User:Veritas Aeterna/Draft The Church Committee

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The Church Committee is the common term referring to the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, a U.S. Senate committee chaired by Senator Frank Church (D-ID) in 1975. A precursor to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the committee investigated intelligence gathering for illegality by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) after certain activities had been revealed by the Watergate affair.


By the early years of the 1970s, the unpopularity of the Vietnam War and the unfolding Watergate scandal brought the era of minimal oversight to an abrupt halt. The US Congress was determined to rein in the Nixon administration and to ascertain the extent to which the nation's intelligence agencies had been involved in questionable, if not outright illegal, activities.

A series of troubling revelations started to appear in the press concerning intelligence activities. First came the revelations of Christopher Pyle in January 1970 of the U.S. Army's spying on the civilian population[1][2] and Sam Ervin's Senate investigations that resulted.[3] The dam broke on 22 December 1974, when The New York Times published a lengthy article by Seymour Hersh detailing operations engaged in by the Central Intelligence Agency over the years that had been dubbed the "family jewels". Covert action programs involving assassination attempts against foreign leaders and covert attempts to subvert foreign governments were reported for the first time. In addition, the article discussed efforts by intelligence agencies to collect information on the political activities of US citizens.[4]

These revelations convinced many Senators and Representatives that the Congress itself had been too lax, trusting, and naive in carrying out its oversight responsibilities.


In 1975 and 1976, the Church Committee published fourteen reports on the formation of U.S. intelligence agencies, their operations, and the alleged abuses of law and of power that they had committed, together with recommendations for reform, some of which were put in place.

Among the matters investigated were attempts to assassinate foreign leaders, including Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, the Diem brothers of Vietnam, Gen. René Schneider of Chile and President John F. Kennedy's plan to use the Mafia to kill Fidel Castro of Cuba.

Under recommendations and pressure by this committee, President Gerald Ford issued Executive Order 11905 (ultimately replaced in 1981 by President Reagan's Executive Order 12333) to ban U.S. sanctioned assassinations of foreign leaders.

Together, the Church Committee's reports have been said to constitute the most extensive review of intelligence activities ever made available to the public. Much of the contents were classified, but more than 50,000 pages have since been declassified under the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992.

Committee members[edit]

Majority (Democratic) Minority (Republican)

Opening mail[edit]

The Church Committee learned that beginning in the 1950s, the CIA and Federal Bureau of Investigation intercepted, opened and photographed more than 215,000 pieces of mail by the time the program called "HTLINGUAL" was shut down in 1973. This program was all done under the "mail covers" program. A mail cover is when the government records without a warrant or notification all information on the outside of an envelope or package, including the name of the sender and the recipient. The Church report found that the CIA was zealous about keeping the US Postal Service from learning that mail was being opened by government agents. CIA agents moved mail to a private room to open the mail or in some cases opened envelopes at night after stuffing them in briefcases or coat pockets to deceive postal officials.[5]

The Ford administration and the Church Committee[edit]

On May 9th the Church Committee decided to call acting CIA director William Colby. That same day Ford's top advisers (Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld, Philip W. Buchen, and John Marsh) drafted a recommendation that Colby be authorized to brief only rather than testify, and that he would be told to discuss only the general subject, with details of specific covert actions to be avoided except for realistic hypotheticals. But the Church Committee had full authority to call a hearing and require Colby's testimony. Ford and his top advisers met with Colby to prepare him for the hearing.[6] Colby testified, "These last two months have placed American intelligence in danger. The almost hysterical excitement surrounding any news story mentioning CIA or referring even to a perfectly legitimate activity of CIA has raised a question whether secret intelligence operations can be conducted by the United States."[7]

The Ford administration, particularly Rumsfeld, was concerned about the effort by members of the Church Committee in the Senate and the Pike Committee in the House to curtail the power of U.S. intelligence agencies. Frontline quoted U.S. diplomat and Nixon assistant Robert Ellsworth, who stated: "They were very specific about their effort to destroy American intelligence [capabilities]. It was Senator Church who said our intelligence agencies were 'rogue elephants.' They were supposedly out there assassinating people and playing dirty tricks and so forth... Well, that just wasn't true." Rumsfeld and Ellsworth prevented the committees from dismantling the CIA and other intelligence organizations.[8]


Attempts to Mislead the Committee[edit]

The Church Committee was impeded in its investigation by perjury, withheld documents, and deliberately misleading statements. The CIA covered up its role in the coup plotting that lead to the assassination of General René Schneider as a preliminary step to overthrow Chilean President Salvador Allende. Peter Kornbluh in his book, The Pinochet Files: A Declassified Dosssier on Atrocity and Accountability, provides multiple examples in which now declassified papers show that the Church Committee was misled. He starts with the ITT scandal,

<check that the Subcommittee on Multinational Corporations is the same as the Church Committee??>

First, when Richard Helmswas asked,

"Did you have any money passed to the opponents of Allende?" Helms answered, "No, sir" to both questions. As the CIA itself would later admit, "some of the statements in Mr. Helms' testimony...seem not to be in full accord with the facts."

Helms was later

Senator Church: Mr. Helms, did the CIA attempt at any time to prevent Salvador Allende Gossens from being elected President of Chile in 1970?
Helms: No, sir.
Senator Church: Now, following the election, and up to the time that the Congress of Chile cast its vote installing Allende as the new President, did the CIA attempt in any way to influence that vote?
Helms: Which vote?
Senator Church: The vote of the [Chilean] Congress.
Helms: No, sir.

"Mr.Helms did not have to deceive us," Senator Church would later submit. "No one coerced him to commit perjury. He could have said 'no comment.'"[9]

Similarly, the Subcommittee on Multinational Corporations investigated the role of the ITT Corporation and its collaboration with the CIA in undermining Allende's election.

