Secret files reveal Anti-Defamation League spied on Noam Chomsky

US scholar and activist Noam Chomsky at a press conference to support the Gaza-bound flotilla in the port of Gaza City on 20 October 2012.

Ashraf Amra APA images

Two confidential Anti-Defamation League memos from the 1970s show that the pro-Israel “civil rights” group sent spies to report on talks by Noam Chomsky, a noted critic of Israel.

“Chomsky is an Arab apoligist, [sic] pure and simple,” one reads [PDF], addressed to Irwin Suall, then national director of “fact-finding.”

The short May 1975 memo details various points it claims Chomsky made at a State University of New York talk. It concludes of Chomsky: “While he has a number of specific source references at his fingertips, he can be handled by any equally informed academic person.”

Operation Jupiter

A second document [PDF] from 1976 is longer, more detailed and has a more cloak-and-dagger air to it.

The author, code-named “Operation Jupiter,” went along to a Harvard meeting Chomsky spoke at and later sent the five-page report to one Iz Zack. (This is likely Isadore Zack, an ADL regional director who directed investigations in New England at the time and who, during World War II, was in charge of a group in the Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps called the Subversive Squad.)

“Jupiter” gave more specific information on the meeting, such as how many people attended, the co-sponsoring groups, and even detailed the physical appearance of Chomsky and his co-speakers: “light hair clean shaven weighting [sic] about 170 lbs -5ft. 8. Excellent speaker and seemed exceedingly chummy with the PLO rep.”

Both documents seem fairly badly written, but the second in particular is fairly sinister.

Chomsky: ADL fabricates defamations

In an email to The Electronic Intifada, Chomsky said he was “not surprised” to learn of the files:

The ADL office in Boston is rather porous. Sometimes staff there don’t like what they are doing, and leak information. In one case, someone showed up at my door and gave me a package of about 150 pages of material. First page said: “for Alan Dershowitz.” It was a collection of materials for him to use in a forthcoming debate in his favorite style of evading the issues: defame your opponent, and spend the rest of the time discussing the fabricated defamations.

It was kind of amusing, rather like FBI files I’ve seen. Lots of surveillance. Spies sent to talks and sending back fevered notes that were mostly fantasy. Some personal correspondence that they’d gotten hold of. Lots of clippings with defamatory fabrications. That sort of thing. Just right for Dershowitz. And an interesting insight into the concept of “anti-defamation.”

The ADL’s spy network

The reports are part of several hundred pages of ADL documents that were obtained in 1997 by lawyer Pete McCloskey as part of a 1993 civil case he spent years pursuing against the ADL on behalf of several activists the group snooped on.

ADL spies Roy Bullock and Tom Gerard (the latter of whom was a cop and former CIA agent who said he had been involved in US-backed dirty wars in Central America) compiled files on thousands of progressive, left-wing and Arab groups and individuals, seemingly considering them on the same level as the neo-Nazi groups they also monitored.

Bullock even infamously tried to smear the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee by planting the group’s literature on tables at the convention of the Holocaust-denying Journal of Historical Review.

At the time the two agents were in action, Irwin Suall (who the first Chomsky report mentioned above is addressed to) was still national head of “fact finding.”

The last civil case was settled out of court in 2002 for a substantial amount of money. Crucially, these activists did not sign a non-disclosure agreement.

The Institute For Research: Middle Eastern Policy recently began scanning and uploading the files to its website, making them available online for the first time in its Israel Lobby Archive.

Update: the words “and individuals” were inserted above to clarify the scale of Bullock and Gerad’s files.




I would have assumed so. Who wouldn't?


I would consider the ADL derelict in its duty if it actually failed to spy on those who
seek to express the truth. Anyone who expresses points of view which are
not complimentary to the Government of Israel should expect a similar response
from ADL. I would guess that with his experience Professor Chomsky would consider it a compliment of a sort .


To me, the word "spying" has some very specific connotations. The PDFs I read stated that ADL members attended meetings that were open to the public and took notes on them. This is similar to using the word "spying" to describe the activities of somebody who is attending open courtroom proceedings.

Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and co-host of our podcast.

He is author of the bestselling book Weaponising Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn (OR Books, 2023).