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I was targeted because of my faith

By Faisal Gill
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
  • Faisal Gill: Documents released by Snowden show he was under surveillance
  • Gill was in the Navy, was senior policy adviser in Homeland Security under Bush
  • Gill believes the only reason he came under suspicion was that he is Muslim
  • Gill says Muslims must be free to join religious organizations without being spied upon

Editor's note: Faisal Gill, a lawyer, is a longtime Republican Party operative and served in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush.

(CNN) -- Complete shock, surprise and disappointment -- that was my reaction to revelations from documents released by Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency monitored my e-mails from 2006 to 2008 after I left the Bush White House.

I am one of five professionals featured in an article in The Intercept who found the government was monitoring us without our knowledge. The others are Asim Ghafoor, a well-known lawyer; Hooshang Amirahmadi, a professor at Rutgers University; Agha Saeed, a political science professor at California State University, and Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Faisal Gill
Faisal Gill

What we share in common is that we are all Muslim. And none of us can believe there is any reason we should fall under suspicion.

The technology the government uses to surreptitiously monitor domestic and international communications didn't surprise me. What was shocking to me was that nothing in my background would lead anyone to believe that I have any terrorist leanings or want to cause harm to the United States.

I served my country in the U.S. Navy, worked as senior policy adviser in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, was involved in my community and even ran for public office. There is not much more anyone can do to prove his or her complete loyalty to the United States.

NSA spying targets baffled by inclusion

What's clear now is that the reason for spying on me is my religion.

Some people may argue that my ties to the American Muslim Council gave the government probable cause to monitor me. But I had received my Top Secret/SCI (Sensitive Compartmented Information) clearance to work in the Department of Homeland Security after working with the American Muslim Council, not before. Needless to say, all aspects of your life are examined to obtain this level. When I was working with the council, my goal was to get Muslims involved in domestic politics, never foreign politics.

Working in Homeland Security, I know more than others that sometimes people need to be monitored for security purposes, and there are times when such monitoring does not lead to anything. In those cases, however, at least something in those people's background or actions would cause suspicion. For example, they met secretly with terrorist groups or made some statements inciting violence. None of those factors exist in my case.

Congress needs to exercise its oversight authority and look at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process and practice. On paper, the FISA procedure looks fair: An agent prepares an affidavit setting forth facts that establish probable cause that the subject is an agent of a foreign government. Then an independent judge examines the application and approves it.

That is a good process -- but in practice, 99% of the applications are approved. Clearly something is wrong that nearly all applications are approved. Probable cause is clearly interpreted broadly in a FISA court. Congress needs to fix the practice.

The issue for me is: What's next? I have no desire to file any sort of a lawsuit against the government.

The United States is my home and like any American, I want to protect my home. I demonstrated that by proudly wearing my country's uniform. I am raising my kids here. I am clearly invested in my country.

I think more Muslim Americans should be involved in government and in their communities. But I am concerned that many Muslims, hearing the news of government monitoring, will say "What's the point?" They will believe that no matter what they do, they will always be viewed with suspicion.

This to me is the saddest possible result. I would hope the intelligence community, law enforcement, Congress and the Obama administration are also concerned. I hope my kids will not have to worry about their e-mails being monitored for exercising their religious freedom to be involved with organizations that support their faith, like millions of other Americans.

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