WASHINGTON – For years, the Central Intelligence Agency denied it had a secret file on MIT professor and famed dissident Noam Chomsky. But a new government disclosure obtained by FP reveals for the first time that the agency did in fact gather records on the anti-war iconoclast during his heyday in the 1970s.
The disclosure also reveals that Chomsky’s entire CIA file was scrubbed from Langley’s archives, raising questions as to when the file was destroyed and under what authority.
The breakthrough in the search for Chomsky’s CIA file comes in the form of a Freedom of Information Act 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.
After receiving the document, FP 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.
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.
Clearly, the CIA’s file, or files, on Chomsky fall within these provisions, said Theoharis.
It’s unclear if the agency complied with protocols in the deletion of Chomsky’s file.