The allegation that the Central Intelligence Agency was asked to spy on a University of Michigan professor, who ran a blog critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq, raises a number of questions.
As chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which oversees the nation's intelligence-gathering agencies, U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, is in a unique position to get answers.
Rogers should make this issue a priority.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, America ramped up its intelligence-gathering capacity to an astonishing degree. Our security departments deserve great credit for keeping any further significant attacks from occurring on U.S. soil.
But when the war on terror winds
down — and it must eventually, whether the time is now or not — it is important that the country's enormous intelligence-gathering capacity does not become misdirected against American citizens.
Alleged spying on professor Juan Cole came to light in June, when the New York Times published an interview with former CIA officer Glenn L. Carle. He told the Times his boss at the National Intelligence Council said in 2005 that White House officials wanted "to get" Cole because he was a frequent war critic. Carle said he was expected to collect information about the professor. Carle refused and took the matter to the acting director of the council, who assured him the CIA would "never, never be involved in anything like that."
But later, Carle said, as quoted by the Times, he came across a memo written by his supervisor about Cole that included a paragraph with "inappropriate, derogatory remarks" about Cole's lifestyle. Again, he took the matter to the acting director. Months later, Carle said he came across another CIA analyst who had been directed to gather information about Cole. According to the Times, it's unclear if any information was ever actually relayed to the White House about the professor.
The idea of America's spy service gathering information on an American citizen is disturbing. As Rogers said, "This is a very serious allegation, and they are not permitted to do it, and it is a criminal act if they do it."
Rogers initially said he would ask the Department of Justice to look at it, although later his office indicated it expected Cole to take the matter to that department himself. Cole was critical of Rogers for that. He said: "If the CIA was asked to violate its charter by the White House by spying on a U.S. citizen, that is not merely an ordinary criminal matter, and Representative Rogers' indifference to it raises questions about whether he really is interested in protecting Michiganders from abuse at the hands of the federal government."
U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, has been even less responsive. Dingell is Cole's congressman and has ignored the issue despite coverage in multiple news outlets. His communications director said this week the congressman has taken no action on the issue because Cole has not contacted his office about it.
This is a matter our congressmen should be paying very close attention to. After the terrorist attacks of 2001, security and intelligence capability in this country was justifiably expanded to an extraordinary degree. But the capability in and of itself should give Americans pause. A Washington Post series titled "Top Secret America" found there are nearly 1,300 government organizations now involved in intelligence gathering, security and counterterrorism. Almost 2,000 contractors are involved. An estimated 854,000 people have security clearances, the Post reported, giving an idea of how huge the security efforts have become.
When a war is over, armies are typically sent home. Weapons are decommissioned. But when a war on terror is over, what happens to the security apparatus, all the offices, all the spies? Are they sent home, or do they act more like bureaucracies, finding other purposes to put their time and efforts to?
Remember that the Soviet Union's KGB started out as an response to external threats. But in the end, that agency became a bigger threat to Russia's own people. We should not miss that lesson from history.
Here in the United States, we've never been through a war on terror before. We've not had to defeat such an enemy and then figure out what to do with the security system we've built. The time for that may soon be approaching, as Osama bin Laden has been killed, as the threat from al-Qaida diminishes, as we pull out of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Getting it right — leaving in place enough security to protect Americans without allowing that intelligence capacity to be turned on Americans — will be tricky.
Our congressmen — Dingell and Rogers particularly, because of his role as house intelligence chair — should be paying very close attention to it.