Title: Church Committee Report
Author: Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations
Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (1976). Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to the Intelligence Activities United States Senate, Hearings Before the Select Committee To Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities of U.S. Senate. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office
Date Updated: March 8, 2017
The Church Committee is the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, a U.S. Senate committee chaired by Senator Frank Church (D-ID) in 1975. A precursor to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the committee investigated intelligence gathering for illegality by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) after certain activities had been revealed by the Watergate affair.
By the early years of the 1970s, the unpopularity of the Vietnam War and the unfolding Watergate scandal brought the era of minimal oversight to an abrupt halt. The United States Congress was determined to rein in the Nixon administration and to ascertain the extent to which the nation’s intelligence agencies had been involved in questionable, if not outright illegal, activities.
A series of troubling revelations started to appear in the press concerning intelligence activities. First came the revelations of Christopher Pyle in January 1970 of the U.S. Army’s spying on the civilian poplation and Sam Ervin’s Senate investigations produced more revelations. Then on December 22, 1974, The New York Times published a lengthy article by Seymour Hersh detailing operations engaged in by the Central Intelligence Agency over the years that had been dubbed the “family jewels”. Covert action programs involving assassination attempts against foreign leaders and covert attempts to subvert foreign governments were reported for the first time. In addition, the article discussed efforts by intelligence agencies to collect information on the political activities of US citizens.
These revelations convinced many Senators and Representatives that the Congress itself had been too lax, trusting, and naive in carrying out its oversight responsibilities.
In 1975 and 1976, the Church Committee published fourteen reports on the formation of U.S. intelligence agencies, their operations, and the alleged abuses of law and of power that they had committed, together with recommendations for reform, some of which were put in place.
Among the matters investigated were attempts to assassinate foreign leaders, including Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, the Diem brothers of Vietnam, Gen. René Schneider of Chile and Director of Central Intelligence Allen Welsh Dulles’s plan, approved by the President Dwight D. Eisenhower, to use the Mafia to kill Fidel Castro of Cuba.
Under recommendations and pressure by this committee, President Gerald Ford issued Executive Order 11905 (ultimately replaced in 1981 by President Reagan’s Executive Order 12333) to ban U.S. sanctioned assassinations of foreign leaders.
Together, the Church Committee’s reports have been said to constitute the most extensive review of intelligence activities ever made available to the public. Much of the contents were classified, but more than 50,000 pages have since been declassified under the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992.
The Church Committee learned that beginning in the 1950s, the CIA and Federal Bureau of Investigation intercepted, opened and photographed more than 215,000 pieces of mail by the time the program called “HTLINGUAL” was shut down in 1973. This program was all done under the “mail covers” program. A mail cover is when the government records without a warrant or notification all information on the outside of an envelope or package, including the name of the sender and the recipient. The Church report found that the CIA was zealous about keeping the United States Postal Service from learning that mail was being opened by government agents. CIA agents moved mail to a private room to open the mail or in some cases opened envelopes at night after stuffing them in briefcases or coat pockets to deceive postal officials.
The Ford administration and the Church Committee
On May 9 the Church Committee decided to call acting CIA director William Colby. That same day Ford’s top advisers (Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld, Philip W. Buchen, and John Marsh) drafted a recommendation that Colby be authorized to brief only rather than testify, and that he would be told to discuss only the general subject, with details of specific covert actions to be avoided except for realistic hypotheticals. But the Church Committee had full authority to call a hearing and require Colby’s testimony. Ford and his top advisers met with Colby to prepare him for the hearing. Colby testified, “These last two months have placed American intelligence in danger. The almost hysterical excitement surrounding any news story mentioning CIA or referring even to a perfectly legitimate activity of CIA has raised a question whether secret intelligence operations can be conducted by the United States.”
The Ford administration, particularly Rumsfeld, was concerned about the effort by members of the Church Committee in the Senate and the Pike Committee in the House to curtail the power of U.S. intelligence agencies. Frontline quoted U.S. diplomat and Nixon assistant Robert Ellsworth, who stated: “They were very specific about their effort to destroy American intelligence [capabilities]. It was Senator Church who said our intelligence agencies were ‘rogue elephants.’ They were supposedly out there assassinating people and playing dirty tricks and so forth… Well, that just wasn’t true.” Rumsfeld and Ellsworth prevented the committees from dismantling the CIA and other intelligence organizations.
Results of the investigation
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) were inspired by the recommendations of the Church Committee. Today, the FISC oversees requests for surveillance warrants of suspected foreign intelligence agents inside the United States by federal police agencies. Also as a result, Colby was replaced by George Bush as CIA director.
Early on, critics in the entertainment and news media such as Bing Crosby and Paul Harvey accused the committee of treasonous activity. The 1975 assassination of Richard Welch, a CIA station chief in Greece, intensified the public backlash against its mission. The Committee’s work has more recently been criticized after the September 11 attacks, for leading to legislation reducing the ability of the CIA to gather human intelligence. In response to such criticism, the chief counsel of the committee, Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., retorted with a book co-authored by Aziz Z. Huq, denouncing the Bush administration’s use of 9/11 to make “monarchist claims” that are “unprecedented on this side of the North Atlantic”.
In September 2006, the University of Kentucky hosted a forum called “Who’s Watching the Spies? Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans,” bringing together two Democratic committee members, former Vice President of the United States Walter Mondale and former U.S. Senator Walter “Dee” Huddleston of Kentucky, and Schwarz to discuss the committee’s work, its historical impact, and how it pertains to today’s society.
