An Email Exchange with Noam Chomsky
On November 14, 2006, I wrote Dr. Chomsky requesting clarification on his video comments about 911. These comments have caused a gigantic flap in certain circles, and not just in the 911 Truth Movement.
The video in question:
The quote in question:
"If it [Bush did it] is true, which is extremely unlikely, who cares? It doesn't have any significance. It's a little bit like the huge energy that's put out on trying to figure out who killed JFK. Who knows? Who cares? Plenty of people get killed all the time, why does it matter that one of them happened to be JFK? If there was some reason to believe there was a high level conspiracy it might be interesting."
Dr. Chomsky was kind enough to grace me with three emails on three consecutive days, and I hope he will forgive me if I quote him from these emails, as a means of clearing up this controversy. These emails contain no private information. Dr. Chomsky didn’t even address me by name in the replies, so it stands to reason that he was answering the world as a whole, and me only as a temporary representative of that whole.
I have to admit that I found Dr. Chomsky very difficult to converse with. In fact, he was obtuse and testy, the opposite of what I had expected. I expected him to be logical and straightforward, but did not find him to be. As you will see, he refused to comprehend the intent of my questions and did his best to complicate the issues rather than clarify them, like an attorney would. With some pressure, he did substantially amend the quote above, however, and that is what this article is about.
I did not enter a discussion of the facts of 911 with Dr. Chomsky. I simply asked him if he meant what he seemed to mean here: that the facts of the matter, whatever they were, did not matter. Here are the most crucial parts of his reply.
You misunderstood. What I said about the JFK assassination is that unless there was a high-level conspiracy that had policy consequences, the actual facts about what happened are of no greater significance than the latest murder of a poor black in downtown Boston. I think that is correct. We shouldn't worship royalty.
As for 9/11, I never said that it is not important who is responsible. Rather, it is very important, but the charges that are circulating are of very low credibility, for reasons I have discussed repeatedly.
Then I pressed him, pointing out that he said that even if Bush did it, it didn't matter.
You misunderstood again. I said that even if it turned out that Bush did it—for which there is no credible evidence—blowing up the WTC would not rank high among his crimes, against the American people as well.
We then entered a long discussion of what he meant by requiring that a high-level plot must have policy consequences. I needed an answer to that, since he seemed to be implying that a high-level plot was not enough by itself to be interesting. It must also have policy consequences. I was led to that implication by his very first statement in the video quote, where we clearly have a high-level plot (Bush Did It). That high-level plot he calls insignificant, so I assumed he was further qualifying his requirements. His subsequent line also confirmed that reading.
The evidence is overwhelming, I believe, that the JFK assassination did not have significant policy consequences, though it did have some.
Here he seems to be saying that the JFK assassination did not have significant policy consequences, therefore it is uninteresting even if it is a high-level plot.
However, Dr. Chomsky told me that this is not what he meant. The clause “that had policy consequences” was just an add-on. It was not meant to be read like I read it. Dr. Chomsky assured me of that in no uncertain terms.
A high-level plot without policy consequences is of course conceivable, but such a remote contingency that it is hardly worth even a brief comment.
Again, I don't doubt that you have something in mind, but there is no question about the readings of the quotes. And again, the notion of a high level plot without policy consequences is so unlikely as to hardly merit a word.
The positive consequences have nothing to do with whether a high-level plot would be interesting. You asked about policy consequences, I mentioned a few.
From all this, I think we may take it that a high-level plot would have to have significant policy consequences and would have to be interesting. Therefore people must care. Chomsky says it explicitly, above:
Rather, it is very important. . .
That answers my question. But if there is still any doubt, I have this from the third email:
I have to say that I am quite astonished that you should even care about casual statements in a video interview. But that's not my problem.
It is his problem, since he tells me he is answering up to 7 hours worth of email a day, much of it on 911.
I receive such a deluge of mail about this that I have to be very brief, particularly because I spend 6-7 hours a night responding to mail.
But what is more important is that he tells us that his statement in the video is “casual” and implies that we shouldn’t care about it. In other words, he will not retract it, but it is OK if we ignore it. I recommend that is what we do.
None of this directly impacts Chomsky’s opinion on the fact of who did it, of course. He admits that it is important, but doesn’t admit that there appears to be any high-level plot. But I think we can begin to build an answer to that question as well, using his commentary here.
