A blow for blogger freedom is being struck this week in Michigan. University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, blogger at Informed Consent, is suing both the CIA and the FBI to obtain files they have on him that he believes were obtained from these agencies spying on him. The ACLU is joining him in his suit.
The American Civil Liberties Union and a University of Michigan professor filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the CIA and FBI that seeks files related to alleged attempts by the White House to smear the professor by digging up dirt on his personal life.
Filed in Detroit, the federal lawsuit asks the intelligence agencies for all files they might have that are related to Juan Cole, a history professor who lives in Ann Arbor and writes a blog about Middle Eastern issues. According to a former CIA official, in 2005 the White House asked the CIA to smear Cole because he was critical of Bush administration policies in the Arab world.
As first reported by the New York Times last month, former CIA official Glenn Carle said his supervisor asked him: “Does he (Cole) drink? What are his views? Is he married?” And, “What do you think we might know about him, or could find out, that could discredit him?”
Citing the Freedom of Information of Act, the ACLU and Cole sent a letter to the CIA and FBI on June 23 requesting any documents related to Cole. But they said they did not receive any response from them and so filed the suit.
The New York Times piece on Glenn Carle can be found HERE. From that article:
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…
“I couldn’t believe this was happening,” Mr. Carle said. “People were accepting it, like you had to be part of the team.”
“‘What do you think we might know about him, or could find out that could discredit him?’” [his supervisor David] Low continued, according to Mr. Carle.
Some comments from Cole and the ACLU:
“Americans don’t need permission from their government to write and publish their political opinions,” Cole said. “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.”
“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,” ACLU lawyers Michael Steinberg and Zachary Katznelson wrote in the lawsuit. “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.”
Since I am a blogger living just a few miles from Ann Arbor where Professor Cole works, I’ll confess this makes me want to pump my fist in the air and shout, “Hell YEAH!!!” When our government can snoop into and even interfere in our lives simply because we’re exercising our 1st Amendment right of freedom of expression and freedom to freely criticize our government, a HUGE line has been crossed. Those on the right often use throw away phrases about “the rights our men and women have died to defend” about things that have very little to do with what people have actually died to protect. This, however, truly IS something Americans have laid down their lives for. Literally since the beginning of our Republic, Americans have fought and some have died to make sure that we live in a society free from government suppression of our voices and our criticisms of that government.
Here’s hoping Professor Cole is ultimately successful in his endeavors. I admire him in that he is not allowing himself to be pushed around or frightened into submission or silence. He should be viewed as a hero among bloggers.
You can read Professor Cole’s blog about this lawsuit HERE.