The Justice Department did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story, or for clarification about why the five men’s email addresses appear on the list. But in the weeks before the story was published, The Intercept learned that officials from the department were reaching out to Muslim-American leaders across the country to warn them that the piece would contain errors and misrepresentations, even though it had not yet been written.The fact that it was out warning people that the story was inaccurate before anything had even been written is... quite telling. Also, the fact that it only seemed to focus on the lack of a FISA warrant (and against one individual) seems like the standard form of the intelligence community choosing their words especially carefully to say one thing, while implying something else entirely. Now that the report has actually come out, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has issued a statement that is more of the same. You will note, for instance, that it does not deny spying on the five named individuals -- only that it doesn't spy on people because of their political, religious or activist views: It is entirely false that U.S. intelligence agencies conduct electronic surveillance of political, religious or activist figures solely because they disagree with public policies or criticize the government, or for exercising constitutional rights.
Prior to publication, current and former government officials who knew about the story in advance also told another news outlet that no FISA warrant had been obtained against Awad during the period cited. When The Intercept delayed publication to investigate further, the NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence refused to confirm or deny the claim, or to address why any of the men’s names appear on the FISA spreadsheet. Prior to 2008, however, FISA required only an authorization from the attorney general—not a court warrant—for surveillance against Americans located overseas. Awad frequently travelled to the Middle East during the timeframe of his surveillance.