The American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a lawsuit today demanding that the government turn over any documents it has relating to University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole, a vocal critic of the Iraq War and the Bush administration.
The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request after former CIA officer Glenn Carle alleged that in 2005 and 2006, the Bush administration asked intelligence officials for any potentially negative personal information about Cole that could be used to undermine his credibility. Carle says that he refused to participate and complained to his superiors at the CIA about the requests. Under FOIA, the ACLU requested materials related to Cole from the CIA, the FBI and the offices of both the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence.
"The government cannot investigate Americans for simply exercising their First Amendment right to criticize the president or his policies," said Zachary Katznelson, senior staff attorney for the ACLU's National Security Project. "As U.S. citizens, we all have the right to express our opinions without fear of having the CIA or FBI digging into our private lives if the government doesn't like what we're saying."
"Americans don't need permission from their government to write and publish their political opinions. 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," said Cole, who is a widely respected Middle East specialist. "Moreover, it is a violation of U.S. law for the White House to ask the CIA to gather information on an American citizen on U.S. soil and for CIA officials to attempt to do so, as Glenn Carle has alleged they did. These actions would be a clear violation of my civil rights."
The CIA is barred from conducting any kind of domestic activity except for collecting foreign intelligence or counterintelligence – and even those actions must be coordinated with the FBI.
"The CIA's charter and an executive order signed by President Reagan make it illegal to spy on an American in the way described by Mr. Carle," said Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan legal director. "The purpose of this lawsuit is to find out what officials at the CIA, Justice Department and Bush White House actually did."
Also representing Cole is Ben Wizner, litigation director for the ACLU's National Security Project.
The FOIA request can be found at: https://www.aclu.org/free-speech/juan-cole-foia-request