The "testimony that there was "no" U.S. policy to intervene in the 1970 Chilean election was only "technically shy of perjury."[9]

Extensive declassified documents that became available in 2000 as part of the Chilean Declassification project document conclusively document extensive covert attempts to prevent Allende's election through a combination of political, financial, and media mechanisms including the use of black propaganda and approaches to potential coup plotters using false flag operatives.


Results of the investigation[edit]

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) were inspired by the recommendations of the Church Committee.[10] Today, the FISC oversees requests for surveillance warrants of suspected foreign intelligence agents inside the United States by federal police agencies. Also as a result, Colby was replaced by George H.W. Bush as CIA director.


Early on, critics such as Bing Crosby and Paul Harvey accused the committee of treasonous activity. The 1975 assassination of Richard Welch, a CIA station chief in Greece, intensified the public backlash against its mission.[11] The Committee's work has more recently been criticized after the September 11th attacks, for leading to legislation reducing the ability of the CIA to gather human intelligence.[12][13][14][15] In response to such criticism, the chief counsel of the committee, Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., retorted with a book co-authored by Aziz Z. Huq, denouncing the Bush administration's use of 9/11 to make "monarchist claims" that are "unprecedented on this side of the North Atlantic".[16]

In September 2006, the University of Kentucky hosted a forum called "Who's Watching the Spies? Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans," bringing together two Democratic committee members, former Vice President of the United States Walter F. Mondale and former U.S. Senator Walter "Dee" Huddleston of Kentucky, and Schwarz to discuss the committee's work, its historical impact, and how it pertains to today's society.[17]

Sections of the Church Committee report[edit]

Interim Report: Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders (Index Only, in text form) (364 pages)

Volume 1: Unauthorized Storage of Toxic Agents (249 pages)
Volume 2: Huston Plan (409 pages)
Volume 3: Internal Revenue Service (128 pages)
Volume 4: Mail Opening (264 pages)
Volume 5: The National Security Agency and Fourth Amendment Rights (169 pages)
Volume 6: Federal Bureau of Investigation (1010 pages)
Volume 7: Covert Action (234 pages)
Book I: Foreign and Military Intelligence (659 pages)
Book II: Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans (412 pages)
Book III: Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans (989 pages)
Book IV: Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Foreign and Military Intelligence (181 pages)
Book V: The Investigation of the Assassination of President J.F.K.: Performance of the Intelligence Agencies (112 pages)
Book VI: Supplementary Reports on Intelligence Activities (384 pages)

Books II and III "Church Committee" report[edit]

Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. United States Senate, 94th Congress, 2nd Session, April 26 (legislative day, April 14), 1976. [AKA "Church Committee Report"]. Archived on COINTELPRO sources website. Transcription and HTML by Paul Wolf. Retrieved April 19, 2005.

  • Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans, Book II
I. Introduction and Summary
II. The Growth of Domestic Intelligence: 1936 to 1976
III. Findings
(A) Violating and Ignoring the Law
(B) Overbreadth of Domestic Intelligence Activity
(C) Excessive Use of Intrusive Techniques
(D) Using Covert Action to Disrupt and Discredit Domestic Groups
(E) Political Abuse of Intelligence Information
(F) Inadequate Controls on Dissemination and Retention
(G) Deficiencies in Control and Accountability
IV. Conclusions and Recommendations
  • Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports, Book III

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Johnson, Loch K. (1988). A Season Of Inquiry, Congress And Intelligence. Chicago: Dorsey Press. ISBN 978-0-256-06320-2. 
  • Smist, Jr., Frank J. (1990). Congress Oversees the United States Intelligence Community, 1947-1989. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. ISBN 978-0-87049-651-6. 


  1. ^ ABC News
  2. ^ Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission
  3. ^ Military surveillance. Hearings .., Ninety-third Congress, second session, on S. 2318., April 9 and 10, 1974 : United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary. Sub...
  4. ^ Hersh, Seymour (1974-12-22). "Huge C.I.A. operation reported in U.S. against antiwar forces, other dissidents in Nixon years". New York Times. p. 1. 
  5. ^ Benjamin, Mark (2007). "The government is reading your mail".  Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  6. ^ Prados, John (2006). Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-512847-5.  p. 313
  7. ^ Carl Colby (director) (September 2011). The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby (Motion picture). New York City: Act 4 Entertainment. Retrieved 2011.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  8. ^ "Frontline". Retrieved 2006-07-30. 
  9. ^ a b Kornbluh, Peter (2003). The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability. New York: The New Press. pp. 104–105. ISBN 1-56584-936-1.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "The Pinochet File" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  10. ^ Cohen, David (Apr 17, 2004). American National Security and Civil Liberties in an Era of Terrorism. Palgrave. ISBN 978-1-4039-6199-0.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help) p. 34
  11. ^ Church Committee Created
  12. ^ Knott, Stephen F (2001). "Congressional Oversight and the Crippling of the CIA". History News Network.  Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  13. ^ Mooney, Chris (2001). "[[The American Prospect]]". Back to Church. Archived from the original on 2006-12-05.  Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help); URL–wikilink conflict (help)
  14. ^ Burbach, Roger (2003). "State Terrorism and September 11, 1973 & 2001". ZMag. 16 (10). Archived from the original on 01-02-2008.  Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help); Check date values in: |archive-date= (help)
  15. ^ "Debate: Bush's handling of terror clues". Cable News Network. 2002.  Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  16. ^ Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror (New Press, 2007).
  17. ^ "UK Hosts Historical Reunion of Members of Church Committee". University of Kentucky News. 2006.  Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)

External links[edit]