This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.
The Final Report (Senate Report No. 94-755) of the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, chaired by Senator Frank Church~ comprises six Books as follows:
Book I.Foreign and Military Intelligence.
Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf
This final report of the Senate committee chaired by Senator Frank Church of Idaho contains much information on the scope and origin of covert operations as conducted worldwide by the CIA. See chapter 4, section A for main annotation.
Book II. Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans
Book III. Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans.
Book IV. Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence and Military Intelligence
Book V. The Investigation of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy: Performance of the Intelligence Agencies
Book VI. Supplementary Reports on Intelligence Activities
An Interim Report by the Committee, entitled Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders (Senate Report No. 94-465) was issued in November 1975. A Committee Staff Report entitled Covert Action in Chile, 1963-1973,was also issued in 1975. Much of the testimony taken by this Committee remains classified and will not be published. However, seven volumes of unclassified Hearings have been published, entitled as follows:
Interim Report: Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders
Volume 1: Unauthorized Storage of Toxic Agents
Volume 2: Huston Plan
Volume 3: Internal Revenue Service
Volume 4: Mail Opening
Volume 5: The National Security Agency and Fourth Amendment Rights
Volume 6: Federal Bureau of Investigation
Volume 7: Covert Action
Book I: Foreign and Military Intelligence
Book II: Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans
Book III: Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans
Book IV: Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Foreign and Military Intelligence
Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf
A staff report of the Church Committee of the Senate on the his¬tory of the Central Intelligence Agency. The history, the most detailed yet to be published in the open literature, provides infor¬mation on the early activities of the CIA, its organization and operating policies, and the changes in direction implemented by each of the directors of the CIA. Separate chapters are accorded descriptions of.the clandestine services and the organization for in¬telligence production. An invaluable source of official information on the organization and functions of the CIA from 1946 through 1975. The staff report also includes an addenda to the interim report on Alleged Assassination Plots (see above).
Book V: The Investigation of the Assassination of President J.F.K.: Performance of the Intelligence Agencies
Book VI: Supplementary Reports on Intelligence Activities
These Reports and Hearings comprise the most thorough investigation of United States intelligence activities, foreign and domestic, ever undertaken by the Congress. The Hearings grew out of charges published in the public media commencing in December 1974, many of which were inaccurate or overdrawn. The bulk of the original charges related to alleged domestic operations of the CIA and were considered by the U.S. Commission on CIA Activities within the United States. The Senate Select Committee Report and Hearings cover in particular CIA, the intelligence components of the Defense and State Departments, the FBI, and the intelligence activities of the White House and the Internal Revenue Service. It is a major piece of work which should be studied by all professional intelligence officers, especially in their own particular areas of assignment or interest.
Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf
The result of fifteen months of investigation into the activities of the CIA, FBI, the defense intelligence community, National Security Agency, National Security Council, and the Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, this final report of the committee chaired by Senator Frank Church of Idaho contains a wealth of information, not previously published, on the scope, activities, and evolution of the Washington-based national (or strategic) intelligence community. The report also contains the recommendations of the Select Committee for reforms in the intelligence community.
Book I contains on abundance of details on the evolution of the organizations of U.S. strategic intelligence, primarily the CIA. Included also is a windfall of information and analyses on the production of intelligence estimates in support of national decision making, on counterintelligence, and on covert action or political warfare activities of the CIA. There are good analyses of the relationships between intelligence producers and intelligence consumers and of the process of generating intelligence requirements. Details are also available on the intelligence budget process, and a constitutional framework for intelligence activities is presented.
Book II contains a remarkably detailed history of the development and growth of domestic intelligence from 1936, through the cold war period, to the present . Activities of the FBI and the CIA are emphasized, including their illegal activities of mail opening, electronic surveillance, political harrassment, and surreptitious entries. Information is also included regarding the overseas activities of the FBI and CIA to the extent that these activities affect the constitutional rights of Americans.
An absolutely unique source of data on intelligence activities, regardless of whether or not the researcher agrees with the findings and recommendations of the Select Committee.
Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf
The staff of the Select Committee of the Senate (chaired by Senator Frank Church of Idaho) published, in this supplementary report to the final committee report, a brief history of the evolution and organization of the U.S. federal intelligence function from 1776 through 1975. Part one of the history deals with the period 1776-1914, part two the period 1914-39, while part three describes the period of the national security colossus, 1939-75. An excellent bibliography is included which provides references to numerous magazine articles. The report also provides a general history of the development of government information security classification policy, again with a substantial bibliography.
 Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence School, p.
 Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 215-216
 Book IV contains the “History of the Central Intelligence Agency,” expanded and revised from a shorter version in Book I. The full version of the “History” in Book IV 1 by Anne Karalekas of the Committee Staff, was published commercially in 1977 [Karalekas, Anne (1977). History of The Central Intelligence Agency. Laguna Hills, CA: Aegean Park Press.] While somewhat biased and uneven in some areas, particularly on. the role of clandestine collection and covert action, this “History” is probably the best text , publicly available on the history of CIA.
 This Report has also been issued commercially, under the same title, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1976.
 Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 216
 Rockefeller, Nelson A. (1975). Report to the President by the Commission on CIA Activities within the United States. New York: Manor Books
 Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., pp. 18-19
 Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 19