WASHINGTON — An online magazine reported Wednesday that the National Security Agency and the FBI covertly scanned the emails of five prominent Muslim-Americans under the government's secret surveillance program aimed at foreign terrorists and other national security threats.
The report in the Intercept, a venture by journalist Glenn Greenwald, said the targets included a lawyer, a Republican political operative, a university professor and two civil rights activists. The Intercept said all five denied any involvement in terrorism or espionage and had not been accused of any crimes. The magazine questioned whether the government obtained legal permission for its surveillance.
The Intercept account said a three-month investigation using classified documents obtained from former NSA contract systems analyst Edward Snowden showed that "the system for authorizing NSA surveillance affords the government wide latitude in spying on U.S. citizens." The article also said some government training materials included a slur against Muslims.
NSA and Justice Department officials denied Wednesday that American activists are targeted for criticizing the government. While not discussing the individual cases, officials said Americans are targeted for email surveillance only if there is probable cause.
But the White House ordered national security agencies to review their training and policy manuals in light of the article's assertion that a 2005 government training document contained an anti-Muslim slur.
"Upon learning of this matter, the White House immediately requested that the director of national intelligence undertake an assessment of intelligence community policies, training standards or directives that promote diversity and tolerance," said Caitlin Hayden, a White House national security spokeswoman.