The Senate Intelligence Committee is now reviewing whether the CIA and White House may have tried to smear Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who writes a popular blog on Middle Eastern issues.
“The Committee is looking into this,” U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-California, who heads the committee, said in a statement. “Depending on what we find, we may take further action.”
Meanwhile, a senior official at the University of Michigan said in a statement that “The University will be closely watching developments in this case” and has a commitment to the “principle of academic freedom.”
“Professor Cole is a renowned Middle East scholar and popular teacher,” said U-M Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Phil Hanlon. “He is a long time valued member of the university community.”
The Senate Committee’s announcement to probe what may have happened comes after a former CIA official, Glenn Carle, said that the White House under then-President George W. Bush ordered the CIA to dig up negative information about Cole’s personal life in order to try and discredit his views. At times, Cole was critical of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq war.
Last week, Cole told the Free Press that the spying “was criminal.”
“The Bush White House request that the CIA spy on me to discredit me clearly violated the American constitution, U.S. law, the CIA charter, and my civil and human rights,” he said.
Carle said his supervisor at the CIA asked him: “Does he (Cole) drink? What are his views? Is he married?” as first reported last week by the New York Times. “What do you think we might know about him, or could find out that could discredit him?”
But a spokesman for the CIA, Preston Golson, told the Free Press: “We’ve thoroughly researched our records, and any allegation that the CIA provided private or derogatory information on Professor Cole to anyone is simply wrong.”
“We value the insights of outside experts, including respected academics, who follow many of the same national security topics we do,” Golson said. “Diversity of thought is essential to the business of intelligence analysis.”
Hanlon, the University of Michigan official, added in his statement:
“In addition to his scholarly work, Professor Cole is active in the public arena, freely sharing his views on developments in the Middle East. While Professor Cole’s views are his own, the University steadfastly and unequivocally stands behind the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression. Free expression of views is essential to dynamic dialogue and debate.”