A University of Michigan professor who criticized the Bush administration in his blog demands that the CIA and FBI deliver records on their investigation of him and their efforts to discredit him. A former CIA official told The New York Times in June that he had been assigned "to unlawfully gather information on Professor [Juan] Cole, a U.S. citizen living in the United States, in order to discredit him," according to Cole's federal complaint.
"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," Cole says in his complaint. "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."
New York Times reporter James Risen reported on June 15 that Glenn Carle, a retired CIA official, had been ordered to "get" Professor Cole.
"On June 15, 2011, the New York Times reported that Glenn Carle, a former CIA counterterrorism official, disclosed that he had been assigned to unlawfully gather information on Professor Cole, a U.S. citizen living in the United States, in order to discredit him," the complaint states. "The Administration reportedly wanted to 'get' Professor Cole, because he spoke out against the Iraq War."
Carle said he refused to do it, calling the orders "unlawful," according to Risen'sarticle.
But Carle told Risen that months later, he "confronted" a CIA official about another attempt to collect information on Cole.
Risen reported: "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."
Risen reported that intelligence officials disputed Carle's account, and said the White House asked about Cole in 2006 "but only to find out why he had been invited to C.I.A.-sponsored conferences on the Middle East."
It is illegal for the CIA to spy on U.S. citizens in the United States, unless it is part of a foreign intelligence or counterintelligence operation, and it is illegal for the FBI to spy on U.S. citizens to retaliate for their peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights.
"Under the National Security Act of 1947 and Executive Order 12333, the CIA may not undertake domestic activities unless they relate to foreign intelligence or counter intelligence, and unless the CIA acts in coordination with the FBI," the complaint states.
"Neither the CIA nor the FBI may investigate an American citizen simply for exercising his First Amendment rights. The New York Times article reports that the CIA did in fact gather information on Professor Cole."
Cole wrote on his blog: "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."
Cole adds that "the requested records are particularly important to the national debate as the Senate Intelligence Committee begins to investigate government officials' involvement in any decision to unlawfully spy on or investigate Professor Cole."
Cole says that neither the FBI, the CIA nor the Office of the Director of National Intelligence met their timeline to respond to his FOIA request.
He wants to see all the documents, correspondence and internal investigations relating to him.
The ACLU also signed on as a plaintiff. Lead counsel is Michael Steinberg with the American Civil Liberties Union Fund of Michigan.