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Ex-Spy Says Bush Administration Tried To Use CIA To Discredit Blogger

A former CIA agent claims that the Bush Administration used the agency in an effort to discredit Juan Cole, the University of Michigan History Professor who blogs at Informed Comment and who became a strong critic of the Iraq War:

WASHINGTON — A former senior C.I.A. official says that officials in the Bush White House sought damaging personal information on a prominent American critic of the Iraq war in order to discredit him.

Glenn L. Carle, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who was a top counterterrorism official during the administration of President George W. Bush, said the White House at least twice asked intelligence officials to gather sensitive information on Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who writes an influential blog that criticized the war.

In an interview, Mr. Carle said his supervisor at the National Intelligence Council told him in 2005 that White House officials wanted “to get” Professor Cole, and made clear that he wanted Mr. Carle to collect information about him, an effort Mr. Carle rebuffed. Months later, Mr. Carle said, he confronted a C.I.A. official after learning of another attempt to collect information about Professor Cole. Mr. Carle said he contended at the time that such actions would have been unlawful.

It is not clear whether the White House received any damaging material about Professor Cole or whether the C.I.A. or other intelligence agencies ever provided any information or spied on him. Mr. Carle said that a memorandum written by his supervisor included derogatory details about Professor Cole, but that it may have been deleted before reaching the White House. Mr. Carle also said he did not know the origins of that information or who at the White House had requested it.

Intelligence officials disputed Mr. Carle’s account, saying that White House officials did ask about Professor Cole in 2006, but only to find out why he had been invited to C.I.A.-sponsored conferences on the Middle East. The officials said that the White House did not ask for sensitive personal information, and that the agency did not provide it.

“We’ve thoroughly researched our records, and any allegation that the C.I.A. provided private or derogatory information on Professor Cole to anyone is simply wrong,” said George Little, an agency spokesman.

Since a series of Watergate-era abuses involving spying on White House political enemies, the C.I.A. and other spy agencies have been prohibited from collecting intelligence concerning the activities of American citizens inside the United States.

“These allegations, if true, raise very troubling questions,” said Jeffrey H. Smith, a former C.I.A. general counsel. “The statute makes it very clear: you can’t spy on Americans.” Mr. Smith added that a 1981 executive order that prohibits the C.I.A. from spying on Americans places tight legal restrictions not only on the agency’s ability to collect information on United States citizens, but also on its retention or dissemination of that data.

Cole comments:

It seems to me clear that the Bush White House was upset by my blogging of the Iraq War, in which I was using Arabic and other primary sources, and which contradicted the propaganda efforts of the administration attempting to make the enterprise look like a wild shining success.

Carle’s revelations come as a visceral shock. You had thought that with all the shennanigans of the CIA against anti-Vietnam war protesters and then Nixon’s use of the agency against critics like Daniel Ellsberg, that the Company and successive White Houses would have learned that the agency had no business spying on American citizens.

I believe Carle’s insider account and discount the glib denials of people like Low. Carle is taking a substantial risk in making all this public. I hope that the Senate and House Intelligence Committees will immediately launch an investigation of this clear violation of the law by the Bush White House and by the CIA officials concerned. Like Mr. Carle, I am dismayed at how easy it seems to have been for corrupt WH officials to suborn CIA personnel into activities that had nothing to do with national security abroad and everything to do with silencing domestic critics. This effort was yet another attempt to gut the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, in this case as part of an effort to gut the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

(…)

What alarms me most of all in the nakedly illegal deployment of the CIA against an academic for the explicit purpose of destroying his reputation for political purposes is that I know I am a relatively small fish and it seems to me rather likely that I was not the only target of the baleful team at the White House. After the Valerie Plame affair, it seemed clear that there was nothing those people wouldn’t stoop to. You wonder how many critics were effectively “destroyed.” It is sad that a politics of personal destruction was the response by the Bush White House to an attempt of a citizen to reason in public about a matter of great public interest. They have brought great shame upon the traditions of the White House, which go back to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, who had hoped that checks and balances would forestall such abuses of power.

Cole is absolutely correct here. These allegations are serious enough, and the denials sufficiently vague enough, that this deserves to be investigated. The idea that Administration officials at any level may have been using the intelligence services in any manner to find information to discredit a critic is incredibly disturbing and brings up memories of the Nixon Era and that Administrations bizarre campaign against Daniel Ellsberg and others. One would hope that Congress would investigate this, get to the bottom of it, and make clear that there is nothing at all acceptable about a government that operates in this fashion.

