The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald has been teasing a story connecting NSA surveillance to specific Americans, and on Wednesday morning that story was pushed out in the world. According to a story based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the U.S. was spying on five Americans — all Muslims — for reasons that remain classified. According to The Intercept, it's not clear whether the government had legal permission to monitor those five Americans between the years 2002 and 2008. The individuals were identified by the reporters through their email addresses.
According to Greenwald's report, those five Americans are: Faisal Gill, a Republican lawyer and political operative and one-time candidate for public office who previously worked as a Senior Policy Advisor at the Department of Homeland Security; Asim Ghafoor, an attorney who has defended terrorism suspects; Hooshang Amirahmadi, a professor of international relations at Rutgers University; Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University; and Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
You can read Greenwald's full report for yourself here, but it's important to note that what is arguably the most critical detail contained in this narrative remains a mystery: how, and why, the U.S. government justified spying on these Americans. That information, if it exists on paper, remains classified. In other words, what do these five cases say about how high a bar the U.S. government sets on when it may target a U.S. citizen? We don't know, conclusively. Nor do we know from the report how, or if, the U.S. was granted legal permission to spy on these five Americans. Intelligence agencies are legally barred from surveilling American citizens without warrants, but legal maneuvering to obtain such permission is highly secretive. To the former question, Greenwald's piece seems to make an educated guess, using evidence that would be familiar to those following the U.S.'s post-9/11 national security policy towards American Muslim leaders.