John Deutch - Chomsky's friend in the Pentagon and the CIA

John Deutch - Chomsky's friend in the Pentagon and the CIA
John Deutch - Chomsky's friend in the Pentagon and the CIA

A look at Chomsky's support for the appointment of John Deutch as head of the CIA in 1995.

Submitted by hedgehog on September 24, 2016

In December 1995, The New York Times reported that Noam Chomsky approved of the appointment of his fellow MIT academic, John Deutch, as head of the CIA. (Until then Deutch had been No.2 at the Pentagon.) According to the report, Chomsky said,

'[Deutch] has more honesty and integrity than anyone I've ever met in academic life, or any other life. If somebody's got to be running the CIA, I'm glad it's him.'[1]

This surprisingly favourable attitude to Deutch was confirmed in an interview that appeared in the book Class Warfare in 1996. When asked about Deutch, Chomsky said:

'We were actually friends and got along fine, although we disagreed on about as many things as two human beings can disagree about. I liked him. We got along very well together. He's very honest, very direct. You know where you stand with him. We talked to each other. When we had disagreements, they were open, sharp, clear, honestly dealt with. I found it fine. I had no problem with him. I was one of the very few people on the faculty, I'm told, who was supporting his candidacy for the President of MIT.'[2]

What is particularly interesting about all this is that other anti-militarists at MIT had a rather different attitude to John Deutch because of his long-standing role as a Pentagon adviser.

Deutch headed two Pentagon panels on Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. Along with Alexander Haig, Henry Kissinger and Donald Rumsfeld, he was also an influential advisor on President Reagan's Scowcroft commission, which recommended the deployment of the MX missile in 1983.[3] Then, when the Cold War came to an end, he became very concerned that the US military was turning away from nuclear weaponry by, for instance, removing tactical nuclear weapons from ships and submarines.[4]

MIT's student activists called him the 'War Provost'. One said Deutch's activities had 'really changed the atmosphere at MIT' and complained that Deutch's involvement made the university 'more militaristic'.[5] These activists evidently feared that if Deutch did become MIT President, as apparently Chomsky wanted, then the university would become even more deeply involved in military research of the most barbaric kind.[6]

For more on this whole episode see these articles:

Articles from MIT's official newspaper, The Tech:

'Examining John Deutch's Pentagon connections', The Tech, 27 May 1988 (Vol.108 Issue 26)
- Here it is reported that Deutch had encouraged MIT to apply for 'army contracts for mycotoxin research'. Deutch's enthusiasm for biological warfare research led another MIT Professor, Vera Kistiakowsky, to complain that 'he has no business being in the education business.'

‘Twenty years later, MIT still doing military research projects’, The Tech, 24 February 1989, (Vol.109 Issue 6)
- In which Daniel Glenn says that ‘MIT is currently engaged in several hundred research projects for the Department of Defense. The following are examples of unclassified on-campus research: … "hardening of integrated circuits to withstand nuclear attack’'… "target identification using infrared radar" … "optical signal processing for' missile guidance" … "arctic military facilities"… "application of composite materials for Army helicopter blades’' … '’SDI space-based radar".’

'MIT research heavily dependent on defense department funding', The Tech, 28 February 1989 (Vol.109 Issue7)
- Here Daniel Glenn reports that 80% of MIT's research funding came from the Pentagon.

'Teach-in focuses on research and activism', The Tech, 7 March 1989 (Vol.109 Issue 9 p2, 16)
- In this article, one MIT nuclear engineering student says that Deutch had helped 'MIT secure $2.3 million dollars in defense department funding for chemical and biological weapons research.'

A fuel-air bomb.

Articles from MIT's activist paper, The Thistle:

'Who is John Deutch', The Thistle, (Vol.9 Issue7)
- In this article, a reference is made to Deutch's innovative work on 'fuel-air bombs, one of the most devastating non-nuclear weapons in existence'. The article also points out that as well as being a 'a long-term advocate of US nuclear weapons build-up, [Deutch] is also a strong supporter of biological weapons, and of using chemical and biological weapons together in order to increase their killing efficiency.'

'An open letter to [MIT] President Vest', The Thistle, (Vol.9 Issue7)
- In this article, MIT's Alternative News Collective writes that 'Deutch not only supported research into chemical/biological weapons, … he pressured junior faculty into performing this research on campus.' On the issue of the CIA, the Collective said, 'How should MIT treat an Institute Professor who has just been chosen to lead a terrorist group? It is time that MIT fired John Deutch.'

'Institute Professor John Deutch heads CIA: What next?', The Thistle, (Vol.9 Issue7)
- This article asks, 'What is the nature of MIT? Is it a "neutral" educational institution, or is it just another piece of the Pentagon-CIA-Weapons Manufacturers establishment, that has had - and continues to have - a negative impact on most of the world?'