The truly bizarre thing about this story, though, is the idea that someone may have been so bothered by Cole’s work that they were willing to break the law to discredit him. As Spencer Ackerman notes, it seems like overkill:

All Cole did was say mean things about the Bush team on the Internet. He wasn’t a militant, he wasn’t even an activist. He blogged. To devote precious intelligence resources, especially from counterterrorism officials, to silencing him is laughably solipsistic. If you don’t like what someone says about you on the Internet, stop Googling yourself. Trolling: Ur doing it wrong.

Of course if this story turns out to be true then Cole will have earned the distinction of being the first blogger to be targeted as an enemy by an American Presidential Administration.

One final thought, so far I’ve noted that the only bloggers who seem to have picked up on this story are on the left. I would hope some of my friends in the conservative blogosphere give this story the attention it deserves because it just as easily could happen to them.

 

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. James Joyner says:

    Andrew Sullivan is on it, although he’s anti-Bush.

    Agree that this should be investigated but also caution that it should be taken with a grain of salt unless and until more is known. Thus far, we have the word of one guy we’ve never heard of.

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  2. Neil Hudelson says:

    One would hope that Congress would investigate this, get to the bottom of it, and make clear that there is nothing at all acceptable about a government that operates in this fashion.

    Don’t hold your breath.

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  3. john personna says:

    Didn’t we talk about this here when it was a CIA proposal?

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  4. sam says:

    I see a former vice-president in the future of this story….

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  5. Hello World! says:

    Why should this be taken as a grain of salt? You have a credible person making a claim. My fear is it will not be taken seriously and his situation could become more frequent in the future. We should all be concerned when congress will hold hearings on everything from steroids in baseball to islamic radicalization to what albums should get little stickers deeming them offensive. This is something that is actually scary to think about.

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  6. ponce says:

    The Bush administration got away with torturing helpless captives, I doubt this will be what brings them down.

    Still…there’s Al Capone…

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  7. TG Chicago says:

    Agree that this should be investigated but also caution that it should be taken with a grain of salt unless and until more is known. Thus far, we have the word of one guy we’ve never heard of.

    Given that the “guy we’ve never heard of” has little to gain and much to lose for making false accusations, I don’t see a need for a grain of salt. I do, of course, see a need for the basic “innocent until proven guilty” standard. If that’s what you meant by “grain of salt”, so be it, but I didn’t interpret it that way.

    Had you heard of Daniel Ellsberg before the release of the Pentagon Papers?

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  8. Falze says:

    Gee, why would the rightweb not be all over a story whose source is the same guy that contradicted Panetta and others regarding the Osama investigation, publicly attacked McCain during the 2008 election, downplayed the terrorist threat during the 2008 election…

    Quite the source. Because he used to work for the CIA once upon a time suddenly he’s the most valuable source of ‘news’ for the left.

    I can already see the publicity tour with Valerie Plame…

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  9. Moosebreath says:

    “One would hope that Congress would investigate this, get to the bottom of it, and make clear that there is nothing at all acceptable about a government that operates in this fashion.”

    Because of course Congress is going to approach this in a non-partisan manner. Doug, are you interested in this nice bridge I have to sell you?

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  10. Falze says:

    Oh, we’ve heard of him, the left rolls him out whenever they need to attack the work of the CIA.

    Nothing to gain? Are you even serious?

    Step 1: go to Amazon’s web page.

    Step 2: type in his name

    Step 3: notice that he has a new book attacking his former employer with a glowing quote from none other than proven liars Joe and Valerie Wilson prominently featured.

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  11. Doubter says:

    Got links for that? Or any kind of backup?

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  12. Falze says:

    Step 1: go to your favorite search engine

    Step 2: type in his name

    Step 3: review the results

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  13. narciso says:
  14. narciso says:
  15. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Bush Derangement Syndrome apparently has severe residual effects too. Not only did having that guy in office wig out liberals while he still was in office; even years later they’re so blinded by lunacy they have to jump through their own assholes to chase what’s so obviously a non-story it boggles the mind.

    I mean, come on, the Bush White House used the CIA in 2005 to discredit an anti-war blogger?! A blogger. A blogger?! In 2005. After Bush already had been re-elected.

