'Raghead' Slur in Snowden Leak Prompts White House Call for Discrimination Review

Ferhat/Shutterstock.com

On the heels of an explosive leak from Edward Snowden, the White House is pushing its intelligence agencies to review their internal policies and standards to ensure "diversity and tolerance" in its operations.

An article published Wednesday by The Intercept revealed that the National Security Agency and the FBI spied on the emails of five high-profile Muslim-Americans who were apparently guilty of no wrongdoing. One disclosed file from 2005 shows a target's unknown name being replaced with a placeholder of "Mohammed Raghead."

Without confirming or denying other details of the report, the White House said it has asked for an assessment of whether spy agencies are vigorous enough in their policing of potential racial or religious bias.

"As the NSA has said, the use of racial or ethnic stereotypes, slurs, or other similar language by employees is both unacceptable and inconsistent with the country's core values," White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement. "The administration takes all such allegations extremely seriously, and 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, and as necessary, make any recommendations changes or additional reforms."

Hayden did not offer further details about the scope or duration of the investigation, but did say that it had been initiated in direct response to The Intercept story.

The new leak has already prompted a swift backlash from a wide net of civil-rights groups led by the American Civil Liberties Union, which are seeking "a full public accounting of these practices."

The coalition of 44 organizations sent a letter to President Obama on Wednesday asking the Justice Department to revisit and strengthen policies discussing the proper use of race by law-enforcement officials.

"While we do not know all of the facts of the individual reported cases, we believe the government has an obligation to explain the basis for its actions," said the letter, whose signatories included Amnesty International, Free Press, and the Human Rights Watch. "Moreover, we cannot presume that the government acted without prejudice or bias. Too often, both in the past and in the present, we have observed the government engaging in patterns of discriminatory and abusive surveillance."

A spokeswoman for the NSA said the agency "has not, and would not, approve official training documents that include insulting or inflammatory language."

But statements from the NSA regarding its surveillance practices continue to prove unpersuasive to the agency's critics. The Center for Constitutional Rights likened the spying on Muslim-Americans emails to the FBI's surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil-rights activists in the 1960s, who were viewed as radicals by the government.

(Image via Ferhat/Shutterstock.com)

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