The New York Times quoted a former senior CIA official this week, who claimed the Bush White House wanted the agency to dig up dirt on a critic. According to Glenn Carle, a leading counterterrorism official in the Bush administration, White House officials wanted “to get” University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, a leading opponent of the war in Iraq.

Carle’s allegations seem pretty credible, and if accurate, point to potential criminal activities in the Bush White House. After all, using CIA resources to collect information on an American for purely political reasons is a serious felony.

Greg Sargent reports today that Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee are “looking into” the allegations.

“The Committee is looking into this,” Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the intel committee, said in a statement sent my way. “Depending on what we find, we may take further action.” […]

Cole reacted angrily to the news, arguing that the allegations showed that the White House was willing to use the CIA to silence and intimidate someone who “contradicted the propaganda efforts of the administration” to sell the war as a success story. He called for the Senate and House intelligence committees to “immediately launch an investigation of this clear violation of the law.”

Judging from Senator Feinstein’s quote, the scope and goals of this initial effort to look into the story are unclear, but at a minimum, Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee are now taking a first step in that direction.

Given the circumstances, Dems on the Intelligence Committee probably don’t have much of a choice here — we’re talking about a White House engaged in Nixonian tactics of using the intelligence agencies as a partisan weapon against the president’s enemies. That there’s credible reason to believe this may have occurred is extraordinary, even by the standards of the failed former president.

Adam Serwer also raised a good point, noting “the question of whether or not this happened to anyone else.”

Quite right. With all due respect to Juan Cole, whose work I’ve enjoyed for years, he was just one blogger. His site is widely read, but not that widely read, and it’s not like Informed Comment was likely to singlehandedly turn the tide of national public opinion on the war.

If the Bush gang sought to use CIA resources to destroy Cole’s reputation, it seems implausible that the West Wing didn’t have a longer list of potential targets.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.