The Cable

Exclusive: After Multiple Denials, CIA Admits to Snooping on Noam Chomsky

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 The Cable 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 (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 Chomsky biographer Fredric Maxwell 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.

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. The CIA declined to comment for this story.

What does Chomsky think? When The Cable presented him with evidence of his CIA file, the famous linguist responded with his trademark cynicism.

"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. When asked if he was more disturbed by intelligence overreach today (given the latest NSA leaks) or intelligence overreach in the 70s, he dismissed the question as an apples-to-oranges comparison.

"What was frightening in the ‘60s into early ‘70s was not so much spying as the domestic terror operations, COINTELPRO," he said, referring to the FBI's program to discredit and infiltrate domestic political organizations. "And also the lack of interest when they were exposed."

Regardless,, the destruction of Chomsky's CIA file raises an even more disturbing question: Who else's file has evaporated from Langley's archives? What other chapters of CIA history will go untold?

"It is important to learn when the CIA decided to destroy the Chomsky file and why they decided that it should be destroyed,'" said Theoharis. "Undeniably, Chomsky's was not the sole CIA file destroyed. How many other files were destroyed?"

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CIA-FBI Referred Doc

The Cable

Big Losers of the Obama-Putin Flame War: Ordinary Syrians

When it comes to Syria, peacemakers and interventionists agree on one thing: The cancellation of talks between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin bodes poorly for ordinary people trapped in a horrific civil war.

On the eve of a cabinet-level meeting between Russia and the United States, the White House is taking heat from all sorts of Syria-minded activists for refusing to engage with the Kremlin at the highest levels. U.S. officials say prospects of producing any agreements with Putin were already slim; so why reward him with a photo-op? But activists say the costs of not engaging are too high.

"Lack of communication will make the situation on the ground worse, not better," Dan Layman, director of media relations at the Syrian Support Group, tells The Cable. Layman's group wants Obama to confront Putin on his stonewalling at the United Nations and delivery of helicopters, tanks and missiles to the Assad regime. He also wouldn't mind if Washington threw the rebels a missile or two. Better yet: a No Fly Zone.

But other activists want nothing do with weapons. They'd like both powers to pressure Syria into allowing aid groups broader access to the 6.8 million people the United Nations says are in need of humanitarian assistance in the region. Despite an agenda that's very different from the hawkish Syrian Support Group, the frustration is the same: We need Obama at the table.

"President Obama's failure to prioritize a meeting with President Putin to discuss peace in Syria was a reckless move," said Shannon Scribner, Oxfam America's humanitarian policy manager. "We encourage presidents Obama and Putin to drop the political theater and, instead, demonstrate leadership in search of ending the bloodshed in Syria."

But on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney poured cold water on the idea that a meeting between Putin and Obama would accomplish anything. "Summits of leaders tend to be designed around making progress on significant issues,"  Carney told reporters. "And we had not seen that progress sufficiently on a range of issues to merit a summit."

At her briefing, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Obama's entire national security staff was on the same page. "There was unanimous support for the decision not to - within the National Security Council not to hold the summit," she said. "The point was made - and this is one the Secretary definitely agrees with - is that ... we were not at the point in our progress on a number of these issues where a summit at the presidential level was the most constructive step."

To Oxfam's Noah Gottschalk, that's simply unacceptable, given the need to bring the Syrian opposition and the Assad regime together for peace talks in Geneva. "Putin and Obama meeting wouldn't have solved everything, but it could've gotten the ball rolling towards meaningful talks," he said, calling from the Beirut international airport. "People in the region were hopeful. They saw it as important opportunity for high-level discussions. But what they got is a decision to put petty politics over the lives of Syrians." 

At the same time, administration officials reject the idea that only heads of state can somehow work toward a peace conference. Not only will Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel bring up Syria with their Washington counterparts in Washington on Friday, but lower-level officials will work toward peace talks as well. "Ambassador Ford is in Paris today and tomorrow," said Psaki at Thursday's press briefing. "He's meeting with members of the Syrian opposition to discuss the prospects of a Geneva conference. We remain committed to helping Syrians negotiate a political settlement along the lines of the June 2012 Geneva communique."

But for the activists, the protracted nature of the conflict is proof enough that the crisis calls for top-level engagement. "Sure, they're not going to forge an immediate solution, but right now, we're just going backwards," said Gottschalk.