Cole, ACLU, Sue CIA, FBI seeking Bloggergate Documents

Spencer Ackerman at Wired reports on the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit launched on my behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union against the CIA, FBI, Department of Justice, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence. See also the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press.

In the text of the lawsuit, ACLU lawyers Michael Steinberg and Zachary Katznelson wrote,

“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. 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.”

I had told the ACLU, “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.”

See also Thomas Eddlem’s thoughtful essay on the whole affair.

Eminent New York Times national security correspondent James Risen reported on the front page of the New York Times on June 15 that a retired CIA operative had alleged that he was tasked with providing information of a potentially damaging sort on my private life as the result of a request made to his boss, David Low, by the Bush White House. The operative, Glenn Carle, declined, but discovered that his immediate boss did pass over a report on me. Later on he found out that another, junior, analyst had been given the task of digging dirt on me so as to discredit me.

All I can figure is that the Bush White House was upset over my analysis of the course of the Iraq War, which it depicted as a bright and glorious enterprise. In contrast, I was simply trying as best I could from a distance to understand what exactly was happening in that country, using the Arabic press and my own sources on the ground. My depiction did not accord with theirs. Carle reports the junior analyst as being disturbed at my criticisms of the Bush administration. (It is hard to remember now, perhaps, that US conservatives actually made the argument in 2005 that it was unpatriotic to criticize a president prosecuting a foreign war! )

My initial response to the story is here.

Given Mr. Carle’s revelations, ACLU and I filed a request with all four agencies for an expedited FOIA process. That is, while the Freedom of Information Act allows citizens to request the files government agencies may hold on them, in most cases the agency concerned can take its own sweet time about responding to the request. But sometimes there is a “compelling need,” and the agency agrees to meet the request quickly, or is instructed to do so by a judge.

A compelling need is often acknowledged where the government interferes in the freedom of speech rights of journalists, and I do a fair amount of journalism. In this instance, the urgency is also increased by the possibility that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence may launch its own investigation into the allegations.

But the CIA and the FBI haven’t deigned to respond to the request for an expedited FOIA process (which is contrary to the FOIA law, specifying that they must respond within 10 days). The DOJ replied that they’d check for documents in a very limited way. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence bald-facedly denied that there was any compelling need to speed up the FOIA release of documents it might hold on me. In other words, the ODNI is not alarmed and feels no urgency about the revelation that a White House asked the CIA to violate its charter and US law in order to have it investigate me and try to discredit me merely for speaking my mind.

Since these agencies seem not to be taking this whole affair very seriously, the ACLU and I were left with no choice but to launch this lawsuit. Mr. Carle’s account affirms that there was a paper trail to this Bush administration attempt to enlist the CIA in domestic surveillance on an American in order to play dirty tricks on him. We need to see those documents in order to fight back and keep American democracy strong.

23 Responses

  1. Thank you for your blog. Thank you for being a public intellectual in an age of political decline and an intellectual class stuck in a Scholasticism of Modernity. Sorry for any stress/burden this has caused you and your family. And not to make light of it but… One day when I grow up I want to be just like Juan Cole and have the President of the US find my writing to be a threat to his authoritarian/statist political existence…

  2. Thank you for pursuing this litigation.

    However may I suggest operating under the assumption that you are not the only person who was investigated or smeared by the FBI/ CIA during the Bush years? Yours is an important case not just in its own right, but to try to pry open information about patterns and practices of the Bush administration’s lawlessness.

    Also why not submit a FOIA request to the Bush library as well? Are its records not subject to disclosure yet?

    Finally, I would not be surprised if the White House/ CIA had a role in generating opposition to your appointment at Yale. Yale has a long, well-established relationship with the CIA.

  3. What has happened to Professor Cole is a danger to all Americans. There needs to be investigation which goes on and identifies other victims, since this does not look like an isolated incident. We can learn by what the German government did when they opened up the files the Stasi kept on the German population. It is the only way to protect a democracy is for wrong doings to be brought out into light.

    It also needs to be known whether this happened to individuals who were on the wrong side of a prior congressional member, or a congressman on the House Intelligence Committee, in order to discredit, cover illegal entries, harass, people who have opposed the congressmen’s political friends. As it is already known, they have used local law enforcement and allies to do this.

  4. We learned in the last year from an article in the WA Post that the surveillance state has almost 1 million employees.

