fix. And unfortunately, that’s one thing which will hurt us in trying to pursue any legal remedies on this new set of wiretapping, although, as a lawyer, as my fellow counsel from Brazil and here next to me in the studio know, that there’s always an opportunity to find another way to bring a lawsuit. But—
AMY GOODMAN: Asim—
ASIM GHAFOOR: Yes, ma’am?
AMY GOODMAN: —Ghafoor and Faisal Gill, as well as Glenn Greenwald, we’re going to break. When we come back, I mean, the significance of your case, among other things, Asim, is that you’re talking about, whatever the case was, you were being surveilled, monitored, your email was being read, as you represented clients. And I want to ask about this issue of client-attorney privilege, among many other things. We are talking to the Muslim-American leaders the FBI and NSA has been spying on. Glenn Greenwald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, exposed this in The Intercept. We’ll be back with them in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We’re joined now by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald. He’s just broken the story in The Intercept called “Meet the Muslim-American Leaders the FBI and NSA Have Been Spying On.” We’re also joined by two of the subjects of that piece. Faisal Gill worked in the George W. Bush administration from late 2001 until 2005. He served as an intelligence policy adviser in the Department of Homeland Security, where he was authorized to access sensitive, compartmented information, a classification level reserved for the nation’s most closely guarded secrets.
AMY GOODMAN: The NSA began monitoring Gill’s email account in 2006 after he left DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, and co-founded a law firm with our other guest, Asim Ghafoor, a prominent civil rights attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases. He has also worked extensively on Capitol Hill as a legislative assistant and lobbyist. During the period that he was being monitored by the NSA, he was already suing the government after an accidental leak revealed warrantless eavesdropping on his phone calls with his clients. Ghafoor was awarded more than $20,000 in damages, but the judgment was later reversed.
Asim Ghafoor, your feelings when you learned what was taking place and this call that you got from The Intercept about these documents?
ASIM GHAFOOR: Again, it was unbelievable. In 2004, it was unbelievable, and in 2014, 10 years later, even more unbelievable. When the editor called me and told me, very cryptically, “We have an email address. Can you confirm your identity? Can you mail me an email from there?” I didn’t know who that was. Was he somebody also from the government? You know, I was worried for about 10 seconds before I googled it and realized this editor was the real thing. I emailed him, and then I met two of Mr. Greenwald’s colleagues, the two journalists who interviewed me. And it just became like Alice in Wonderland all over again.
This is something where, as a lawyer, as a civil rights lawyer who advises people who come to me for compliance issues when they’re somewhat in trouble with the government, when they’re in big trouble with the government, I really have to be careful about how I communicate with them. And I’m happy to maintain a reasonable expectation of privacy. Our legal ethics rules do tell us you have to be very discreet with what you say on a phone, email. But to think that the government was listening in on it was just really a shock to me. And I think it’s a disservice, really, to all lawyers, whether we’re a Muslim-American lawyer like me, who worked on Capitol Hill, who has many friends in the government, in the current White House, as well. I had some friends in the previous White House, even though I’m a lifelong Democrat. It was just really a shock.
And to think that a government lawyer or government agent, many of whom—most of whom who, you know, are very professional, wake up every day, do their job to secure America, to push the envelope and push the limit, to go to the supervisors, to go to a judge and say, “We need to listen to this guy,” again, it just makes no sense. And if it was because I was winning a case against them in 2005, and they decided, “You know what? We’re going to listen in on this guy,” again—I’ve said this before, I said this to the journalists at The Intercept, and I’ll say it again—if a lawyer were to go in court, come up with some evidence that they got from reading my emails to my clients or maybe to co-counsel, to a paralegal, to anyone that I deal with on a legal basis, on a day-to-day basis representing my clients in civil rights cases, a judge would laugh them out of court. So, what made a lawyer or an agent or somebody in the government think that they could even use this information? To me, that’s just as baffling as the fact that this whole regime has been implemented.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Glenn Greenwald, your report covers the period from 2002 to 2008. Is there any indication that the people targeted during that period, that that stopped after 2008 at all, or you just didn’t have further documentation of what happened after that?
GLENN GREENWALD: Right, the document that we have is from 2008. We have one from 2007, as well. It seems like the format of the document changed once the law changed in 2008. There’s zero reason to think that this stopped. I mean, some of the surveillance that’s talked about on this document indicates termination dates, and others of it say “sustained,” meaning it’s ongoing. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to believe or to claim, or anything like that, that any of this stopped in 2008. And as The Washington Post noted in the story they did a week ago, about 90 percent of the collections being about nontargets, they said—and they’re right—that the Obama administration dramatically expanded the amount of surveillance that takes place both internationally and domestically. So we don’t have the proof that it continued beyond that, but the documents do say “sustained” for some of the surveillance.
