A Season of Inquiry Revisited

Title:                      A Season of Inquiry Revisited

Author:                 Loch K. Johnson

Johnson, Loch K. (2015). A Season of Inquiry Revisited: The Church Committee Confronts America’s Spy Agencies. Lawrence, KS : University Press of Kansas

LCCN:    2015026513

JK468.I6 J64 2015


  • “An updated re-issue of Loch Johnson’s classic “insider” study of the US Senate’s so-called Church Committee investigations (ca. 1975-1976) into the activities and abuses of our intelligence agencies (especially CIA and FBI). Named after Frank Church, its charismatic Democratic chair, the committee confirmed numerous cases in which agencies greatly overstepped the limits of their assigned powers and initiated reforms to curb future violations. Johnson, one of the deans of American intelligence and national security studies, served on the committee as a special assistant to Church himself”– Provided by publisher.

LC Subjects

Other Subjects

  • POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Freedom & Security / Intelligence.
  • HISTORY / United States / 20th Century.

Date Posted:      October 9, 2017

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

University of Kansas Press, 2015, 345 pages, endnotes, chronology, index.

Loch Johnson was a special assistant to Senator Frank Church, chairman of the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities—popularly known as the Church Committee. The investigations occurred during 1975-1976 and initially focused on, inter alia, charges of domestic spying, assassinations, and covert actions by the CIA. Senator Church soon expanded his charter to include the entire Intelligence Community and published a 14-volume report documenting the committee’s findings[2]. In 1985, Johnson published his account of the committee’s work in book entitled A Season of Inquiry[3]. It was, as Johnson claimed, a candid “warts and all” description of the investigations that did indeed prove to be “a benchmark in the history of intelligence oversight.” (p. 272) The present edition adds a new foreword, a lengthy postscript, an updated chronology, and new organizational charts.

The foreword summarizes the reasons for the committee’s creation and the difficulties it encountered executing its mandate. The postscript adds perspective to what Johnson describes as “the high-water mark of intelligence accountability.” (p. 285) It also reveals that Senator Church’s famous “rogue elephant” charge about the CIA originated with McGeorge Bundy. (p. 290) He then reviews the Intelligence Community principal investigations undertaken by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), formed after the Church Committee was dissolved. Johnson’s intent is to demonstrate the value of oversight in holding the Intelligence Community to account, and he does that. Unfortunately, though, his lengthy description of the SSCI report on the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques as displaying “laudatory tenacity” reflects a disregard for the facts that is atypical of Johnson’s usual objectivity. He does note that “the intelligence agencies are vital to the security of the United States, and intelligence officers are among the brightest and most dedicated of America’s public service.” (p. 291) This truth notwithstanding, his general conclusion is that “intelligence accountability should be taken more seriously by lawmakers, presidents, and their presidential aides, judges, and most of all, the public.” (p. 291) By “more seriously” perhaps he means as seriously as the Intelligence Community itself regards accountability.

For those unfamiliar with the tumultuous events of the intelligence services in the 1970s, A Season of Inquiry Revisited is worth close study. It presents a view of the intelligence profession from the outside and should be understood by all officers. A really valuable, firsthand contribution to the literature.

[1] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (23, 1 Summer 2017, pp. 129-130). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, Other reviews and articles may be found online at http://www.cia.gov

[2] 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

[3] Johnson, Loch K. (1985). A Season of Inquiry: The Senate Intelligence Investigation. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.

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