Last week, on March 18, the former Chief Counsel of the 1975 Senate “Church Committee,” FAO Schwarz, Jr., joined 15 other former “members and staffers” of the original Committee, in signing a letter to the “Congress, President and the American public” calling for a new congressional effort to rein in excesses and abuses by the NSA. Specifically calling for “a special investigatory committee to undertake a thorough and public examination of current intelligence community practices affecting the rights of Americans and to make specific recommendations for future oversight and reform,” the signers added that “congressional action is urgently needed to restore the faith of citizens in the intelligence community and in our federal government.”
Days earlier, on March 12, Schwartz wrote an article for The Nation, entitled Why We Need a New Church Committee to Fix Our Broken Intelligence System.
With an eerie prescience, the letter quotes then chair of Senate Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Frank Church from 1975: “In the case of the NSA, which is of particular concern to us today, the rapid development of technology in this area of electronic surveillance has seriously aggravated present ambiguities in the law. The broad sweep of communications interception by NSA takes us far beyond the previous Fourth Amendment controversies where particular individuals and specific telephone lines were the target.”
In the 1970s, it was the discovery of the collusion between communication companies and the NSA in “collecting and analyzing international telegrams of U.S. citizens since the 1940s(!),” today it is the revelations of Edward Snowden.
The 1975 investigations forced a significant reining-in of intelligence community/administration overreach, including the creation of “permanent oversight” of the intelligence community, as well as the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).