The New York Times reports:
A former senior C.I.A. official says that officials in the Bush White House sought damaging personal information on a prominent American critic of the Iraq war in order to discredit him.
Glenn L. Carle, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who was a top counterterrorism official during the administration of President George W. Bush, said the White House at least twice asked intelligence officials to gather sensitive information on Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who writes an influential blog that criticized the war.
In an interview, Mr. Carle said his supervisor at the National Intelligence Council told him in 2005 that White House officials wanted “to get” Professor Cole, and made clear that he wanted Mr. Carle to collect information about him, an effort Mr. Carle rebuffed. Months later, Mr. Carle said, he confronted a C.I.A. official after learning of another attempt to collect information about Professor Cole. Mr. Carle said he contended at the time that such actions would have been unlawful.
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.
Intelligence officials disputed Mr. Carle’s account, saying that White House officials did ask about Professor Cole in 2006, but only to find out why he had been invited to C.I.A.-sponsored conferences on the Middle East. The officials said that the White House did not ask for sensitive personal information, and that the agency did not provide it.
“We’ve thoroughly researched our records, and any allegation that the C.I.A. provided private or derogatory information on Professor Cole to anyone is simply wrong,” said George Little, an agency spokesman.
In 2005, after a long career in the C.I.A.’s clandestine service, Mr. Carle was working as a counterterrorism expert at the National Intelligence Council, a small organization that drafts assessments of critical issues drawn from reports by analysts throughout the intelligence community. The council was overseen by the newly created Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Mr. Carle said that sometime that year, he was approached by his supervisor, David Low, about Professor Cole. Mr. Low and Mr. Carle have starkly different recollections of what happened. According to Mr. Carle, Mr. Low returned from a White House meeting one day and inquired who Juan Cole was, making clear that he wanted Mr. Carle to gather information on him. Mr. Carle recalled his boss saying, “The White House wants to get him.”
“ ‘What do you think we might know about him, or could find out that could discredit him?’ ” Mr. Low continued, according to Mr. Carle.
Mr. Carle said that he warned that it would be illegal to spy on Americans and refused to get involved, but that Mr. Low seemed to ignore him.
“But what might we know about him?” he said Mr. Low asked. “Does he drink? What are his views? Is he married?”
Mr. Carle said that he responded, “We don’t do those sorts of things,” but that Mr. Low appeared undeterred. “I was intensely disturbed by this,” Mr. Carle said.
He immediately went to see David Gordon, then the acting director of the council. Mr. Carle said that after he recounted his exchange with Mr. Low, Mr. Gordon responded that he would “never, never be involved in anything like that.”
Mr. Low was not at work the next morning, Mr. Carle said. But on his way to a meeting in the C.I.A.’ s front office, a secretary asked if he would drop off a folder to be delivered by courier to the White House. Mr. Carle said he opened it and stopped cold. Inside, he recalled, was a memo from Mr. Low about Juan Cole that included a paragraph with “inappropriate, derogatory remarks” about his lifestyle. Mr. Carle said he could not recall those details nor the name of the White House addressee.
He took the document to Mr. Gordon right away, he said. The acting director scanned the memo, crossed out the personal data about Professor Cole with a red pen, and said he would handle it, Mr. Carle said. He added that he never talked to Mr. Low or Mr. Gordon about the memo again.
In an interview, Mr. Low took issue with Mr. Carle’s account, saying he would never have taken part in an effort to discredit a White House critic. “I have no recollection of that, and I certainly would not have been a party to something like that,” Mr. Low said. “That would have simply been out of bounds.”
So there we have two non-denial denials from George Little, a CIA spokesman, and David B Low, a key suspect in this dirty tricks operation.
Little says the records have been searched and nothing was found. And are we supposed to have forgotten that the CIA has a history of destroying damaging records?
As for Low — not only a former intelligence officer but also an attorney — he employs the standard line, “I have no recollection,” fully aware that some day a prosecutor might present him with a piece of evidence that miraculously jogs his memory.
(While Low is a decorated intelligence officer, his career development outside the intelligence community was focused on business. “In the private sector, Mr. Low was president of the largest US apartment company, was responsible for US corporate acquisitions for a British industrial company, and was general counsel for the investment advisors to the Imperial Government of Iran under the Shah. Mr. Low practiced corporate law on Wall Street at White & Case.”)
So what now? Juan Cole says: “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.”
But this isn’t just a matter for Congress; it should also involve the Justice Department.
And what are the chances of that happening? Not very good with an administration that is dedicated to “looking forward” rather being willing to expose the crimes of its predecessor.