Definition of a “Radicalizer:” A Sunni Opponent to Unchecked US Power

As if on cue in response to my post noting that while the NSA may not be like the Stasi for most Americans, it may well be closer for Muslims, Glenn Greenwald teams up with HuffPo’s two Ryans to disclose that the NSA has been snooping on online porn habits.

The National Security Agency has been gathering records of online sexual activity and evidence of visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of those whom the agency believes are radicalizing others through incendiary speeches, according to a top-secret NSA document.

Beyond the eye-popping lede, however, I find the underlying premise just as troubling.

The NSA calls the 6 targets it describes as “radicalizers.”

DNI flack Shawn Turner suggests these are valid terrorist targets.

“Without discussing specific individuals, 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 who seek to harm the nation and radicalize others to violence,” Shawn Turner, director of public affairs for National Intelligence, told The Huffington Post in an email Tuesday.

Former NSA GC Stewart Baker characterizes them as “trying to recruit folks to kill Americans.”

“If people are engaged in trying to recruit folks to kill Americans and we can discredit them, we ought to,” said Baker. “On the whole, it’s fairer and maybe more humane” than bombing a target, he said, describing the tactic as “dropping the truth on them.”

But consider the profile presented in the story and underlying documents. None have been tied to any terrorist plots.

None of the six individuals targeted by the NSA is accused in the document of being involved in terror plots.

The English speaking ones have minimal ties with people characterized even as extremist groups (which may be different than a terrorist group; and the Arab speakers do have such ties).

The NSA accuses two of the targets of promoting al Qaeda propaganda, but states that surveillance of the three English-speakers’ communications revealed that they have “minimal terrorist contacts.”

In particular, “only seven (1 percent) of the contacts in the study of the three English-speaking radicalizers were characterized in SIGINT as affiliated with an extremist group or a Pakistani militant group. An earlier communications profile of [one of the targets] reveals that 3 of the 213 distinct individuals he was in contact with between 4 August and 2 November 2010 were known or suspected of being associated with terrorism,” the document reads.

And the messages these so-called “radicalizers” promote range from 9/11 trutherism to intolerance for non-Sunni Muslims to justifying the killing of non-Muslim invaders.

One target’s offending argument is that “Non-Muslims are a threat to Islam,” and a vulnerability listed against him is “online promiscuity.” Another target, a foreign citizen the NSA describes as a “respected academic,” holds the offending view that “offensive jihad is justified,” and his vulnerabilities are listed as “online promiscuity” and “publishes articles without checking facts.” A third targeted radical is described as a “well-known media celebrity” based in the Middle East who argues that “the U.S perpetrated the 9/11 attack.” Under vulnerabilities, he is said to lead “a glamorous lifestyle.” A fourth target, who argues that “the U.S. brought the 9/11 attacks on itself” is said to be vulnerable to accusations of “deceitful use of funds.”

And that well-known cleric who opposes Al Qaeda’s targeting of civilians and approves killing invaders of his country even adopts a pragmatic approach to the Arab Spring — which is more than our Saudi allies can say.

While some of these 6 targets may count as extremist propagandists, several of them, at least, might better be described as outspoken opponents to unfettered American dominance.

And the NSA proposes not just to discredit these people with smut (a tactic they attempted to use, unsuccessfully, against Anwar al-Awlaki), but to accuse them of — gasp! — charging exorbitant speaking fees.

So, yeah, this does prove that the NSA is using its considerable resources to repeat J Edgar Hoover’s tactics.

But it also shows that it is deploying such efforts against men who may not be the bogeymen NSA’s apologists make them out to be.

Update: Juan Cole takes the same angle on this story I did.

Update: DNI flack’s name corrected, thanks to SA.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

13 replies
  1. bloodypitchfork says:

    quote:”The NSA calls the 6 targets it describes as “radicalizers.”unquote

    Radicalizers. Right. Well then, can we assume they will target you too emptywheel? :)

    quote:”So, yeah, this does prove that the NSA is using its considerable resources to repeat J Edgar Hoover’s tactics.”unquote

    These fuckers are beyond sick. The NSA has truly become..The Ministry of Truth ..and Consequences. And WE’RE PAYING FOR IT. Knowing they are actively trying to destroy people by releasing personal data, it doesn’t take much of a stretch to connect a few dots to Congress..or anyone else that “J. Edgar” NSA are blackmailing. I’d bet $1k it won’t be long before a Snowden file proves it. I can’t wait. Cause this is the ONLY thing that will make Congress explode…or come clean. Hahahahahaha!

  2. Frank33 says:

    There is a new keader of COINTELPRO. It is a woman, Rosa Klebb, also known as #3. General Hayden is #1. Apparently Klebb and General Alexander, #2 have been targeting “radicalizers”, with new tactics to destroy dissent against the One Percent.

    Klebb, aka Fleisch, is a nuturing Master Spy who is expanding Full Sprectrum Dominance into all aspects of our lives. But anonymous sources are frustrated with the President, because Obama may not be obeying the NSA warmongers unconditionally.

    other current and former officials have said that NSA leaders are frustrated by what they see as a lack of forceful, unconditional support for the agency from the White House

    General Alexander, #2, seems to be busy. Perhaps he is plotting a Presidential motorcade visit to Dallas.

  3. harpie says:

    From the article:

    […] The NSA document, dated Oct. 3, 2012, repeatedly refers to the power of charges of hypocrisy to undermine such a messenger. […]

    I wonder if Pope Francis is considered a “radicalizer”-since his recent apostolic exhortation [which calls unfettered capitalism” a “tyranny”] has been met by outraged cries of “hypocrisy”.

