Here's a badge of honor for a liberal college professor. At the height of the Iraq War, the Bush White House tried to dig up dirt on University of Michigan professor and prolific blogger Juan Cole, according to a former counterterrorism official who served under the Bush administration. In a report in The New York Times, Glenn Carle says in 2005, his supervisor David Low asked him to collect personal information about Cole to discredit the Iraq War critic. "What do you think we might know about him, or could find out that could discredit him?" Low said, according to Carle. "What might we know about him? Does he drink? What are his views? Is he married?" Carle tells the Times he refused to follow orders and it's unclear if the White House actually uncovered any dirt. "I couldn't believe this was happening," he said. "People were accepting it, like you had to be part of the team." In the article, a CIA spokesman denies the allegations. "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."
For years, Juan Cole has written a blog on the "Middle East, history and religion" called Informed Comment. By all accounts it was an influential blog that consistently harangued the Bush administration. But influential enough to warrant a concerted CIA smear campaign? Fellow blogger and Mother Jones senior writer Kevin Drum grapples with the unusual story.
On the one hand, this sure sounds like exactly the kind of thing the OVP [Office of the Vice President] liked to do. On the other hand, it's almost too stupid to believe: Juan Cole was never even the remotest kind of threat to the Bush administration's prosecution of the war. On the third hand, despite the official denials, there are an awful lot of people in this story who admit to being "curious" about Cole or who acknowledge that the White House "did ask" about Cole at one time or another. That's a bit suspicious sounding, isn't it?
So who knows? It all sounds pretty dumb, but there was an awful lot of dumb stuff going on in those days. I certainly wouldn't be surprised if it all turned out to be true.