Ellison: NSA’s Targeting of Muslim-Americans Is ‘Wrong’

The first Muslim-American elected to Congress says he’s requesting more information on why five men were “targeted because of their faith.”

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 16: U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) speaks during a news conference January 16, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. House Democrats held a news conference to announce new legislation to eliminate the federal debt ceiling.
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Sarah Mimms
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Sarah Mimms
July 9, 2014, 10:41 a.m.

Rep. Keith El­lis­on, the first Muslim-Amer­ic­an mem­ber of Con­gress, re­spon­ded to a new re­port Wed­nes­day that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment spied on five Amer­ic­an cit­izens who are Muslim and have ap­par­ently com­mit­ted no acts of wrong­do­ing, call­ing such ac­tions “troub­ling” and “wrong.”

“Sus­pi­cious be­ha­vi­or in­dic­at­ing crim­in­al be­ha­vi­or should be the basis for at­tract­ing law en­force­ment sur­veil­lance — not a per­son’s re­li­gion. Pro­fil­ing based on re­li­gion breeds dis­trust and re­sent­ment in com­munit­ies that are po­ten­tial part­ners in the fight against crime,” the Min­nesota Demo­crat said in a state­ment.

El­lis­on also re­spon­ded to an eth­nic slur that se­cur­ity of­fi­cials used as a place­hold­er for a po­ten­tial Muslim tar­get, which was in­cluded in The In­ter­cept‘s re­port: “Mo­hammed Ra­g­head.” El­lis­on called the “use of hate­ful anti-Muslim train­ing ma­ter­i­als” evid­ence of re­li­gious pro­fil­ing by the U.S. gov­ern­ment and warned of severe con­sequences. “Un­due sur­veil­lance has a chilling ef­fect in all com­munit­ies. It tells young boys and girls who want to serve their coun­try in the mil­it­ary or in elec­ted of­fice to stay out of the pub­lic space. This is wrong. We can­not al­low fear and hatred to drown the in­clus­ive prom­ise of our na­tion,” he wrote.

In re­sponse, El­lis­on said he would re­quest a “full ex­plan­a­tion” as to why the five Amer­ic­ans were tar­geted. It wasn’t im­me­di­ately clear who El­lis­on would ap­peal to for fur­ther in­form­a­tion, but a let­ter is ex­pec­ted to be draf­ted in the next few days.

The Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency and the FBI tar­geted email ac­counts be­long­ing to the five Amer­ic­an cit­izens between 2002 and 2008. The tar­geted Amer­ic­ans are Fais­al Gill, a Re­pub­lic­an op­er­at­ive who worked at the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment un­der Pres­id­ent George W. Bush; As­im Gha­foor, an at­tor­ney who has worked on ter­ror­ism cases; Hooshang Amirah­madi, an Ir­a­ni­an-Amer­ic­an pro­fess­or; Agha Saeed, a former pro­fess­or; and Ni­had Awad, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Coun­cil on Amer­ic­an-Is­lam­ic Re­la­tions. All five men have denied any ties to ter­ror­ist or­gan­iz­a­tions, have clean re­cords (as far as is pub­licly known), and have not ad­voc­ated for “vi­ol­ent ji­had,” ac­cord­ing to the ori­gin­al In­ter­cept re­port.

Aside from El­lis­on’s state­ment, re­sponse to the re­port on Cap­it­ol Hill has been al­most nonex­ist­ent. Even mem­bers who are typ­ic­ally highly crit­ic­al of the NSA’s activ­it­ies have not yet is­sued state­ments on the re­port, which con­firms that the agency spied on Amer­ic­an cit­izens with no ap­par­ent ties to ter­ror­ism.

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