Let me just quickly add one thing about Asim Ghafoor’s case, which is, when the 2004 case was first—first surfaced, what we knew was that his calls to his clients had been monitored. I don’t think we knew that he was the target. It could have been that his clients were the target, and they listened in anyway, knowing that it was an attorney-client communication. In this case, it was not his clients’ email addresses, but his email addresses that were on the NSA and FBI’s list. And I think that has sort of escalated the nature of the revelation.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Glenn, you postponed the release of this piece for over a week. Why?
GLENN GREENWALD: We had been, as I said earlier, led to believe for several months by the NSA that all of this spying was done pursuant to FISA warrants. And so, when we wrote our story, although we didn’t say that they had FISA warrants, because we didn’t know that, we wrote the story on the premise that it was done under the aegis of the FISA court, because that’s what we were led to believe. Literally hours before we were going to hit the publish button, one of the media partners with whom we were working talked to fairly high-level sources at the Justice Department and the FBI, who told them that in fact they didn’t have an individual FISA warrant against Nihad Awad and maybe one or two of the other targets. And so, we didn’t want to publish something, the accuracy of which we were uncertain, and so we said, “Let’s hold the story and investigate this. I need to resolve it definitively or say in the story that now there’s uncertainty surrounding this issue.” And so we just took a week to make sure we had the story 100 percent right.
AMY GOODMAN: And what, ultimately, did you conclude?
GLENN GREENWALD: We went back to the NSA, and we said to them, “You know, for months you’ve been saying this has been under the aegis of the FISA court, and now you have Justice Department—anonymous people in the Justice Department supposedly saying that you don’t have it.” And they said, “Well, we can’t tell you what they said. We won’t comment specifically on any of these cases.” And based on all the information we were able to get, it seems likely that, at least prior to the 2008 law, they had other theories internally about how they could spy on Americans without FISA warrants. So we don’t actually know whether or not they actually did have FISA warrants against all of these individuals. And I really think the Obama administration needs to answer that question.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Faisal Gill, I’d like to ask you, given these revelations and given the constant reporting of the unbridled surveillance of our government on American citizens, what do you think needs to be done? And what would you hope that Congress would do at this stage?
FAISAL GILL: Well, I think Congress needs to step up and exercise oversight authority over the intelligence community. The biggest thing that came out of this is, if the Department of Justice and NSA statements are correct, then the FISA process and what constitutes probable cause needs to be seriously examined, because, again, in our cases, I don’t think there is probable cause, which means reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime has been committed. And that’s absolutely ridiculous to think that in this case there was probable cause, or in my case or Asim’s case or Nihad’s case there’s probable cause. So, the entire system needs to be examined.
And as Glenn mentioned, the FISA court is a rubber stamp. You cannot have that in cases like this, because what happens is you paint somebody with a broad brush, and they’re tainted for life, as I know from personal experience when it happened to me before, and now, as well. This is going to taint you. Nobody wants a lawyer that the government suspect is involved in these type of activities. And then what you get is you get a statement from the government that basically backs up the fact that they believed you were involved in those kind of activities, which is exactly what we got from the Justice Department and NSA.
So Congress really needs to examine the FISA court. They need to put in some safeguards in place. And they need to make sure that it is not a rubber stamp, because it does have real-life implications for the people that are targets. I mean, I’ve said this before. You go into any county in the United States and you look at the success rate for getting a search warrant for a crime such as breaking and entering or any other crime, even a petty crime, you’re not going to find a 99.9 percent success rate for those search warrants. Judges question you more on that. So if judges are questioning you more on that, I think the FISA court should be held to a little bit of a higher standard. And we want to make sure that anybody that we’re targeting and we’re surveilling without their knowledge, listening to their emails, they’re people that we really do suspect are involved and engaged in these type of activities, and the reason we believe that is because we have some credible evidence, and we just need to listen to them to basically either get more evidence that we can either use in court or to prosecute them or to stop them from whatever they’re trying to do.
AMY GOODMAN: Asim Ghafoor—
FAISAL GILL: So—
AMY GOODMAN: I want to just interrupt, because we have a few seconds. In both your cases, are you planning to sue the government now for surveillance?
ASIM GHAFOOR: If I could answer that first, I have no plans to sue the government right now. I believe the remedy is with Congress, with oversight, and the administration doing the right thing with the budget. But I’ll keep my options open. We have a few years, once we’ve discovered this, before our statute of limitations runs out. So, it’s something I’ll definitely look into.
AMY GOODMAN: Faisal Gill?
FAISAL GILL: Not at this time. I would like Congress to step up and exercise oversight authority.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all very much for being with us, Faisal Gill, as well, attorney and former senior policy director at the Department of Homeland Security, allegedly targeted by the NSA. And thanks so much to Asim Ghafoor, prominent civil rights attorney. Glenn Greenwald, again, thanks for being with us, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. His latest story is at The Intercept. We’ll link to it: “Meet the Muslim-American Leaders the FBI and NSA Have Been Spying On.”