    The guy had a total audience of, what, several thousand people? Ten thousand? Fifty thousand? One hundred thousand? Maybe half of whom at the time were too young to rent a car. Ergo, in a country with 150 million registered voters Bush after being re-elected with the largest nominal vote total in history directly violated the law to go after a blogger. A blogger who on his best day might have the ears and eyes of perhaps 1/10th the audience of bowling tournaments on ESPN.

    Your brain would have to be made out of oatmeal to believe that. It’s literally absurd.

    Then of course the source of this “revelation” is some disgruntled lefty ex-employee with a vested pecuniary interest in attacking evilBushHalliburtonCarlyleGroup and thereby selling a few extra books to trust fund babies in Pacific Heights and SoHo. But, still, the Internet left would believe this account.

    Honestly, internet leftists should not be allowed to breed much less to vote.

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  16. CB says:

    to dismiss this immediately is just as wrongheaded as accepting it at face value. and the sniveling responses about book sales and lefties hardly make the case that the guy shouldnt be believed. cole is no hero of mine, but come on, have a bit of objectivity. need i point out the response that this kind of accusation would ellicit if it had come from an equally suspect whistleblower about obama?

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  17. narciso says:

    He was one of those officials who thought that Osama had endorsed Bush before that election,
    one wonders who was the subject of his interrogation, that’s the only reveal left in the book.

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  18. hey norm says:

    I am shocked, shocked to find out there is illegal use of the intelligence apparatus going on.
    Any response from the hot CIA operative the Bushies outed?

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  19. Falze says:

    “Any response from the hot CIA operative the Bushies outed?”

    Holy crap, there are people that still think this? Oh wait…you were joking. Right?

    “to dismiss this immediately is just as wrongheaded as accepting it at face value.”

    Hey, if you want to believe an ex-employee that has been publicly contradicted by his ex-employer, that has publicly campaigned for Obama by attacking his opponent, and now has a book out and suddenly is being promoted by the NYT as the sole source of exciting new accusations that will let Obama again campaign against Bush…well, fine. But the whole point is that Sarah Palin-obsessed liberals shouldn’t be surprised that rightward writers aren’t clamoring to get on board this ‘bombshell’.

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  20. Rob in CT says:

    Of all the things I think the Bushies did wrong, this *might* make the top 20 list. Maybe. Assuming it’s true.

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  21. Rob in CT says:

    Regarding the claim that Mr. Carle is a lefty stooge…

    Well, I googled his name.

    First hit: a 2008 Washington Post opinion piece entitled “Overstating our Fears.” I assume he argued we’ve overstated the threat from OBL and other terrorists (the short blurb on google indicates this), but the article itself won’t load for me.

    Second hit: his website, which also isn’t loading for me.

    Third: a NY Times article about the OBL raid, in which Carle is quoted as an anti-”enhanced interrogation” guy, saying he thinks it doesn’t general trustworthy intel (in addition to being wrong).

    Fourth: An article at “Above the Law” claiming that “enhanced interrogation” was what got OBL and that if the Obama admin had been in charge post-9/11, we’d never have gotten that intel. Yoo is quoted, Carle is quoted as the other side.

    He also has a book called The Interrogator, which is apparently very much against things like “enhanced interrogation” and “extraordinary rendition.”

    So, based on that, it appears that so long as you think support for “inhanced interrogation” (torture, to me) is Conservative and resistance to it is Liberal… yeah, I guess the guy’s a Liberal and, thus, not to be trusted…

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  22. Modulo Myself says:

    Considering that Bush once proposed bombing Al Jazeera for its coverage of the Fallujah assault, I’m sure sending the CIA after Juan Cole was probably considered standard operating procedure.

    The funny thing is Doug’s assertion that this could happen to the right blogosphere, as if a horde of white men capable only of soliciting penis pics and retyping ‘socialism’ present an analytic threat to the White House.

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  23. hey norm says:

    “…“Any response from the hot CIA operative the Bushies outed?”

    Holy crap, there are people that still think this? Oh wait…you were joking. Right?”
    Well actually we don’t know, and won’t ever know, because Scooter obstructed the investigation…remember.

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  24. george says:

    Given that the “guy we’ve never heard of” has little to gain and much to lose for making false accusations, I don’t see a need for a grain of salt.

    I’d argue that it’s good practice to take anything you hear from anyone with a grain of salt. If an impeccable Nobel Prize winning physicist tells you he or she has discovered a new force, I’d still want it checked and rechecked before believing it.

