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July 9th, 2014
07:03 PM ET

Why did the NSA spy on Muslim-Americans?

(CNN) – Another highly-classified document stolen by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden is making headlines. First Look Media's The Intercept reports of a spreadsheet showing more than 7,400 e-mail addresses that were the targets of government spying.

It lists more than 200 American citizens, including five prominent Muslim-Americans who say they did nothing wrong.

"I have no problem with surveillance. Surveillance needs to happen, but there has to be a reason for it," said Faisal Gill, an attorney and former senior policy director with the Department of Homeland Security, who was on the list and allegedly targeted by the NSA.

"There has to be at least something in my background that would lead someone to believe that okay, this person should be suspected of some questionable activities. I worked for the American Muslim Council, and after that I had my security clearance, so clearly all that was disclosed," he said.

Gill previously worked as a spokesman for the American Muslim Council. In 2002 the Treasury Department issued a statement saying the group had provided assistance to Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda.

Asim Ghafoor, an attorney whose private Yahoo! e-mail account was allegedly targeted by NSA surveillance, has done legal representation for groups that have been charged by the U.S. government of being associated with terrorism.

"I'm a civil rights lawyer. I have a lot of clients," said Ghafoor. "If it's my clients that's causing it, that's reason for pause, to find out what benefit does the government have listening in on a lawyer's communications with his clients?"

"In these cases I was against the government, and I was winning against the government. Imagine a government lawyer telling his supervisor ... you know, we should (read) his e-mails, maybe we can go into court to beat him with this information. It just doesn't make sense," said Ghafoor.

First Look Media's Glenn Greenwald, who first reported the story, says the timing of the government surveillance on Gill, Ghafoor, and three other Muslim-Americans, is telling.

"The spying in question on these individuals ... took place 2006, 2007, 2008," said Greenwald. "In the case of Faisal, for example, it was many years after he was ever at the (American Muslim) Council, it was actually during a time when he was the Republican nominee for the House of Delegates seat in Virginia."

For more of our interview with Asim Ghafoor, Faisal Gill, and Glenn Greenwald check out the video above.

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