A University of Michigan professor allegedly targeted in a smear campaign by President George W. Bush's administration sued the CIA and FBI today.
U-M Professor Juan Cole, a prominent Middle East expert and critic of the Iraq war, sued to force the agencies to turn over any documents relating to him, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Detroit.
The lawsuit is a bid by Cole to prove whether the CIA illegally spied on him and what actions, if any, were taken by the agency, the Justice Department and Bush White House.
"Americans don't need permission from their government to write and publish their political opinions," Cole said in a prepared statement. "If the Bush White House pettily attempted to use the CIA to destroy my reputation by seeking dirt on my private life in order to punish me for speaking out, that would be a profound violation of my Constitutional rights."
A CIA spokesman declined comment today.
The lawsuit comes less than a month after a former CIA official alleged in a New York Times report that the Bush White House wanted "to get" Cole and sought damaging information about him in 2005. The Senate Intelligence Committee launched a review of the allegations, which the CIA has denied.
Cole, who publishes a popular blog called Informed Comment, was joined in the lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.
"At the heart of this action is whether the CIA, FBI and other agencies undertook an investigation of a U.S. citizen for the simple fact that he was a critic of U.S. government policy," ACLU lawyers Michael Steinberg and Zachary Katznelson wrote in the lawsuit. "Such a chilling of First Amendment freedoms, if it did in fact take place, would send shock waves through the public arena, threatening to limit the open debate that makes our democracy strong.
"The public has an urgent need to know whether government agencies are sweeping aside the law and spying on Americans who do nothing more than speak their minds."
The ACLU filed Freedom of Information Act requests last month with the Department of Justice, CIA, FBI and other agencies and asked for the request to be expedited. The requests sought e-mails, letters, faxes and other materials that mention Cole and related documents.
Neither the CIA nor FBI responded to the request, according to the lawsuit.
The ACLU wants a judge to order the CIA, FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence to immediately process the request on an expedited basis and award costs.