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NSA spied on porn habits to discredit Muslim radicals

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-11-27

The US National Security Agency has adopted a strategy of unearthing embarrassing sexual secrets of people it deemed to be Muslim “radicalisers” in a bid to undermine and discredit them, according to a report in the Huffington Post on Tuesday.

The US National Security Agency has been collecting details of the online sexual activities of people it deems to be suspected Muslim radicals in the hope of using the information to discredit them, Glenn Greenwald of the Huffingon Post reported on Tuesday.

A document supplied by the whistleblower Edward Snowden lists six targets. It says that the director of the agency was the “originator” of the idea. The memo was also sent to officials in the US departments of Justice and Commerce and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The document says a previous "report on radicalisation indicated that radicalisers appear to be particularly vulnerable in the area of authority when their private and public behaviors are not consistent.”

The private behaviour includes “viewing sexually explicit material online,” “using sexually explicit persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls” as well as misusing money from donations.

"Focusing on access reveals potential vulnerabilities that could be even more effectively exploited when used in combination with vulnerabilities of character or credibility, or both, of the message in order to shape the perception of the messenger as well as that of his followers," the report says.

The US intelligence community defended the NSA’s actions.

"Without discussing specific individuals, it should not be surprising that the US government uses all of the lawful tools at our disposal to impede the efforts of valid terrorist targets who seek to harm the nation and radicalise others to violence," Shawn Turner, director of public affairs for National Intelligence, an umbrella body for US espionage agencies, told The Huffington Post in an email.

However, Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that this case could be the thin end of the surveillance wedge.

"It's important to remember that the ... the agency is collecting massive amounts of sensitive information about virtually everyone," Jaffer told the Huffington Post. "Wherever you are, the NSA's databases store information about your political views, your medical history, your intimate relationships and your activities online."

Six targets

The leaked document discusses six individuals who were targeted by the NSA. None is accused of being involved with terrorism. One of the six is described as a "US person," which means either an American citizen or a permanent US resident, and therefore entitled to greater protection under US law. All six, the report says, live outside the United States.

Three are classified as English speakers and three as Arabic speakers. The NSA says two of them promote al Qaeda propaganda. After analysing their contact lists and electronic communications, it concludes that the three English speakers have "minimal terrorist contacts." The Arabic speakers have more contacts with affiliates of extremist groups, but the NSA does not suggest they are involved in terrorist plots.

The NSA argues that the six radicalise others through YouTube, Facebook and other social media. Their audience "includes individuals who do not yet hold extremist views but who are susceptible to the extremist message.” It says their message resonates particularly strongly in the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Kenya, Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia.

The report says that the NSA has embarrassing sexually explicit information about at least two of the targets collected by FBI surveillance programs.

Greenwald writes that one target was selected because he argues that "Non-Muslims are a threat to Islam." His vulnerability is "online promiscuity." Another target, a "respected academic," believes "offensive jihad is justified," and is accused of "online promiscuity" and "publishes articles without checking facts."

A third radical is described as a "well-known media celebrity" in the Middle East who argues that "the US perpetrated the 9/11 attack" and, says the NSA, leads "a glamorous lifestyle." A fourth, who argues that "the US brought the 9/11 attacks on itself" is said to be guilty of “deceitful use of funds."

Jihadist cause

The document expresses the hope that revealing damaging information could undermine their perceived "devotion to the jihadist cause".

The Huffington Post withheld the names of the six individuals.

Greenwald wrote that: "The document does not indicate whether the NSA carried out its plan to discredit these six individuals, either by communicating with them privately about the acquired information or leaking it publicly."

Stewart Baker, security official under former US president George W. Bush, said: "If people are engaged in trying to recruit folks to kill Americans and we can discredit them, we ought to." 

"On the whole, it's fairer and maybe more humane" than bombing a target, he said, describing the tactic as "dropping the truth on them."

Baker said that any system can be abused but added: "On that ground you could question almost any tactic we use in a war, and at some point you have to say we're counting on our officials to know the difference."

Greenwald pointed out that the FBI, and the NSA, have a long tradition of collecting information on the sexual activities of political figures. The FBI has long been accused of using extra-marital affairs or homosexuality as levers to blackmail politicians.

"The NSA says this personal information won't be abused, but these documents show that the NSA probably defines 'abuse' very narrowly," said Jaffer of the ACLU.

Jaffer foresaw the possibility that the "president will ask the NSA to use the fruits of surveillance to discredit a political opponent, journalist or human rights activist."

"The NSA has used its power that way in the past and it would be naïve to think it couldn't use its power that way in the future," he said.

Date created : 2013-11-27

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