The report appearing on the online news site The Intercept said the surveillance was authorized by a secret intelligence court under procedures intended to locate spies and terrorist suspects.
The report, citing documents in an NSA spreadsheet leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden, showed the emails of the individuals, but not their names.
The Intercept said it identified at least five persons, all American citizens, based on their email addresses.
They were Faisal Gill, a longtime Republican Party operative and one - time candidate for public office; Asim Ghafoor, an attorney who has represented clients in terrorism - related cases; Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian - American professor at Rutgers University; Agha Saeed, a civil liberties activist and former professor at California State University; and Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American - Islamic Relations.
According to the report by Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain, the spreadsheet shows 7,485 email addresses listed as monitored between 2002 and 2008.
US officials, responding to the report, said communications are only monitored with a “legitimate foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purpose. ”
Muslim - American groups and others reacted angrily to the report.
Awad, one of those named in the report, said in a statement with Vincent Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights the activity “fits the same pattern as the FBI surveillance of Martin Luther King, Jr., Ella Baker, Jesse Jackson, Malcolm X, and other leaders of the civil rights movement. ”
The statement said the surveillance appears based on “unproven claims of tangential associations with Hamas” and added that “every civic group in this country has the right to peacefully advocate for social justice at home and abroad without fear of government surveillance, intimidation, and harassment. ”