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Profile: Frank Church
Frank Church was a participant or observer in the following events:
Vice President Nelson Rockefeller (see December 19, 1974 and After) is instrumental in keeping Senate Democrats from finding out too much about the intelligence community’s excesses. When the New York Times reveals the existence of a decades-old illegal domestic surveillance program run by the CIA (see December 21, 1974), President Ford heads off calls from Democrats to investigate the program by appointing the “Rockefeller Commission” to investigate in the Democrats’ stead. Senate Democrats, unimpressed with the idea, create the Church Committee to investigate the intelligence community (see April, 1976). Rockefeller is adept at keeping critical documents out of the hands of the Church Committee and the press. When Senator Frank Church asks for materials from the White House, he is told that the Rockefeller Commission has them; when he asks Rockefeller for the papers, he is told that he cannot have them because only the president can authorize access. One Church aide later calls Rockefeller “absolutely brilliant” in denying them access in a friendly manner. “He winked and smiled and said, ‘Gee, I want to help you but, of course I can’t—not until we’ve finished our work and the president approves it,’” the aide recalls. Senator John Tower (R-TX), the vice chairman of the committee, will later reflect, “We were very skillfully finessed.” But even Rockefeller, who has his own history of involvement with the CIA, is taken aback at the excesses of the CIA, particularly its history of assassinating foreign leaders. Rockefeller will eventually turn that information over to the Church Committee, giving that body some of the most explosive evidence as yet made public against the agency. [US Senate, 7/7/2007]
Senator Frank Church. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]A Senate committee tasked to investigate the activities of US intelligence organizations finds a plethora of abuses and criminal behaviors, and recommends strict legal restraints and firm Congressional oversight. The “Church Committee,” chaired by Senator Frank Church (D-ID), a former Army intelligence officer with a strong understanding of the necessity for intelligence-gathering, notes in its final report that the CIA in particular had been overly cooperative with the Nixon administration in spying on US citizens for political purposes (see December 21, 1974); US intelligence agencies had also gone beyond the law in assassination attempts on foreign government officials in, among other places, Africa, Latin America, and Vietnam. Church himself accused the CIA of providing the White House with what, in essence, is a “private army,” outside of Congressional oversight and control, and called the CIA a “rogue elephant rampaging out of control.” The committee will reveal the existence of hitherto-unsuspected operations such as HT Lingual, which had CIA agents secretly opening and reading US citizens’ international mail, and other operations which included secret, unauthorized wiretaps, dossier compilations, and even medical experiments. For himself, Church, the former intelligence officer, concluded that the CIA should conduct covert operations only “in a national emergency or in cases where intervention is clearly in tune with our traditional principles,” and restrain the CIA from intervening in the affairs of third-world nations without oversight or consequence. CIA director William Colby is somewhat of an unlikely ally to Church; although he does not fully cooperate with either the Church or Pike commissions, he feels that the CIA’s image is badly in need of rehabilitation. Indeed, Colby later writes, “I believed that Congress was within its constitutional rights to undertake a long-overdue and thoroughgoing review of the agency and the intelligence community. I did not share the view that intelligence was solely a function of the Executive Branch and must be protected from Congressional prying. Quite the contrary.” Conservatives later blame the Church Commission for “betray[ing] CIA agents and operations,” in the words of American Spectator editor R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr, referencing the 1975 assassination of CIA station chief Richard Welch in Greece. The chief counsel of the Church Committee accuses CIA defenders and other conservatives of “danc[ing] on the grave of Richard Welch in the most cynical way.” It is documented fact that the Church Commission exposed no agents and no operations, and compromised no sources; even Colby’s successor, George H.W. Bush, later admits that Welch’s death had nothing to do with the Church Committee. (In 1980, Church will lose re-election to the Senate in part because of accusations of his committee’s responsibility for Welch’s death by his Republican opponent, Jim McClure.) [American Prospect, 11/5/2001; History Matters Archive, 3/27/2002; Assassination Archives and Research Center, 11/23/2002]
