On January 27, 1975, when it had emerged that the intelligence community was spying on American citizens at home and destabilizing foreign governments abroad, the United States Senate established what would later be referred to as the Church Committee. The special investigative body, led by Senator Frank Church of Idaho, would delve into every dark corner of the intelligence business with three objectives: shedding light on abuses that were committed in the past, preventing other abuses from occurring and generating a movement that would coerce the government into reorganizing America’s intelligence agencies.
By the time the Church Committee concluded its report in May the following year — a report aided by eight hundred witnesses, millions of previously classified documents and hundreds of hearings — the findings were so shocking to ordinary Americans that President Gerald R. Ford issued a wide-ranging executive order to change the way the intelligence community did its work. The Central Intelligence Agency was no longer authorized to plan and conduct assassinations of political leaders in other countries; the Federal Bureau of Investigation was prohibited from opening the mail of ordinary Americans to monitor their activity; planting government agents in protest movements to influence their behavior was now considered taboo; and electronic surveillance against Americans could only occur with the explicit approval of the attorney general.
Congress also used the Church Committee report as justification for creating a permanent select committee overseeing the activities of the intelligence community, a degree of legislative involvement that, at the time, was opposed by the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency as overt interference in their affairs.
Nearly forty years later, the CIA is once again in Congress’ crosshairs. After a five-year, $40 million dollar study reviewing the agency’s rendition, detention and interrogation program of suspected terrorists — a program that President Barack Obama abolished during his first week in office — the CIA leadership is experiencing perhaps its worst period of negative press since the mid 1970s. Read more “Despite Bad Press, CIA Still Popular with Americans”