    Just today we learned about the new technology for local law inforcement which is a facial recognition system that never remembers a face. Perfect for tractking terrorists. Or potential terrorists like us who criticize the government.

    link to dailykos.com

    Glenn Greenwald has posted columns on this which can be found on a google search of

    glenn greenwald surveillance state

    • And, I imagine, that was a facial recognition system that never forgets a face?

      Seriously, whenever a law has no teeth, or relies on a potential defendant to investigate themselves, all you have is eyewash. Don’t hold your breathe on that FOI.

      Law, in the best case, and that is not what we have here, is a matter of politics. At least politics as practically defined as how people get along and resolve conflicts as group.

      We could fine-tune that definition, but there is a reason why those behind the torture policies and their implementation will get away with it. There are reasons why Manley must go down. The frustration and exasperation shown so eloquently by Glenn Greenwald comes from a failure to see things as they are. Reality can be a real bitch.

      Sadly, some of us have to come to recognize the Group (ie, the Establishment, the State), has its imperatives and prerogatives, and the individual is there for cannon fodder and to do its told. There is an idealist posture based on individual rights, and the state serving the needs of the people, but at this point the US is beyond all that.

      The Republic of by and for the people has run its course. We’re back to the baseline behavior of governments throughout history. Good news is those of us in the US are collectively rich, and if we’re old enough can ride things out to our own end. The rest of you guys are on your own.

      • I would say Glen Greenwald does indeed see things as they are, and is one of the few with the ability to nail hypocrisy and stupidity clearly. Manning may go down, and become a hero of travesty many years from now, but at least one voice called out clearly. Manning acted in conscience and we can get up a long list of odorous behaviors from the pretending “democratic” State, a choice Orwellianism. The “reality” you speak of is richly exposed and then defended by Greenwald. Why are you complaining?

  5. Thank you, Professor, for having the strength to pursue this behavior. Not to be a wet blanket, but if one charted the strength and depth of the state security penetration into the “exceptional freedom” that we Americans are so hubristic to believe we have, the curve would have a steadily upward trend.

    I regret that I did not FOIA my FBI and other files during the Carter years, to see what “the government” had made of my participation in a Quaker peace group in the early 1960s and activity in antiwar organizations after I got out of the Army. My experience in being vetted for a security clearance while I was in the service made it pretty plain that such files, such what did Claude Raines call them in “Casablanca,” “dossiers,” existed.

    Any more, a request like that, for us little people without the large-scale public presence of a person like yourself, would seem to just invite the evil little bureaucrats to “re-look at” the requestor, and maybe do a little vindictive and irremediable damage to the requestor from their little obscure offices, “secure” in the knowledge that there could never be any redress or retribution.

    Yeah, paranoia, some will say, but I did spend 13 years as a government attorney and I have a pretty good picture of what little faceless bureacrats have done and can and will do as the American Stasis and ISIs ramp up. (I see that several universities are offering degree programs in various “government security specialties.” This cynic can’t see much up-side for our “untidy democracy” in the current trends.)

    Bless you and your work. I hope you marshall enough heat and light to at least deter a few excesses by some of the people flocking to “secure” jobs in the “security agencies.”

  6. Juan Cole: Good luck! We could all use a victory here. If the cowboy road in singing “don’t mess with Texas”, let his swan song be “don’t mess with Juan Cole”.

  7. Best of luck. Frankly, I would seek monetary damages for the denying of a position at Yale for you.

  8. Prof. Cole writes, “All I can figure is that the Bush White House was upset over my analysis of the course of the Iraq War, which it depicted as a bright and glorious enterprise. In contrast, I was simply trying as best I could from a distance to understand what exactly was happening in that country, using the Arabic press and my own sources on the ground. My depiction did not accord with theirs. (emphasis added)

    This is an understatement. Bush, the Lesser, was an unaccomplished, spoiled rich kid who, in a perfect world, would be relegated to gas station attendant, trainee. Cole’s facts upset Bush’s political sandbox. Bush et al should be tried for torture, and I’m not talking here about the pain and suffering of hearing him speak.

    One can hope that as the world descends into chaos fueled by climate catastrophes about double what they would have been had Al Gore’s victory been acknowledged, economic catastrophes caused directly by Bush’s waste of Clinton’s surplus, and a future where we all bow down to our Chinese landlords, that someone has the presence of mind top sharpen the pitchforks. Literally, if the legal process fails again to punish the children of privilege.

