The National Security Agency, or NSA, reportedly spied on the “online sexual activity” of individuals that the agency believed were radicalizing others through social media and other means, in a plot to undermine their reputation and credibility.
The Huffington Post, citing a top-secret NSA document, reported that the agency gathered evidence of visits to pornographic websites by its "targets" who were mostly Muslim, and their other online sexual activities, through its electronic surveillance program. The information used in the article is based on a document dated Oct.3, 2012, and provided by former defense contractor, Edward Snowden.
“Some of the vulnerabilities, if exposed, would likely call into question a radicalizer’s devotion to the jihadist cause, leading to the degradation or loss of his authority,” the document said.
The document identifies six Muslim targets as “exemplars” to demonstrate how information on their sexual activities could be exploited to discredit a target. However, none of the six members were involved in any terrorist activity, but the agency said they were radicalizing others through their incendiary speeches on social media, the Post reported.
The document detailed a list of possible “vulnerabilities” that could be exploited effectively, such as "viewing sexually explicit material online” and “using sexually explicit persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls,” among others.
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A chart accompanying the document detailed the nature of the targets' work, objectionable statements made by them and their alleged vulnerabilities. For instance, according to the document, a “respected academic" who promoted al Qaeda propaganda, is accused of “online promiscuity” and of publishing "articles without checking facts," while another "well-known media celebrity” is said to have a glamorous lifestyle and that he "misinterprets Qur’an" and "possibly misdirects donations."
According to the Post report, none of the six targets are currently living in the U.S., but one among them is identified as a "U.S. person," which could mean a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident, which entitles him to “greater legal protections against NSA surveillance than foreigners are."
Apart from recording their online sexual habits, the NSA also kept track of their emails and personal contacts. According to the report, three of the targets that spoke English had minimum contact or communication with extremist elements compared to three of the Arabic-speaking targets, but none of them were directly linked to any terrorist plot.
The document originated in the Director of the National Security Agency, described as DIRNSA, and was sent to officials with the Departments of Justice and Commerce, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Post reported, adding that the document did not indicate whether the NSA used the information to actually discredit the targets.
However, in the past, the U.S. has revealed private information to discredit Muslim extremists including Osama bin Laden. For instance, after bin Laden’s death, U.S. officials revealed that the al Qaeda leader and 9/11 mastermind had a “fairly extensive” collection of modern X-rated films stashed in his hideout in Abbottabad in Pakistan.