Noam Chomsky.(Wikimedia)
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Why Did the CIA Snoop on Noam Chomsky?

They could have just read our Q&A with him

Adam Chandler
August 13, 2013
Noam Chomsky.(Wikimedia)

After decades of denial, it’s come to light, courtesy of FOIA and Foreign Policy, that the CIA had a file on leading leftist intellectual Noam Chomsky.

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.

Speaking of privileged Chomsky information, a few years ago, Tablet literary editor David Samuels sat down with him to talk about Israel, the United States, Hezbollah, history, politics, and Chomsky’s study of Hebrew, which was a focus of his early academic work.

When you were refused entry to the West Bank recently by the Israeli Interior Ministry, did you talk Hebrew to the people who sent you back to Jordan?

I could’ve, but I didn’t. I’ve done it before, at security. Back in the 1980s I attended a conference in Jerusalem, and on the way out of the country you have to go through security. There were two of us, and the other guy was a friend who I don’t think is Jewish, and they opened everything in his suitcase, took out his dirty socks. There were things in my suitcase I didn’t want them to see. It was during the First Intifada and I had managed to break curfew a couple of times and get into places under curfew until we were picked up by soldiers. I had found a container for a grenade that had stamped on it the name of some place in Pennsylvania, and I wanted to bring that home.

I also had a lot of illegal pamphlets. Israeli security could never find out how they were circulating these pamphlets. In fact it was young kids jumping over rooftops. So I had a collection of these pamphlets that I wanted to bring home, and I was hoping I wouldn’t get inspected. When I got to the inspection, the woman security officer took my passport, and said, “Oh, you have a weird name.” I said, “Yeah.” She said, “Do you speak Hebrew?” So I said, “Yeah.” Then we went on to have a discussion in Hebrew. “Did you visit your relatives, did you have a good time.” And she never bothered to look in my suitcase.

As always, it’s a fascinating interview.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.