CIA finally admits to spying on Chomsky

The agency had for years denied keeping a file on MIT professor; FOIAed file reveals the truth

Published August 13, 2013 7:12PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Jorge Dan)
(Reuters/Jorge Dan)

The CIA has finally disclosed, after years of stating to the contrary, that it has kept a file on MIT Professor Noam Chomsky.

According to documents obtained via FOIA by Foreign Policy, the government kept tabs on the anti-war activist and linguist during the 1970's, but later covertly wiped the files.

"Some day it will be realized that systems of power typically try to extend their power in any way they can think of," Chomsky told FP following the revelation.

The MIT professor remains politically active to this day. He is named, for example, as a lead plaintiff in the case of Chris Hedges vs. President Obama, which aims to challenge the troubling indefinite detention provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Obama has twice signed into law.

Via FP:

The breakthrough in the search for Chomsky's CIA file comes in the form of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 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.

... The evidence also substantiates the fact that Chomsky's file was tampered with, says [Athan Theoharis, a professor emeritus at Marquette University and an expert on FBI-CIA cooperation and information-gathering]. "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.

It's worth noting that the destruction of records is a legally treacherous activity. Under the Federal Records Act of 1950, all federal agencies are required to obtain advance approval from the national Archives for any proposed record disposition plans. The Archives is tasked with preserving records with "historical value."

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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1970s Anti-war Fbi Foia Noam Chomsky Nsa Surveillance