A Call for a New ‘Church Committee’

The former chief counsel to the special committee on intelligence abuses in 1975 and 1976 says it’s time for another full-scale probe by Congress.

  courtesy of the Brennan Center for Justice. The original purpose of the National Security Agency, according to a recent essay by Frederick (Fritz) A.O. Schwarz Jr. courtesy of the Brennan Center for Justice.The original purpose of the National Security Agency, according to a recent essay by Frederick (Fritz) A.O. Schwarz Jr.courtesy of the Brennan Center for Justice. The original purpose of the National Security Agency, according to a recent essay by Frederick (Fritz) A.O. Schwarz Jr.  
National Journal
Christopher Snow Hopkins
Add to Briefcase
Christopher Snow Hopkins
March 16, 2014, 7:44 a.m.

The original purpose of the National Security Agency, according to a recent essay by Frederick A.O. “Fritz” Schwarz Jr., was to “decode encrypted telegrams sent home by foreign ambassadors.” Yet, for 30 years, the U.S. cryptologic apparatus exceeded its mandate by obtaining copies of most telegrams sent overseas.

Such are the perils of secrecy: Intelligence agencies like the NSA are sheltered from public scrutiny and therefore prone to mission creep.

In the essay, posted last week on the website for The Nation, Schwarz called for a new select committee to document the trespasses of U.S. intelligence agencies after 9/11. The timing was fortuitous: One day before the essay appeared, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein accused the CIA of hacking into Senate computers.

“The country needs a new nonpartisan, fact-based, and comprehensive investigation of our secret government,” wrote Schwarz, who served as chief counsel of the “Church Committee,” the first congressional panel to expose the abuses of the U.S. intelligence community in the post-World War II period. Officially called the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, the panel was led by the late Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, in 1975 and 1976.

“The Church Committee uncovered shocking conduct by numerous agencies, including the FBI, CIA, and NSA,” Schwarz wrote. “For example, the FBI tried to get Martin Luther King Jr. to commit suicide [and] the CIA enlisted the Mafia in its attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro.”¦ Many expected the Church Committee to focus its attention on exposing the abuses of the Nixon administration. But the committee’s most important finding was that every administration from FDR’s through Nixon’s — four Democrats and two Republicans — had abused its secret powers.”

Speaking on the phone from New York, the 78-year-old elaborated on his view that neither of the existing Intelligence committees was equipped to carry out this mission.

“The benefit of a new special committee is that it can have a broader mandate, in terms of time and scope,” he said. “It’s not just the intelligence agencies, but Congress itself that needs to be looked at. How well have the House and Senate Intelligence committees been performing their oversight function?”

This is not the first time Schwarz has called for the creation of a new intelligence panel. In the late 2000s, he testified before Congress on the need to investigate dubious practices like waterboarding and warrantless wiretapping. His recommendation was never taken up by lawmakers, in part because “an investigation then would have focused only on the Bush/Cheney administration, making partisan splits more likely,” he wrote.

Schwarz, now chief counsel of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, is currently writing a book about government secrecy entitled Democracy in the Dark.

Born in New York City, Schwarz is the great grandson of toy titan Frederick August Otto Schwarz, who emigrated from Germany in 1856 and later founded FAO Schwarz. (Early in his career, the younger Schwarz used this fact to disarm judges. “It didn’t guarantee that I was going to win my cases,” he said, “but it created a favorable environment.”)

After graduating from Harvard in 1957, Schwarz enrolled in Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. During his third year, he helped organize a demonstration outside the Woolworth store in Cambridge, Mass., in sympathy with sit-in protests in Greensboro, N.C.

His rebellious streak continued into his years as a litigator with Cravath, Swaine & Moore, where he wrote a piece in 1965 condemning apartheid and urging U.S. businesses not to do business with South Africa. One of the firm’s clients at the time was an American bank doing exactly that.

In 1975, Schwarz was asked by Church to serve as chief counsel of the new select committee, set up after questionable activities by U.S. intelligence agencies were brought to light by the Watergate scandal. The panel’s final report called for, among other reforms, banishment of illegal wiretaps, harassment of political dissidents, and assassination plots against foreign leaders.

In the years since, Schwarz has served as corporation counsel under former New York Mayor Ed Koch and chairman of the New York City Campaign Finance Board. He has written two books: Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror and Nigeria: The Tribes, the Nation, or the Race — The Politics of Independence.

Schwarz is married to Frederica Perera, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Schwarz is scheduled to receive the Nation Institute’s 2014 Ridenhour Courage Prize on April 30 at the National Press Club in Washington. The two past recipients were climate scientist James Hansen and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.

What We're Following See More »
TO CLOSE TEST SITES
North Korea Says It Will Suspend Nuclear Tests
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"North Korea says it has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests and plans to close its nuclear test site. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said the suspension of nuclear and ICBM tests went into effect Saturday." The announcement comes shortly before Kim Jong Un "is set to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in in a border truce village for a rare summit aimed at resolving the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang."

Source:
FOSTER FREISS TO MAKE ANNOUNCEMENT TODAY
GOP Megadonor Running For Governor In Wyoming
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Republican megadonor Foster Friess has told party leaders in Wyoming that he plans to run for governor," and is expected to make an announcement this afternoon. Friess has donated "millions of dollars to Republican candidates and causes over the last decade, according to federal campaign finance records," including over "$1.7 million to boost Santorum's [presidential] campaign" in 2016. Gov. Matt Mead (R) is term-limited, and "a handful of Republicans are running in an open primary to succeed him in one of the reddest states in the country."

Source:
DEATH TOLL REACHES 38
Israeli Army Kills Four Palestinian Protestors
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

Four Palestinian protestors have been killed by Israeli fire near the Gaza-Israel border, bringing the death toll to 38, in what marks the "fourth consecutive week of Gaza's March of Return mass protests." The marches are part of a "month-and-a-half-long protest organized by Hamas near the border fence," which organizers have said will not stop before May 15. The marches are intended to emulate anti-apartheid protests in South Africa, and to commemorate the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in 1948, during the establishment of the State of Israel.

Source:
NO TIMELINE SET
McCabe To Sue For Wrongful Termination, Defamation
9 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe is looking to sue for defamation, wrongful termination and other possible civil claims, his lawyer told reporters Friday." McCabe's attorney Michael Bromwich said that his team "hasn't managed to find any witnesses to corroborate McCabe's version of the story," although they have not had enough time to do so. "McCabe’s lawyers are also seeking ways to release the emails between McCabe and Comey, which would offer insight into their communication about the leaks to the Wall Street Journal."

Source:
SEEKS COMPENSATORY DAMAGES
DNC Files Sweeping Lawsuit Over 2016 Election
10 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"The Democratic National Committee filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit Friday against the Russian government, the Trump campaign and the WikiLeaks organization alleging a far-reaching conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 campaign and tilt the election to Donald Trump. The complaint, filed in federal district court in Manhattan, alleges that top Trump campaign officials conspired with the Russian government and its military spy agency to hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and help Trump by hacking the computer networks of the Democratic Party and disseminating stolen material found there." The DNC is seeking "millions of dollars in compensation to offset damage it claims the party suffered from the hacks," and is arguing the cyberattack" undermined its ability to communicate with voters, collect donations and operate effectively as its employees faced personal harassment and, in some cases, death threats."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login