The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in McLean, Virginia REUTERS

Intelligence officials, prodded by the Bush White House, sought personal information that they could use to damage the reputation of an outspoken critic of the Iraq war, a former Central Intelligence Agency official told the New York Times.

Glenn L. Carle, who was a prominent member of the CIA's counterterrorism team during the Bush Administration, alleged that a superior asked him for information that could be used against Juan Cole, a University of Michigan Professor whose Informed Comment blog was a widely read platform for criticism of the Iraq war. Later, Carle approached an analyst who was seeking similar information.

According to Carle, the superior said that the White House wants to get [Professor Cole], and later penned a memo containing inappropriate, derogatory remarks about Cole. Carle took the memo to a different superior, who struck out the defamatory sentences. In the second instance, Carle confronted an analyst who confirmed he had been asked to gather information on Cole, who the analyst said was really hostile to the administration.

I couldn't believe this was happening, Cole told the Times. People were accepting it, like you had to be part of the team.

If Carle's allegations are true, they could constitute an illegal act of spying by the CIA because the efforts were directed at an American citizen. Intelligence officials denied his account.