    Grain of salt doesn’t even imply bad intentions on the person making the report; people are often just mistaken.

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  25. Davebo says:

    Oh, we’ve heard of him, the left rolls him out whenever they need to attack the work of the CIA.

    And your example is…… ?? Bupkiss.

    Hey, if you want to believe an ex-employee that has been publicly contradicted by his ex-employer

    Mr. Gordon, who has also left government service, said that he did not dispute Mr. Carle’s account, but did not remember meeting with him to discuss efforts to discredit Professor Cole.

    Gordon is deputy director of the National Intelligence Council where Carle was employed.

    To date, he’s been publicly contradicted by a CIA spokesperson. They never obfuscate.

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  26. OzarkHillbilly (used to be tom p) says:

    Grain of salt doesn’t even imply bad intentions on the person making the report; people are often just mistaken.

    George, simple logic (or reason) does not apply here. You need to go somewhere else as common sense has no place in the comments here.

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  27. OzarkHillbilly (used to be tom p) says:

    you need to go somewhere else

    I am very sorry to say.

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  28. MarkedMan says:

    I would not be surprised to find more and more of this coming out. I remember how a) the Bush/Cheney machine claimed the right to use the CIA or anything else on anyone simply based on the president’s belief they were a threat to national security, and b) the incessant framing of anyone who disagreed with their political aims as so weak or misguided they were an actual threat to national security. They stuck this kind of claim in with such regularity it often came out as forced. It seemed likely to me (admittedly, no evidence, just my hunch) that they were signaling their operatives that this was someone to look into, while maintaining plausible deniability. As conspiratorial as this sounds, when I remember that the White House’s chief torture lawyer, John Yoo, actually claimed on the public record that the president had the right to order the testicles of a suspect’s small child crushed if he deemed it necessary to protect national security, well, it seems not just possible but likely they felt it was their right to spy on their political enemies.

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  29. narciso says:

    Considering that Armitage also leaked to Cooper and Miller and Novak, yet because he was opposed to the Iraq War, and was Powell’s right hand man, he wasn’t charged, Also the
    notes of one of the FBI agents, Eckenrode, were lost mysteriously, but Fitzgerald didn’t care about that discrepancy. Not to mention, Wilson’s conflict of interests, through his business ties with COGEMA.

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  30. jukeboxgrad says:

    Considering that Armitage also leaked to Cooper and Miller and Novak

    No, he didn’t leak to “Cooper and Miller and Novak.” He leaked to Woodward and Novak.

    yet because he was opposed to the Iraq War, and was Powell’s right hand man, he wasn’t charged

    No, he wasn’t charged because he cooperated immediately and fully. He never even hired a lawyer. As compared with Libby, who lied to Fitzgerald and did everything he could to obstruct Fitzgerald. I guess you don’t know anything about how prosecutors operate, but this sort of thing will tend to influence their thinking with regard to who they decide to charge or not to charge.

    Armitage also wasn’t charged because Fitzgerald had reason to believe that Armitage didn’t know that Plame’s status was classified. Not so with Libby.

    the notes of one of the FBI agents, Eckenrode, were lost mysteriously, but Fitzgerald didn’t care about that discrepancy

    Where is your evidence that “Fitzgerald didn’t care?” Also, Libby’s lawyers were free to explain this problem to the jury. Did they?

    Not to mention, Wilson’s conflict of interests, through his business ties with COGEMA.

    What “business ties?”

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  31. jukeboxgrad says:

    I have a feeling that you don’t know that Fitzgerald is not a Democrat. He was appointed by Bush.

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  32. JKB says:

    Oh, look, he just happens to have a book coming out next month. What a coincidence?

    And he never even thought of this incidence until the NY Times asked him about it. And, sadly, the NY Times is rapidly becoming an untrustworthy source, especially when it comes to those who oppose or opposed their party’s agenda.

    And the best part, but this is probably from the professionals at the NY Times, is that he can’t remember exactly when this happened but conversations are direct quotes. Or were the quotation marks added to give the story the air of something more than gossip?

    Still the CIA IG should investigate and take action if laws were broken or reveal the biased, false news peddled by the NY Times if they weren’t.

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  33. Eric Florack says:

    Juan Cole dind’t need help. He discredits himself every time he opens an editor, or his mouth.

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