Shane Harris writes: Believe it or not, some officials at the National Security Agency are breathing a sigh of relief over Glenn Greenwald’s new exposé on the government’s secret surveillance of U.S. citizens. That’s because it’s the FBI that finds itself in the cross-hairs now, in a story that identifies by name five men, including prominent Muslim American civil rights activists and lawyers, whose emails were monitored by the FBI using a law meant to target suspected terrorists and spies. The targets of the spying allege that they were singled out because of their race, religion, and political views — accusations that, if true, would amount to the biggest domestic intelligence scandal in a generation and eclipse any of the prior year’s revelations from documents provided by leaker Edward Snowden.
After a year in which the digital spies at the NSA have taken unrelenting heat on Capitol Hill and in the media, it’s rare for the FBI to come under scrutiny — and that’s surprising, given the central role that the bureau plays in conducting surveillance operations, including all secret intelligence-gathering aimed at Americans inside the United States. “It’s an important point of distinction that it was the FBI directing this, not the NSA,” said a former senior intelligence official, welcoming the shift in focus away from the beleaguered spy agency to its often-overlooked partner.
Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the FBI has been frequently cast as the judicious and measured army of the war on terror, the home to interrogation experts who know how to coax secrets out of detained terrorists without resorting to the “enhanced techniques” of the CIA. But now, the FBI, and with it the Justice Department, finds itself exposed for spying on Americans who were never accused of any crime, and in the position of having to defend and explain its reasoning for taking that intrusive step. [Continue reading…]