The National Security Agency (NSA) spied on the pornography use and online sexual activity of radical Muslims in order to undermine their authority, according to leaked documents.
Agents collected information on so-called “vulnerabilities” which, if required, could be publicly exposed in a way that would limit the influence of prominent Islamists.
The surveillance agency targeted six “radicalisers” whose online activity might be used to make followers question their devotion to the jihadist cause.
The spying claims are made in the latest documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, published by the Huffington Post.
They identify the six men, all Muslims, as positive examples of cases where electronic surveillance can give security officers valuable information about people’s “personal vulnerabilities”. The names of the six have not been included in the details published online.
The documents list “viewing sexually explicit material online” and “using sexually explicit persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls” as the sorts of activities which might undermine a radicaliser’s authority.
According to the Huffington Post, none of the six individuals was accused of being involved in any terrorist plots. They were not identified in any detail, other than the fact that one of the six is either a US citizen or permanent resident.
Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the website these revelations raise serious concerns about abuse.
“It's important to remember that the NSA’s surveillance activities are anything but narrowly focused — the agency is collecting massive amounts of sensitive information about virtually everyone,” he said.
“Wherever you are, the NSA's databases store information about your political views, your medical history, your intimate relationships and your activities online,” he added. “The NSA says this personal information won't be abused, but these documents show that the NSA probably defines 'abuse' very narrowly.”
The documents included details suggesting they were drawn up by the director of the NSA, and listed recipients include the US Department of Justice and the Department of Commerce.
Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the US director of national intelligence, told the Huffington Post it was not surprising the 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 radicalise others to violence”.