A group of former staffers for the historic congressional Church Committee say it’s time for a new one.
“A Church Committee for the 21st Century – a special congressional investigatory committee that undertakes a significant and public reexamination of intelligence community practices that affect the rights of Americans and the laws governing those actions – is urgently needed,” wrote the former Church Committee staffers in a letter posted on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website. “Nothing less than the confidence of the American public in our intelligence agencies and, indeed, the federal government, is at stake.”
The original Church Committee was set up in 1975 to investigate lawlessness by U.S. intelligence and federal law enforcement agencies. Lead by Idaho Democratic Senator Frank Church, the committee uncovered everything from assassination to spying on American political dissidents. The committee also led to the creation of two congressional committees meant to oversee the U.S. intelligence community and keep it in line. Revelations regarding the National Security Agency’s phone records program, the former Church Committee staffers say, prove it’s time for a new big-picture look at the American national security state.
“The actions uncovered by the Church Committee in the 1970s bear striking similarities to the actions we’ve learned about over the past year,” the letter reads.
The letter is signed by Former Church Committee Chief Counsel Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., as well as staffers Loch Johnson, John T. Elliff, Burt Wides, Jim Dick, Frederick Baron, Joseph Dennin, Peter Fenn, Anne Karalekas, Michael Madigan, Elliot Maxwell, Gordon Rhea, Eric Richard, Athan Theoharis and Christopher Pyle.
The letter echoes an editorial published by Schwartz in the Nation last week. In it, Schwartz cites California Senator Dianne Feinstein accusing the Central Intelligence Agency of interfering with the Senate intelligence committee’s investigation into Bush-era torture as another sign that a new Church Committee is needed.