Final Report Excoriates CIA - The Committee’s final report concludes, “Domestic intelligence activity has threatened and undermined the Constitutional rights of Americans to free speech, association and privacy. It has done so primarily because the Constitutional system for checking abuse of power has not been applied.” The report is particularly critical of the CIA’s successful, and clandestine, manipulation of the US media. It observes: “The CIA currently maintains a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda. These individuals provide the CIA with direct access to a large number of newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign media outlets.” The report identifies over 50 US journalists directly employed by the CIA, along with many others who were affiliated and paid by the CIA, and reveals the CIA’s policy to have “their” journalists and authors publish CIA-approved information, and disinformation, overseas in order to get that material disseminated in the United States. The report quotes the CIA’s Chief of the Covert Action Staff as writing, “Get books published or distributed abroad without revealing any US influence, by covertly subsidizing foreign publicans or booksellers.…Get books published for operational reasons, regardless of commercial viability.…The advantage of our direct contact with the author is that we can acquaint him in great detail with our intentions; that we can provide him with whatever material we want him to include and that we can check the manuscript at every stage…. [The agency] must make sure the actual manuscript will correspond with our operational and propagandistic intention.” The report finds that over 1,000 books were either published, subsidized, or sponsored by the CIA by the end of 1967; all of these books were published in the US either in their original form or excerpted in US magazines and newspapers. “In examining the CIA’s past and present use of the US media,” the report observes, “the Committee finds two reasons for concern. The first is the potential, inherent in covert media operations, for manipulating or incidentally misleading the American public. The second is the damage to the credibility and independence of a free press which may be caused by covert relationships with the US journalists and media organizations.”
CIA Withheld Info on Kennedy Assassination, Castro Plots, King Surveillance - The committee also finds that the CIA withheld critical information about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy from the Warren Commission, information about government assassination plots against Fidel Castro of Cuba (see, e.g., November 20, 1975, Early 1961-June 1965, March 1960-August 1960, and Early 1963); and that the FBI had conducted a counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO) against Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Mafia boss Sam Giancana was slated to testify before the committee about his organization’s ties to the CIA, but before he could testify, he was murdered in his home—including having six bullet wounds in a circle around his mouth. Another committee witness, union leader Jimmy Hoffa, disappeared before he could testify. Hoffa’s body has never been found. Mafia hitman Johnny Roselli was murdered before he could testify before the committee: in September 1976, the Washington Post will print excerpts from Roselli’s last interview, with journalist Jack Anderson, before his death; Anderson will write, “When [Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey] Oswald was picked up, the underworld conspirators feared he would crack and disclose information that might lead to them. This almost certainly would have brought a massive US crackdown on the Mafia. So Jack Ruby was ordered to eliminate Oswald.” (Anderson’s contention has not been proven.) The murders of Giancana and Roselli, and the disappearance and apparent murder of Hoffa, will lead to an inconclusive investigation by the House of the assassinations of Kennedy and King. [Spartacus Educational, 12/18/2002]
Leads to FISA - The findings of the Church Committee will inspire the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (see 1978), and the standing committees on intelligence in the House and Senate. [Assassination Archives and Research Center, 11/23/2002]
Simultaneous Investigation in House - The Church Committee operates alongside another investigative body in the House of Representatives, the Pike Committee (see January 29, 1976).
Church Committee Smeared After 9/11 - After the 9/11 attacks, conservative critics will once again bash the Church Committee; former Secretary of State James Baker will say within hours of the attacks that the Church report had caused the US to “unilaterally disarm in terms of our intelligence capabilities,” a sentiment echoed by the editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal, who will observe that the opening of the Church hearings was “the moment that our nation moved from an intelligence to anti-intelligence footing.” Perhaps the harshest criticism will come from conservative novelist and military historian Tom Clancy, who will say, “The CIA was gutted by people on the political left who don’t like intelligence operations. And as a result of that, as an indirect result of that, we’ve lost 5,000 citizens last week.” [Gerald K. Haines, 1/20/2003]
Entity Tags: Washington Post, Tom Clancy, William Colby, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, R. Emmett Tyrrell, Richard M. Nixon, HT Lingual, George Herbert Walker Bush, Jack Anderson, Frank Church, Church Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sam Giancana, Jack Ruby, James R. Hoffa, Pike Committee, Martin Luther King, Jr., James A. Baker, Lee Harvey Oswald, John F. Kennedy, Jim McClure, Johnny Roselli, Warren Commission
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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