A. Noam Chomsky, Ward Professor of Linguistics at MIT, filed suit in Federal District Court in Boston yesterday charging that his telephone has been illegally tapped. The suit names Attorney General John N. Mitchell, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and the New England Telephone Company as defendants.
Chomsky said yesterday that although he suspected that his telephone had been tapped since "early 1968," he had become aware only recently of a statute which would allow him to take action against the alleged tap.
The statute specifies that wiretapping may be permitted only by court order and provides damages of $100 for each day of violation, plus punitive damages and attorneys' fees.
A statement issued by Chomsky's attorneys yesterday claimed that damages in this case "could run to several hundred thousand dollars."
Chomsky said that he had "a number of reasons" to suspect that his telephone had been tapped, pointing specifically to the recent grand jury investigation of him in relation to Daniel Ellsberg '52 and the leaking of the Pentagon Papers to the press.
At that time, Federal Judge W. Arthur Garrity ordered the government to verify or deny wiretapping of Chomsky's line as a prerequisite to his being subpoenaed. The government failed to provide this information, and the subpoena was denied on October 29, lending "further credence to the fact that they had been tapping my phone," Chomsky said.
Chomsky said he filed the case because "these are illegal activities and they (the defendants) should not be allowed to get away with them." He added that he hoped his case would "focus attention on it (illegal wiretapping) and possibly bring it to a halt."
The attorneys' statement said that "Mitchell has claimed inherent power to wiretap without court approval in cases involving national security. The issue of the legality of such taps is now before the United States Supreme Court."
Attorneys for Chomsky are Charles R. Nesson '60, professor of Law, Leonard Boudin and Allan R. Rosenberg '30.
A spokesman for the FBI declined to comment yesterday in order to avoid prejudicing the case. The attorney general's office and the New England Telephone Company could not be reached for comment