Every time we get a peek inside Washington’s war on terror, it just couldn’t be uglier. Last week, three little home-grown nightmares from that “war” caught my attention. One you could hardly miss. On the front page of the New York Times, Glenn Carle, a former CIA official, claimed that the Bush administration had wanted “to get” Juan Cole, whose Informed Comment blog devastatingly critiqued the invasion and occupation of Iraq (and who writes regularly for TomDispatch). Not only that, administration officials called on the CIA to dig up the dirt on him.
Keep in mind that, though the Times quotes “experts” as saying “it might not be unlawful for the C.I.A. to provide the White House with open source material [on Cole],” that just shows you where “expertise” has gone in the post-9/11 world. Since the Watergate era, the CIA has been prohibited from domestic spying, putting American citizens off-limits. Period. Of course, been there, done that, right?
In case you think taking down Cole was just a matter of the bad old days of the Bush administration, note that the journalist who revealed this little shocker, James Risen, is being hounded by the Obama administration. He's been subpoenaed by federal authorities to testify against a CIA agent accused of leaking information to him (on a bungled CIA plan to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program) for his book State of War. It’s worth remembering that no administration, not even Bush’s, has been fiercer than Obama’s in going after government whistle blowers.
In the meantime, in case you didn’t think American law enforcement could sink much lower while investigating “terrorist activity” and generally keeping an eye on Americans, think again. According to Charlie Savage of the Times, a revised FBI operational manual offers its 14,000 agents new leeway in “searching databases,” using “surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention,” and “going through household trash.” Yes, that’s right, if you see somebody at the dumpster out back, it may not be a homeless person but an FBI agent.
And then there was Peter Wallsten’s account in the Washington Post of a nationwide FBI investigation of “prominent peace activists and politically active labor organizers.” According to Wallsten, news leaking out about it hasn’t sat so well with union supporters of President Obama (or, for all we know, with the president himself), since “targets” include “Chicagoans who crossed paths with Obama when he was a young state senator and some who have been active in labor unions that supported his political rise.” All are (shades of Cole in the Bush years) “vocal and visible critics of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and South America.”
Strange are the ways of the American national surveillance state. And lest you think these are simply minor aberrations, consider what Karen J. Greenberg, author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First One Hundred Days, points out in her latest post, “Business as Usual on Steroids”: in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, there is to be no relief. The Obama administration is instead doubling down on the war on terror.