According to the New York Times' James Risen, Bush White House officials asked the CIA to gather dirt on and discredit left-wing academic Juan Cole because they didn't like the things he wrote on his blog.

This is interesting because, if true, it would be a) illegal, and b) nuts.

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's unclear whether the disinformation campaign the White House asked for ever actually got off the ground. Carle told the Times that he tried to thwart it at every turn, and that at one point he intercepted an Agency-crafted memo destined for the White House containing "inappropriate, derogatory remarks" about Cole's lifestyle. Carle took the memo to a superior, who crossed out the information about Cole in red pen and said he would take care of the issue.

The CIA is barred by law from gathering information on U.S. citizens. On his blog today, Cole said the revelations came as a "visceral shock," and speculated that the effort was aimed at keeping him off the thinktank circuit:

Apparently one of the purposes of spying on me to discredit me, from the point of view of the Bush White House, was ironically to discourage Washington think tanks from inviting me to speak to the analysts, not only of the CIA but also the State Department Intelligence and Research and other officials concerned with counter-terrorism and with Iraq.

Cole said invitations to such events did indeed drop off after 2005. Cole's blog was certainly influential anti-war voice, but the White House's extraordinary (and criminal) decision to use the CIA to go after him is maybe the most stark sign yet of the shifting influence of blogs over the print media: They weren't targeting Times or Washington Post reporters, they were going after a humble blogger. Was he wearing pajamas?

[Photo via Flickr by Patrick Giblin.]