An MX missile.

Extract from a letter to Chris Knight by Daniel Glenn, a former MIT student activist and author of some of the above articles:

I was not aware of Chomsky's support of John Deutch and do find it surprising.

As part of my activism at MIT, I was part of a protest at my 1989 graduation ceremony in which we protested the hypocrisy of the administration and faculty for wearing black arm bands in support of the student movement at Tiananmen Square. The administration had banned the distribution of the student newspapers for the first time in MIT's history, because we were publishing information about the interlocking directorships of John Deutch and other MIT administration officials and its connection to their support of military expenditures.

We smuggled copies of The Thistle into the graduation ceremony under our robes that detailed those connections. And four students, including myself, unfurled banners on the stage and shook John Deutch's hand with a banner in the other that read: 'MIT War Research Kills'. The banners were in the style of the Tiananmen Square student banners. ... We did feel vindicated in our concerns about the direct line from MIT's research funding and faculty connection's to the military when John Deutch was appointed as Deputy Secretary of Defense and then CIA Director.

... I did take Noam Chomsky's course on activism and society, and we did engage with him on a number of occasions about our political efforts with the university, and his presence at the university is one of the reasons I was willing to go to MIT. I thought that if he could be there, then I could learn from that institution in spite of its deeply troubling connections to the technology of warfare. I was surprised to learn that he was limited by the politics of academia to teaching within his primary subject area of linguistics, in spite of being such an esteemed intellectual in political science. The course we took from him was not an official course in the university.

I am a great admirer of Noam Chomsky, and would not want to disparage him in any way. I do find this particular issue interesting and somewhat troubling, but I do imagine that he had to make compromises of many kinds over his decades as a resident radical in an institution so entrenched in the military-industrial complex; and he its most profound and substantive critic.

For more on anti-militarist activism at MIT and Chomsky's lack of support for this activism see:

'Noam Chomsky, war research and student protests at MIT, 1967-1972'


'Chomsky at MIT: Between the war scientists and the anti-war students', by Chris Knight


1. The New York Times article (10/12/1995) also said that Deutch was reforming the CIA by reviewing its paid informants across the world so they could 'identify the crooks and the fingernail-pullers, to weigh the information they provided against their records, and to sack them if they failed the test.' The article, in other words, implied that Deutch was OK with CIA 'nail-pullers' as long as they provided useful information.

2. N.Chomsky, Class Warfare, Interviews with David Barsamian, p135-6.

3. The Washington Post, 9/12/77; New York Times, 29/3/86; B.Scowcroft, Report of the President's Commission on Strategic Forces, 1983.

4. The Washington Post, 12/3/83 and 26/12/86 and 3/12/87; Technology Review, Vol.95 (February 1992).

5. 'MIT students allege defense conflict', UPI, 2/6/89; The Tech, 27/5/88 and 24/1/90 and 2/3/90, p7.

6. It seems highly unlikely that Chomsky really wanted more military research at MIT. As he said, his attitude was more that 'whether [a university is] being directly funded by the CIA or in some other fashion seems to me a marginal question.' M.Rai, Chomsky's Politics p130.



7 years 6 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Steven. on January 13, 2017

Hey, thanks for posting. Who is the author of this piece?


5 years 7 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by hedgehog on November 28, 2018

Here's two more articles on Deutch:

'Myth and Reality in Chemical Warfare', Chemical and Engineering News, February 1982. The radical students at MIT angrily accused him of actively supporting use of chemical weapons. In this article, by Deutch himself, he confirms this by writing: 'There is no alternative to deploying a credible CW [Chemical Warfare] capability.'

'Military Provost', Science for the People, March/April 1988, p6.[br]

Chomsky's support for Deutch is particularly puzzling when we recall how often he stressed that if military research were to take place anywhere in society, it should be in universities. See Language and Politics, p216-7.

Chomsky made this argument while major student unrest was occurring at MIT. His talk was entitled 'The Function of the University in a Time of Crisis'. It is reported that radical students in the audience were 'surprised' and 'dismayed' by Chomsky's stance.

Here are two reports from the 30 December 1969 editions of, first, The Boston Globe and, then, The Los Angeles Times:

When Chomsky made a similar argument around the time of the 1968 Columbia University occupation, many students were equally 'surprised'. See the Columbia Daily Spectator, 13 May 1968, p1.


7 years 2 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Khawaga on May 9, 2017

How utterly naiive by Chomsky.


6 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by hedgehog on October 22, 2017

1994 press conference at which John Deutch outlined the Pentagon's new nuclear strategies. Video can be seen HERE.