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Monday, March 17, 2014

Church Committee members call for new special committee to investigate NSA, CIA, FBI

A letter signed by 16 former counsel, advisers, and professional staff members of the Church Committee called for the creation of a new special committee to investigate the NSA and other intelligence agencies.
We have seen a consistent pattern in which programs initiated with limited
goals, such as preventing criminal violence or identifying foreign spies,
were expanded to what witnesses characterized as "vacuum cleaners",
sweeping in information about lawful activities of American citizens. The
tendency of intelligence activities to expand beyond their initial scope is a
theme which runs through every aspect of our investigative findings.
For younger readers, in 1975 a Senate committee chaired by Senator Frank Church of Idaho found that the CIA, FBI and NSA had abused their powers under 6 presidents - two Republican and four Democratic. As a result of the committee's investigation reforms were enacted, the most notable elements being the creation of the FISA court and the Freedom of Information Act. Forty years later the FISA court has become nothing more than an enabling rubber stamp and FOIA requests are ignored until court actions on behalf of the petitioners are initiated or redacted beyond comprehension.
In an excellent post at The Nation the former chief counsel of the Church Committee, Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr. writes,
Almost forty years ago, a Senate select committee known as the Church Committee for its chair, Idaho Senator Frank Church, investigated America’s secret government. The committee’s investigation remains the most extensive of its kind in this nation’s history. Now it is time for a new committee to examine our secret government closely again, particularly for its actions in the post-9/11 period.
This need is underscored by what has become a full-blown crisis, with Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein accusing the CIA of spying on the committee, possibly violating the Constitution’s separation-of-powers principles, the Fourth Amendment and other laws.
The Church Committee uncovered shocking conduct by numerous agencies, including the FBI, CIA and NSA. For example, the FBI tried to get Martin Luther King Jr. to commit suicide; the CIA enlisted the Mafia in its attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro; and the NSA and its predecessor, the Armed Forces Security Agency, obtained copies of most telegrams leaving America for a period of thirty years. An agency little known then but these days at the center of the news, the NSA’s example provides an urgent warning. Its original aim was to decode encrypted telegrams sent home by foreign ambassadors. But then, exemplifying the “mission creep” that the Church Committee found endemic, the NSA trained its sights on anti–Vietnam War protesters and civil rights activists.
There was much contemporaneous criticism of the Church Committee and criticism did not abate until the critics died off. To their credit Democrat Frank Church and Republican Howard Baker determined to keep the investigation nonpartisan and succeeded to a great degree. The committee held 271 hearings and questioned over 800 witnesses. It is doubtful that the present Senate leadership would allow such an investigation even at the behest of Senator Feinstein. Under Republican leadership a select committee could be formed and chaired by someone other than Senators McCain and Graham. It would also have to excluded any senator who was remotely harboring presidential aspirations which would exclude Senators Cruz, Paul, and Rubio. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon a Democratic critic of the NSA would be a personal choice for ranking minority member. If public confidence is to be restored in the intelligence community and government in general the committee must not appear to be partisan nor may it appear to be captive to the intelligence agencies it is supposed to investigate.
Understandably Obama would prefer to focus on the future rather than the past or present Once Snowden blew the whistle, according to the president who promised Americans they could keep their health care plans, it created the impression that the U.S. is "out there willy-nilly just sucking in information on everybody and doing what we please with it. Now, that's not the case."
And it is also not the case that the public will be convinced that it has been told the whole truth nor that his purported reforms go beyond window dressing, election year, tweaks.
Germane to reforms I would propose two points that I would like to see enacted into law. A city cop or county sheriff can and are frequently sued for violating the civil rights of citizens. Suing a federal employee for a civil rights violation in his personal capacity, where he must pay for his lawyer, is much more difficult. Attorney Cleta Mitchell who represents several Tea Party victims of IRS harassment indicates that she has sued Lois Lerner in both her personal and professional capacities but states it is very hard to sue a federal official. A NSA spook would think twice about putting his pension, home, and life savings on the line just to please his superior.
A second imbalance that should be rectified relates to truthfulness. Lying to just about federal official in a formal setting is a crime punishable by imprisonment. Martha Stewart and Scooter Libby were both jailed for lying to the FBI even when in both instances the underlying case collapsed. If an IRS or FBI agent lies to a citizen in a formal setting why should he be treated differently. If suppose, an agent, or just a desk bound bureaucrat, denies having documents requested in a FOIA request is found to have lied should he not be jailed?
The public has been far too trusting with the powers it has relinquished to an overbearing Leviathan. It must reclaim those powers where it can and restrain the beast where it cannot.

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