The US National Security Agency reportedly spied on the online sexual activity of Muslim "radicalizers" as part of a plot to undermine their reputation and authority. The Huffington Post says that the internet proclivities of six individuals were monitored in order to find "personal vulnerabilities" such as the viewing of pornographic material that could be exploited to "shape the perception of the messenger as well as that of his followers."
"Dropping the truth" on suspects is more humane than dropping a bomb
The information comes from NSA documents provided by whisteblower Edward Snowden. The documents were sent to officials in the NSA, Drug Enforcement Agency, and Departments of Justice and Commerce. They include a cheat sheet-style appendix in which the arguments, authority, and vulnerabilities of the unnamed targets are detailed. One "respected academic," for example, is apparently guilty of "online promiscuity" and publishing articles without fact-checking; another charges "exorbitant fees" and is "attracted to fame." The documents state that none of the six individuals targeted currently live in the United States, but identifies one as a "US person." A "US person," The Huffington Post notes, is either a US citizen or a permanent resident, and is entitled to "greater legal protections against NSA surveillance than foreigners are."
The "radicalizers" were suspected of using social media such as YouTube and Facebook to spread controversial ideas. In addition to monitoring their internet sexual activities, the NSA also kept tabs on the six targets' contact lists. The Huffington Post reports three of the six — all three English speakers — had "minimal terrorist contacts." The three Arabic-speaking targets supposedly had more communication with extremist groups, but none of the six individuals spied on were directly accused of terrorism in the documents.
None of the six individuals spied on were accused of conspiring in terrorist plots
The US government has previously used the possession of pornography to discredit Muslim extremists among their fundamentalist followings. It confirmed that Osama Bin Laden owned a huge "porn stash" at the time of his death, a revelation designed to countermand the al-Qaeda founder's pious public face.
In an email to The Huffington Post, director of public affairs for the Office of National Intelligence Shawn Turner defends the NSA's actions, saying "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," and that "dropping the truth" on suspects is more humane than dropping a bomb. But deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union Jameel Jaffer is less sanguine. Speaking to The Huffington Post, Jaffer says, "Remember that the NSA's surveillance activities are anything but narrowly focused — the agency is collecting massive amounts of sensitive information about virtually everyone." Jaffer also notes that the NSA promised not to abuse its ability to check up on global porn habits, but also that given recent revelations, "the NSA probably defines 'abuse' very narrowly."