For years, the Central Intelligence Agency denied that it kept a file on linguist, polemicist and MIT Professor Noam Chomsky related to his decades of brazen political activism. But in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Foreign Policy, the agency included documents proving that it kept an eye on Chomsky throughout at least the 1970’s, before quietly destroying the evidence.
Of course, Chomsky likely never had any doubt that the government was keeping an eye on him. To this day, he remains politically active in criticizing the world’s powerbrokers and even acting as a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit Chris Hedges vs. President Obama, which challenges the government’s ability to indefinitely detain individuals per the National Defense Authorization Act.
Via Foreign Policy’s “The Cable” blog:
For years, FOIA requests to the CIA garnered the same denial: “We did not locate any records responsive to your request.” The denials were never entirely credible, given Chomsky’s brazen anti-war activism in the 60s and 70s — and the CIA’s well-documented track record of domestic espionage in the Vietnam era. But the CIA kept denying, and many took the agency at its word.
Now, a public records request by FOIA attorney Kel McClanahan reveals a memo between the CIA and the FBI that confirms the existence of a CIA file on Chomsky.
Dated June 8, 1970, the memo discusses Chomsky’s anti-war activities and asks the FBI for more information about an upcoming trip by anti-war activists to North Vietnam. The memo’s author, a CIA official, says the trip has the “ENDORSEMENT OF NOAM CHOMSKY” and requests “ANY INFORMATION” about the people associated with the trip.
After receiving the document, The Cable sent it to Athan Theoharis, a professor emeritus at Marquette University and an expert on FBI-CIA cooperation and information-gathering.
“The June 1970 CIA communication confirms that the CIA created a file on Chomsky,” said Theoharis. “That file, at a minimum, contained a copy of their communication to the FBI and the report on Chomsky that the FBI prepared in response to this request.”
The evidence also substantiates the fact that Chomsky’s file was tampered with, says Theoharis. “The CIA’s response to the FOIA requests that it has no file on Chomsky confirms that its Chomsky file was destroyed at an unknown time,” he said.
The publication also notes that per the Federal Records Act of 1950, intelligence documents on an outspoken public figure like Chomsky may have had “historical value,” which could have made the destruction of the files a crime. Though there is no way to know what justification and protocols the CIA might have used to avoid having to preserve the files on Chomsky for the national Archives.
If Chomsky’s files simply disappeared from Langley’s archives, Foreign Policy posits, there is no way of knowing if files on other Americans have simply disappeared or what documents detailing dark chapters in the CIA’s history may have vanished.
“It is important to learn when the CIA decided to destroy the Chomsky file and why they decided that it should be destroyed,” Theoharis said in an interview with the publication. “Undeniably, Chomsky’s was not the sole CIA file destroyed. How many other files were destroyed?”
Asked what he thought of the CIA’s delayed acknowledgment, Chomsky really didn’t need to say much. After all, his body of work includes books, essays, and interviews and lectures likely numbering in the thousands, which warn of the corruption of power and the danger it poses the unconcerned, often oblivious, populace.
“Some day it will be realized that systems of power typically try to extend their power in any way they can think of,” he said.