Report: NSA spied on online sexual habits of Muslims to discredit “radicalizers”

A new report from the Huffington Post shows Keith Alexander's NSA taking a page from J. Edgar Hoover

Topics: The Huffington Post, Edward Snowden, National Security Agency, Islam, Terrorism, Surveillance, Spying, , ,

Report: NSA spied on online sexual habits of Muslims to discredit "radicalizers"General Keith Alexander (Credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas)

According to a report in the Huffington Post — gleaned from a document provided by the whistleblower Edward Snowden — the National Security Agency (NSA) has gathered records of online sexual activity and visits to pornographic websites in order to discredit Muslims who the agency believes are radicalizing others through their provocative speeches.

The document makes a point of noting that these Muslim leaders are “particularly vulnerable in the are of authority when their private and public behaviors are not consistent.” In particular, the document notes “viewing sexually explicit material online” and “using sexually explicit persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls” as two behaviors that are especially discrediting.

While Shawn Turner, director of public affairs for National Intelligence, told the Huffington Post that “it should not be surprising that the U.S. Government uses all of the lawful tools at our disposal to impede the efforts of valid terrorist targets,” Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU noted that “the NSA’s surveillance activities are anything but narrowly focused — the agency is collecting massive amounts of sensitive information about virtually everyone.”

“Wherever you are, the NSA’s databases store information about your political views, your medical history, your intimate relationships and your activities online,” Jaffer said. “The NSA says this personal information won’t be abused, but these documents show that the NSA probably defines ‘abuse’ very narrowly.”

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The NSA possesses embarrassing sexually explicit information about at least two of the targets by virtue of electronic surveillance of their online activity. The report states that some of the data was gleaned through FBI surveillance programs carried out under the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act. The document adds, “Information herein is based largely on Sunni extremist communications.” It further states that “the SIGINT information [signals intelligence, the interception of communications] is from primary sources with direct access and is generally considered reliable.”

According to the document, the NSA believes that exploiting electronic surveillance to publicly reveal online sexual activities can make it harder for these “radicalizers” to maintain their credibility. “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 document argues.

An attached appendix lists the “argument” each surveillance target has made that the NSA says constitutes radicalism, as well the personal “vulnerabilities” the agency believes would leave the targets “open to credibility challenges” if exposed.

Elias Isquith
Elias Isquith is a staff writer at Salon, focusing on politics. Follow him on Twitter at @eliasisquith.

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