Washington: Expressing concern over reports that NSA and FBI monitored emails of prominent Muslim- Americans under procedures intended to target terrorists and spies, a coalition of South Asian organisations has appealed to the US to end surveillance on "innocent" community members.
The National Coalition of South Asian Organisations (NCSO), in a statement, said that it was deeply troubled by the reports that the US security agencies have engaged in surveillance of Muslim-American civic and civil rights leaders , including Indian and Pakistani Americans.
"As organisations that work directly with South Asian community members, we know all too well that in the post 9/11 environment, the targeting of Muslim-Americans has unfortunately become a commonplace occurrence," NCSO said.
It said that reports of surveillance at mosques and student associations, infiltration of informants, and profiling through the use of watchlists continue to occur, and have a negative impact on their communities.
"We call upon the President and Congress to end government activities that lead to the surveillance and profiling of innocent community members and to hold public hearings on the extent of these practices," NCSO said.
Based on the documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, online news site The Intercept yesterday said the NSA and FBI have covertly monitored emails of prominent Muslim-Americans under secretive procedures intended to target terrorists and foreign spies.
The report said the surveillance was authorised by a secret intelligence court under procedures intended to locate spies and terrorist suspects.
The Intercept said it identified at least five persons, all American citizens, based on their email addresses.
These include Indian-origin attorney Asim Ghafoor, who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases.
"I believe that they tapped me because my name is Asim Abdur Rahman Ghafoor, my parents are from India, I travelled to Saudi Arabia as a young man, and I do the pilgrimage," The Intercept quoted Ghafoor as saying.
The White House said the use of racial or ethnic stereotypes, slurs, or other similar language by employees is both unacceptable and inconsistent with the country`s core values.
"The Administration takes all such allegations extremely seriously, and upon learning of this matter the White House immediately requested that the Director of National Intelligence undertake an assessment of Intelligence Community policies and as necessary, make any recommendations changes or additional reforms," said Caitlin Hayden, Spokesperson National Security Council, the White House.
"It is entirely false that US intelligence agencies conduct electronic surveillance of political, religious or activist figures solely because they disagree with public policies or criticise the government, or for exercising constitutional rights," the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Department of Justice said in a joint statement.
Unlike some other nations, the US does not monitor anyone`s communications in order to suppress criticism or to put people at a disadvantage based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion, the joint statement asserted.
"Our intelligence agencies help protect America by collecting communications when they have a legitimate foreign intelligence or counter intelligence purpose.
"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 US citizen or lawful permanent resident for electronic surveillance," it said.
"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," it added.