To begin with, in what he considers to be casual conversation (with the cameras pointed at him and the microphone on), he says “who cares!” regarding 911. He asks us to ignore that later, but it is telling nonetheless. What he is telling us is that he doesn’t much care himself. He may admit that it is important when pressed, but it is not important to him, in his research. He has things that are more interesting to him, that are more significant, that are greater worldwide tragedies. His arguments that they may in fact be more significant worldwide tragedies are strong arguments. This is not to say that 911 is insignificant, only that his projects outrank it, and may deserve to outrank it.
So far, I tend to agree with him. A man has only so many hours in a day, and so many topics he can address with great attention. Chomsky would appear to be telling us he is full-up in that regard.
Or it may be that Chomsky is simply filled to capacity with knowledge of crime. There is only so much knowledge of evil that a good man can pack into his head. It is a distinct possibility that a human being of high intellect and scruple can wrap his head around either the domestic crimes of the US Government or the foreign crimes of the US Government, but not both. Chomsky may be telling us, in a muffled sort of scream, that he is at capacity. 911 is not his field, and he has admitted that he just can’t find the capacity to care. Given that, it would be surprising if he had penetrated far into any secrets involved. Still, his handling of the situation could have been better, to say the very least. In a 2003 article on Znet, he says,
Nevertheless, despite the thin evidence, the initial conclusion about 9/11 is presumably correct.
For all intents and purposes, Chomsky has held to that line for the last three years. But why would he do all his own research for years, depending for most things on foreign sources, never relying on official sources, and yet presume the official 911 conclusion was correct? Why would someone who must know what the CIA is as well as anyone decide to accept the standard line that the CIA (the good guy) was tracking Bin Laden (the bad guy), as Chomsky does in this article?
The answer, I think, is that the task of sorting through another mountain of documents, video footage, photographs, misinformation, cover-ups, and lies, is just too daunting, for someone who is already sitting on a mountain that reaches to the Moon. Chomsky is now almost 80. He looks like he is in his 60’s, and talks about as fast as he ever did (he never spoke quickly). This tricks some people into thinking he is still that emotionless but highly energetic and highly moral young man, that wavy-haired crusader who joined every march and took on every authority. Well, he still has lots of hair and lots of scruples, but he is not 25 anymore.
He could choose to spend that 7 hours a night diving into 911 research, but he clearly prefers to answer his email. That is as telling as anything else. Who else of his stature posts his email address prominently on the web and answers every loudmouth kid who writes? No one I can think of. But it is Chomsky’s prerogative to do whatever he likes. He has earned the right to spend 18 hours a day playing chess or pingpong or shuffleboard, if that is what he wants to do. If he likes answering mail, great, it gives a lot of people access to their leader or their Satan, whatever the case may be.
That said, he either needs to address the specific problems of 911 research or beg off completely. Dismissing those in the Truth Movement in toto with a wave of his hand, as if they are each and all mental and moral non-entities, is indefensible. Dismissing each and every anomaly with the claim that it is explained by some sort of squishy chaos theory is disingenuous. On other important issues, he is famous for his thoroughness, but here he considers his sound-bite answers to be both complete and authoritative. He is surprised that we do not immediately accept his cursory analysis and his broad dismissals.
For this reason, I think it is necessary to treat his opinion on 911 Truth just like we must treat his video statement above. That is, we are free to ignore it. It is not informed, it is not authoritative, and it is not even serious. It is “casual.”
This does not mean that Chomsky is a mole or a shill, he is not senile, his whole career should not be called into question, he should not be knocked down a peg, he is not cowardly. None of that. He should just not be considered a central character here, since he does not really care to do the research. It is not his field. It is not his project, and he does not want it to be his project. He is busy with what he considers to be loftier projects, and that is his call to make.
Addendum, 2010. George Galloway, like Chomsky and Cockburn and several other high profile people who have been surprising holdouts to 911 Truth, has finally come round. For years Galloway ridiculed 911 Truth, but he is now having Truthers on his radio program, treating them with respect. So we see that highly intelligent people can simply fail to do the research, and can broadcast this ignorance without knowing it. I believe the assumption that Chomsky falls into this category is still the most likely explanation. I don't see how the mainstream benefits by publicizing its own methods of fooling people, and to assume Chomsky is an operative is to assume this.
Addendum, 2014. I have changed my mind regarding my conclusion here. It took a couple of years and much more research, but I am now convinced Chomsky is indeed an agent and a mole. He is part of the controlled opposition. See my newer paper on Ramparts magazine, where I join the outing of Chomsky. I apologize for making so many apologies for him. He was a hard hero for me to give up.