  9. (slightly off topic) If we, people who disdain bullying and respect truth, fail in this chance, now, to bring justice to Bush and Cheney, Wolfowitz, Feith and Rumsfeld, and Murdoch and his staff liars, we probably won’t get another chance.

    • Why forget Judge Jay Bybee, Mitchell, Jessen, Deland, McCotter, Sampson, Hatch, Rove, Flannigan, Yoo who worked for Hatch- seems like one is only looking at part of the reality by not also looking at them.

    • Cheney’s wife 7th generation LDS, son in SLC, daughter close with LDS Kyle Sampson. Of course, Rove groomed by LDS Bob Bennett

  10. (at first glance, way off topic, but when I connect the dots, almost relevant)

    The people who brought us climate catastrophe and endless, unnecessary wars that we cannot pay for, stolen elections and frankly bat-guano crazy Tea Party parrots, are now trying to permanently destroy the economy and the remnants of the middle class by forcing the US into an unnecessary default.

    Let’s be clear: The debt crisis is a phony as the Saddam-Al Qaeda link, and the four trillion dollars that war cost us is the reason for the problem now.

    The US runs on debt. We buy petroleum on debt. If we default on anything, then we can no longer buy fuel or grow food, and only the Kochs will prosper.

  11. This is not the first time a Metro Detroiter has been targeted by the feds due to his position on Middle Eastern affairs and criticism of U.S.foreign policy necessitating ACLU assistance inbringing FOIA enforcement in federal court.

    In the 1970s, the FBI and NSA were alleged to have engaged in inapprpriate surveillance of Detroit attorney Abdeen Jabara, who had succesfully appealed Sirhan Sirhan’s death sentence and got it vacated and reduced to life in prison in 1972. Jabara also criticized the billions of dollars in foreign aid America gave to Israel contending it violated the Foreign Assistance Act due to Israel’s record of human rights violations. Jabara’s suit filed by the ACLU was eventually settled after a key ruling in the Court of Appeals which established legal precedent on enforcement of the FOIA law contained in the United States Code.

    The FBI targeting of Jabara was part of Operation Boulder, which targeted Arab-Americans folowing the Black September attacks at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

    Jabara is a U-M graduate and has remained involved with Ann Arbor. He signed a published petition supporting pro-Palestine activist Dr. Catherine Wilkerson who was tried criminally after being involved in a protest and purportedly attempting to obstruct a law enforcement officer at U-M and later acquitted in December of 2007 by a jury in Ann Arbor.

    The Juan Cole case today has parallels to the Jabara case of the 1970s.

  12. Very nicely played: TYVM for your column and for fighting!

  13. I applaud your decision to pursue this case in the courts and I admire your courage in doing so.

    If I can help in any way fell free to contact me.

    Bob Higgins

  14. You go Prof Cole!

    We need more patriots, like you, to winkle out the scum that has oppressed our freedoms and ruined our economy. These torturers and liars such as Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld need to feel the misery they created.

    Remember the Plame case…these people stopped at nothing to lie to the American Public — involving us in two unnecessary wars and spending OUR blood and treasure…and now look,,,their successors holding us to ransom over the National Debt. These people need to be stopped.

    Compare ourselves to Egypt and we come up short. Our revolution is so incomplete. We are still ruled by the likes of King George.

    Clean out the stables!!

  15. It is sad this situation has come to this but I applaud your effort on behalf of all U.S. citizens. I am sure there were other subjects of the anger at the Bush WH in exposing their giant lies.

  16. While on the face of it, a Senate Intel Committee investigation is good and needed, but given the nature of the Chair specifically and the Senate in general, nothing will come from any hearings. The best Government money can buy.

  17. There have been some very peculiar things and events going on in Metro Detroit – and have been for some time. Some law enforcement agencies have been encouraged to harass, vandalize, and falsely charge. There has been a good cover-up also going on. A tangled web has been woven and it is deeper than most viewers of this blog realize … and I would venture to say, even the creator of this blog.

    I am torn on our intelligence agencies – seeing there are some good, and there some bad inside. Still analyzing and have not come to a decision yet. I am sure the ‘good’ might be having a very difficult time.

    I enjoy getting notification on the various comments posted, but for some reason within the past few days the comment updates have been arriving in some form of bata language. All other e-mails are showing correctly to the inbox.

Comments are closed.