Eminent National Security correspondent at the New York Times James Risen has been told by a retired former official of the Central Intelligence Agency that the Bush White House repeatedly asked the CIA to spy on me with a view to discovering “damaging” information with which to discredit my reputation. Glenn Carle says he was called into the office of his superior, David Low, in 2005 and was asked of me, “ ‘What do you think we might know about him, or could find out that could discredit him?’ ”
Low actually wrote up a brief attempt in this direction and submitted it to the White House but Carle says he intercepted it. Carle later discovered that yet another young analyst had been tasked with looking into me.
It seems to me clear that the Bush White House was upset by my blogging of the Iraq War, in which I was using Arabic and other primary sources, and which contradicted the propaganda efforts of the administration attempting to make the enterprise look like a wild shining success.
Carle’s revelations come as a visceral shock. You had thought that with all the shennanigans of the CIA against anti-Vietnam war protesters and then Nixon’s use of the agency against critics like Daniel Ellsberg, that the Company and successive White Houses would have learned that the agency had no business spying on American citizens.
I believe Carle’s insider account and discount the glib denials of people like Low. Carle is taking a substantial risk in making all this public. I hope that the Senate and House Intelligence Committees will immediately launch an investigation of this clear violation of the law by the Bush White House and by the CIA officials concerned. Like Mr. Carle, I am dismayed at how easy it seems to have been for corrupt WH officials to suborn CIA personnel into activities that had nothing to do with national security abroad and everything to do with silencing domestic critics. This effort was yet another attempt to gut the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, in this case as part of an effort to gut the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
I should point out that my blog was begun in 2002 with an eye toward analyzing open source information on the struggle against al-Qaeda. In 2003 I also began reporting on the unfolding Iraq War. My goal was to help inform the public and to present sources and analysis on the basis of my expertise as a Middle East and South Asia expert. In 2003-2005 and after I on a few occasions was asked to speak to military and intelligence professionals, most often as part of an inter-agency audience, and I presented to them in person distillations of my research. I never had a direct contract with the CIA, but some of the think tanks that every once in a while asked me to speak were clearly letting analysts and field officers know about the presentations (which were most often academic panels of a sort that would be mounted at any academic conference), and they attended. I should underline that these presentations involved small travel expenses and a small honorarium, and that I wasn’t a high-paid consultant but clearly was expected to speak my views and share my conclusions frankly. It was not a regular gig. Apparently one of the purposes of spying on me to discredit me, from the point of view of the Bush White House, was ironically to discourage Washington think tanks from inviting me to speak to the analysts, not only of the CIA but also the State Department Intelligence and Research and other officials concerned with counter-terrorism and with Iraq.
It seemed likely to some colleagues, according to what they told me, that the Bush administration had in fact succeeded in having me blackballed, since the invitations rather dropped off, and panels of a sort I had earlier participated in were being held without my presence. I do not know if smear tactics were used to produce this result, behind the scenes and within the government. It was all the same to me– I continued to provide what I believe was an important service to the Republic at my blog and I know for a fact that not only intelligence analysts but members of the Bush team continued to read some of what I wrote.
What alarms me most of all in the nakedly illegal deployment of the CIA against an academic for the explicit purpose of destroying his reputation for political purposes is that I know I am a relatively small fish and it seems to me rather likely that I was not the only target of the baleful team at the White House. After the Valerie Plame affair, it seemed clear that there was nothing those people wouldn’t stoop to. You wonder how many critics were effectively “destroyed.” It is sad that a politics of personal destruction was the response by the Bush White House to an attempt of a citizen to reason in public about a matter of great public interest. They have brought great shame upon the traditions of the White House, which go back to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, who had hoped that checks and balances would forestall such abuses of power.