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.
“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.”
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.