After issuing years of denials, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has revealed that it kept a file on MIT professor Noam Chomsky dating back to his days as an anti-war activist in the 1970s. According to John Hudson of Foreign Policy magazine’s The Cable blog, a public records request by FOIA attorney Ken McClanahan turned up a memo referring to the file, leading to the realization that a file must have existed although it had since been purged from the record.
For years, freedom of information activists received the same response in their requests to see Chomsky’s CIA records, “We did not locate any records responsive to your request.” Those activists were skeptical, however, because of Chomsky’s fierce anti-war stance during Vietnam and the years after.
McClanahan found a June 8, 1970 memo between the FBI and the CIA discussing a planned trip by peace activists to North Vietnam. A CIA official wrote that the trip had the “ENDORSEMENT OF NOAM CHOMSKY,” and that he, the official, needed “ANY INFORMATION” about participants associated with the trip.
The Cable received the memo and forwarded it to Marquette University’s Athan Theoharis, an expert on FBI and CIA cooperation and on information gathering. Theoharis told the Cable, “The June 1970 CIA communication confirms that the CIA created a file on Chomsky. 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.”
Theoharis also noted, “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.”
By whom, when and at whose orders the file was destroyed is still a mystery. The Cable said that under the 1950 Federal Records Act, it is illegal to destroy federal records without express permission from the national Archive, which seeks to preserve government documents as a matter of historical record.
Chomsky told the Cable that he isn’t surprised by the revelations.
“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, adding that he is much more concerned about modern spying by the NSA than intelligence gathering techniques from the 1970s.
“What was frightening in the 60s into early 70s was not so much spying as the domestic terror operations, COINTELPRO,” he told Hudson. “And also the lack of interest when they were exposed.”
Read the CIA’s response to McClanahan’s request and the memo pertaining to Chomsky’s CIA file, embedded below via Scribd and Foreign Policy:
[image of Noam Chomsky via Flickr user Andrew Rusk, Creative Commons licensed]