True Crime

Government Secrets – US Senate Church Committee

The Church Committee was an investigation conducted by the United States Congress in the 1970s that looked into various intelligence activities of the US government. During the Cold War, the investigation resulted from growing concerns about civil liberties abuses and constitutional violations by intelligence agencies, especially the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).

The Church Committee was named after its chairman, Senator Frank Church, a Democrat from Idaho and established in 1975 and operated for almost two years, during which it produced several reports and recommendations that had far-reaching consequences for US intelligence policies and practices.

The investigations of the Church Committee were motivated by a growing public awareness of the abuses of power and violations of civil liberties by the intelligence agencies. The committee was set up with a mandate to study the intelligence activities of the US government, including electronic surveillance, covert operations, and the use of coercion and violence against political dissenters.

The Church Committee exposed various cases of abuse of power by intelligence agencies. The CIA and FBI had been involved in domestic spying, wiretapping, and infiltration of anti-war and civil rights groups. They were found to have illegally collected information, including opening mail and installing listening devices in private homes.

FBI Counterintelligence Program

The FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), for example, was found to have been responsible for the surveillance, harassment, and even assassination of political dissidents such as Martin Luther King Jr. The committee’s investigation unearthed unethical practices such as using blackmail, assassination plots, and other illegal acts by US intelligence services. The investigation found that the CIA and its operatives had involved themselves in illegal, covert activities, which included funds being piled up through illicit activity such as drug trafficking.

CIA MKUltra Program

investigated MKUltra as part of their efforts to uncover and expose the CIA’s secret and illegal actions. The committee’s investigations into MKUltra led to the discovery of details about the program’s experiments on human subjects, including LSD and other mind-altering drugs, without the subject’s consent. The committee’s findings led to public outrage and increased scrutiny of the intelligence community’s activities.

CIA Overthrowing Existing Governments

The Church Committee also exposed sinister collaboration between intelligence agencies and their foreign counterparts. Illegal operations were then conducted on foreign soil with the aid of the intelligence agencies of foreign countries. Examples were found in Chile, where the CIA worked with the intelligence agency of the Pinochet regime to assassinate General Rene Schneider, whom the outgoing socialist president had appointed. During the Cold War, the CIA also propped up military dictatorships in Guatemala, Iran, and Indonesia.

The Committee also discovered that tax-exempt foundations were recipients of CIA financial largess, which was then funneled towards a broad range of covert operations as part of the CIA’s global strategy of regime change that came to be known as the ‘cultural Cold War.’ The Committee examined the CIA’s influence on the arts, particularly literature, and film, and the agency admitted to having played a role in the production and funding of works that mainly aimed at reinforcing the psychological warfare campaign associated with the Cold War. The CIA was particularly interested in using popular culture to influence the youth, who were more susceptible to the agency’s propaganda.

The CIA’s involvement in illegal drug trafficking without informing Congress or the public and their efforts to directly and indirectly influence U.S. media, including the planting of false stories, maybe some of the most disconcerting (not that overthrowing governments or using psychological subterfuge on unsuspecting patients wasn’t enough) because the behavior seems to be continuing in our society today. Do we never learn?

The Church Committee’s recommendations for policy reform had far-reaching consequences. It proposed strict oversight of intelligence agencies, with committees created in the House and Senate. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court were also later initiated based on the committee’s recommendations. The committee recommended more limits regarding government surveillance of US individuals and groups.

Perhaps the most significant outcome of the Church Committee was the strengthening of congressional oversight mechanisms. The committee’s findings helped increase transparency, and many of its recommendations were later adopted by Congress. By requiring intelligence operations to be conducted within the limits of the law, the committee helped establish the principle that government agencies must act within a legal framework.

The Church Committee was concluded in 1976, but its legacy still reverberates. It is often cited as one of the most significant investigations in US history, with its findings informing ongoing debates about national security and civil liberties. It is credited with catalyzing significant reforms of intelligence agencies and putting in place safeguards that protect US citizens from abuses of power.

The Wrap and Iran Contra

The Church Committee recommendations on reforming intelligence practices have since become landmark policy directives. It remains a vital reminder of the importance of safeguarding civil liberties and democratic principles in the face of global insecurity. The only question is can we believe these things won’t happen again?

The Iran Contra affair happened in 1986, ten years after the Church Committee. The political scandal involving the CIA revolved around the illegal sale of arms to Iran, a sworn enemy of the United States, and the use of the profits from those sales to support the Contras, an anti-communist rebel group in Nicaragua.

According to Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council, $18 million of the $30 million Iran had paid for the weapons was unaccounted for because he had diverted it to the Contras.

Are we doing better now? Probably not much. If you watch the media today about the apprehension of a latest Pentagon papers leak you may wonder if the pages are real. It seems they are if the leak caused so much distress and a very speedy arrest by the FBI (Good job!). But if the information leaked is true, how come it contradicts official media releases by the WH and Intelligence community about the war in Ukraine? Is Ukraine losing the war? Is their air defense decimated? Are US soldiers in actual combat?

I can’t answer those questions. How would I know if the media says differently? What’s the truth?


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