James Risen of The New York Times reports today on a former C.I.A. official’s charges that the Bush administration sought to torpedo world-renowned Middle East scholar and blogger Juan Cole, professor at the University of Michigan and author of the blog Informed Comment. The story is notable for several reasons, including at least two the Times entirely omits or severely downplays.
According to Risen, Bush people were unhappy with a prominent academic voicing — and getting a wide hearing for — deep criticism of and opposition to the Iraq war. Former C.I.A. intelligence officer Glenn Carle, “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.”
This could be a serious violation of American law; the C.I.A. is barred from domestic spying (though lets remember we have seen a lot of attacks on protections against domestic spying in recent years, including by Democrat and champion of ‘transparency, Barack Obama). Had Carle leveled his charges while Bush while still in office and if Bush himself had played a role, such actions would arguably have risen to the level of impeachable offenses (among many Bush committed).
I find the story interesting for points Risen effectively ignores. In 2006, Yale University’s departments of sociology and history both approved Cole for appointment. Cole’s hiring was scuttled by the Yale administration. There is ample reason to believe the Israel Lobby went to bat against Cole. Certainly, right-wingers and Israel-idealogues were railing against him. There were reports of leading, wealthy Israel-idolaters and Yale donors were threatening to pull their funding. Any skeptical about the tactics of Israel extremists should recall wealthy Israel-supporter Michael Lucas’s March 2011 threats against Manhattan’s LGBT Community Center and the center’s cancellation of a fundraiser by critics of Israeli policy . Or the Alan Dershowitz tirade against Norman Finkelstein taking a post at DePaul University. Or the campaign against the play I Am Rachel Corrie in New York. This list could go for pages (attacks on academics, cultural programs, journalists, human rights institutions, etc.)
The Yale connection is also interesting. I believe that the role of a very small number of very elite universities in securing American oligarchy is being downplayed (and the issue of American oligarchy is downplayed to begin with). George W. Bush went to Yale. Leading Israel fanatic Joseph Lieberman did, too. For many years, Yale was a key source for C.I.A. recruits. Dubya’s daddy, President George H. W. Bush went to Yale and was head of the C.I.A. from 1976 to 1977. It is my contention (certainly not original) that universities like Yale serve as factories of “received opinion.” That is, they provide the intellectual foundations (to the extent that the United States embraces intellect at all) for power. You need an excuse for bombing civilians in Iraq? Line someone up from Harvard. The history of leading schools barring or even ousting great minds that offered threatening views is very long. (To provide a little grist without milling, look for stories of Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis and Harvard, Chomsky and M.I.T., Gabriel Kolko, William James and Nathaniel Shaler. Several public universities developed great departments in a variety of disciplines because the faculty could and were safely booted from private schools but not could not be from public ones without Bill of Rights protections.)
Some questions remain unanswered (and unasked by the Times). If the Bush administration sought dope on Juan Cole, was it asking for information already in the C.I.A.’s possession, in which case the C.I.A. was already doing domestic work? Or was it directing the C.I.A. to nose about domestically? How does this fit into a larger pattern of expansion of presidential power (an expansion Obama aggressively pursues, arguably more aggressively than Bush)? Will Glenn Carle be treated as Barack Obama has treated other whistleblowers — maliciously and ruthlessly?
All of this will earn me a charge of “conspiracy theorist.” Have a made any such claim? No. I am describing the lines of force in American power relations.
Hugh Sansom is an independent scholar of economics, justice, and journalism, a Thomas Paine wannabe, and a photographer. He lives in Brooklyn, NY. This post originally appeared on his blog Apocalypse Road.