    […] Any system can be abused, Baker allowed, but he said fears of the policy drifting to domestic political opponents don’t justify rejecting it. “On that ground you could question almost any tactic we use in a war, and at some point you have to say we’re counting on our officials to know the difference,” he said.[…]

    Someone needs to drive a wooden stake through the heart of the 2001 AUMF.

  4. Seedee Vee says:

    “Porn” was the first thing we were told about being at bin Laden’s “compound” in Pakistan.

    Luckily, most people don’t care about it anymore.

    Maybe hypocrisy is more detrimental to those Muslim “radicalizers” than to our fearless leaders here in the West . . .

    It seems that it would be too easy now to just say “The NSA took over my computer and planted that stuff”. But if they had hacked their web cam and got some desirable video of someone in . . . action, that’s another ballgame.

  5. harpie says:

    And the NSA proposes […] to accuse them of — gasp! — charging exorbitant speaking fees.

    …and, –double gasp!–“publish[ing] articles without checking facts.” !!

  6. tinao says:

    Empy, doesn’t this:

    “It makes me wonder where the cop who busted Ritter initially came up with their information.”

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/ex-u-n-nuclear-weapons-inspector-scott-ritter-charged-child-sex-sting-article-1.458030

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/nsa-planned-shame-radicalizers-revealing-porn-history-article-1.1530785
    – See more at: http://www.emptywheel.net/2013/11/26/chomsky-v-gellman-on-the-stasi/#comments

    It doth seem to have blow-your-face-off finger prints on it. Timing and abuse of power looks about right. Some intrepid PA reporter should do some homework. :-)

  7. P J Evans says:

    @harpie:
    That would cover about half the ‘journalists’ in the country, if they applied that standard across the board. Starting, perhaps, with Fox and CNN….

  8. bevin says:

    Concerning the Ritter case, I’m genuinely surprised that anyone would not presume NSA involvement. It seemed pretty clear at the time that Scott had been ambushed. The idea that he, out of a hundred million plus American males, just happened to be traced by the cops is simply outlandish. It goes some way to explaining the popularity of lottery tickets, however.
    As to the comparison of the modern Panopticon with the GDR’s miserably resourced and primitive spy network give me a break! One big difference was that East Germany really was riddled with foreign agents or foreign employed agents engaged in a decades long campaign of sabotage and espionage.
    In one respect I do not doubt that the Stasi did excel: they actually will have discovered some spies, some saboteurs and some terrorists; the NSA in sharp contradistinction only seems to discover agents employed by the FBI to be discovered. It is not unlike the medical regime Heller describes in Catch 22 in which, when the IV bottle was emptied and the urine receptacle filled their positions were reversed.

  9. Jeff Kaye says:

    One recalls that scene in Oliver Stone’s JFK (and taken from Garrison’s book “On the Trail of the Assassins”) where they try to catch Garrison in an airport bathroom and frame him as a homosexual seeking anonymous bathroom sex. — The article makes it clear that once upon a time the government used homosexuality (real or purported) to frame and blackmail its opponents. Now it is “porn”, and especially pedophilia or pedophilia-oriented porn. Note the reference to “using sexually explicit persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls.”

    I think Greenwald/Gallagher/Grim/ACLU are correct to point out that government’s history in abuse along this line argues the threat against us today is huge.

    Reminds me, too, of that lyric from Leonard Cohen’s song, “Everybody Knows”:

    And everybody knows that the Plague is coming
    Everybody knows that it’s moving fast
    Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
    Are just a shining artifact of the past
    Everybody knows the scene is dead
    But there’s gonna be a meter on your bed
    That will disclose
    What everybody knows

  10. Ricky M. says:

    Anonymous tracks and stalks people they “think” are trouble, or maybe its because they just don’t like their hairstyle. I don’t see anyone up in arms about that.

  11. ess emm says:

    An apparently oblivious Stewart Baker rants on about what he sees as Greenwald’s hypocrisy. This tweet gives a pretty devastating response

    Remember when @GGreenwald used the NSA to spy on GOP politicians' private lives? Former NSA lawyer @StewartBaker does http://t.co/4Iuw5BPcOw— Jon Schwarz (@tinyrevolution) November 27, 2013

    It’s astonishing that Volokh continues to give Baker a safe harbor to publish. And after Baker’s first few posts were received extremely unfavorably by the commentariat, Volokh has even protected him by turning off comments.

  12. Nigel says:

    Baker amazingly contends that what the NSA was doing is entirely equivalent to Glenn Greenwald writing a book:
    http://www.volokh.com/2013/11/27/understanding-enemy/

    When one of the authors, Ryan Grim, called me for comment, he said that while Glenn Greenwald was transitioning to his new Omidyar-funded venture he was temporarily publishing his Snowden leaks with HuffPo. So when he asked for my take on the NSA story, pretty much the first words out of my mouth were, “Why wouldn’t we consider doing to Islamic extremists what Glenn Greenwald does routinely to Republicans?” The story quotes practically everything I said to Grim except that remark, even though I returned to the point a couple of times and emphasized that it summed up my view.

    I don’t think HuffPo cut the quote because they ran out of electrons. The article itself is so tediously long that I defy anyone to read every word in a single go.

    Nor because my remark was inaccurate. It turns out that Glenn Greenwald has written an entire book devoted to exposing the contradiction between Republicans’ ideology and their private lives…

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