history repeats

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In 1975, a popular fourth-term[*] Democratic senator from Idaho named Frank Church was serving as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. After he learned that letters he’d sent to Russia had been intercepted by government snoops, he was outraged. “It was an affront to his privacy,” says Pat Shea, a committee deputy director under Church , “an affront to the separation of powers.” Church convened and chaired a series of committees that shed light on what was sometimes referred to as the “No Such Agency,” a government body formally created in 1952 by President Truman that until 1975 had undergone zero congressional oversight. The Snowden Affair is a “rerun” of issues first uncovered during the 1970s, though these problems trace back to the earliest American efforts at espionage, says Shea. Between 1975 and 1976, the Church committees produced more than a dozen reports detailing the illegal activities of the NSA, CIA, and FBI, which included opening mail, intercepting telegrams, planting bugs, wiretapping, and attempting to break up marriages, foment rivalries and destroy careers of private citizens. “We thought we put a stop to this wholesale collection of information on Americans forty years ago,” says Peter Fenn, another former Church staffer.

more from Michael Ames at Harper’s here.

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