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Friday, August 16, 2013

A new Church committee...?

After the WP released its latest revelation of NSA abuses, The Atlantic has demanded a new version of the Church Committee. Younger readers may not know that this is a reference to the congressional inquiry headed by Frank Church, the senator who investigated CIA abuses in the early 1970s.
Let's review the NSA's recent history of serial illegality. President George W. Bush presided over the first wave. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, he signed a secret order that triggered a massive program of warrantless wiretapping. NSA analysts believed they possessed the authority to spy on the phone calls and emails of American citizens without a judge's permission. Circa October 2001, 90 NSA employees knew about the illegal program, but the public didn't. Later that month, four members of Congress, including Nancy Pelosi, were told of its existence, and subsequently discredited White House lawyer John Yoo wrote the first analysis of its legality. By 2002, 500 people knew about it, at which point telecom providers were participating.

The public didn't find out about warrantless wiretapping until December 2005, more than four years after it started, when the New York Times published a story that they'd long been holding.
Keep these words in mind the next time some idiot tries to sell you on the notion that conspiracies can't exist because nobody in Washington knows how to keep a secret.
Now any member of Congress who doesn't press for an investigation is behaving indefensibly, for the Washington Post has just reported that the NSA violated the law on a much larger scale than anyone admitted. Its report shows that current oversight is laughably inadequate, and includes enough details to suggest that multiple NSA defenders have been lying in their public statements.
Let me tell you the reason why we won't see another Church committee. It's a bit of history that most people have forgotten. Church lost by the thinnest of margins in 1980. Here's the Wikipedia version...
In the late 1970s, Church was a main congressional supporter of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, which proposed to return the Panama Canal to Panama. The latter position proved to be widely unpopular in Idaho and led to the formation of the "Anybody But Church Committee" (ABC), committee created by the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), based in Washington, D.C. ABC and NCPAC had no formal connection with the 1980 Senate campaign of conservative Republican congressman Steve Symms, which permitted them, under former Federal election law, to spend as much as they could raise to defeat Church.[24]

Church lost in his attempt for a fifth term to Symms by less than one percent of the vote. His defeat was blamed on the activities of the Anybody But Church Committee and the national media's early announcement of Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan's overwhelming win in Idaho. These predictions were broadcast before polls closed statewide, specifically in the Pacific Time Zone in the north. Many believed that this caused many Democrats in the more politically moderate Idaho Panhandle to not vote at all. As of 2013, Church is the last Democrat to represent Idaho in the U.S. Senate.
The part that Wikipedia doesn't tell you is that there were serious allegations (published, if memory serves, in Covert Action Information Bulletin) that the CIA used cut-outs to funnel money to NCPAC, the group behind Anyone But Church. Carl "Spitz" Channel of NCPAC was later involved with various dubious schemes to raise money for the contras. A very spooky guy, Spitz was. He met with an unusual end, if I recall correctly....

How many current senators would take the risk...?
Torrijos, I believe, died in a small plane crash and was replaced by Noriega, who was a CIA puppet. Carter was Surprised and replaced by an actor and the former head of the CIA. Someone didn't like the idea of returning the Panama canal.

Nowadays, on the other hand, the Panama canal is too small for the big container ships. I don't know if that's important.

I didn't want to get hung up talking about the Panama Canal thing per se, because at the time, all the hipper observers understood that this was just a gimmick -- a fake issue designed to rile up the rubes.

The point of my post was that we won't get a new Frank Church because the people on the Hill recall what happened to the old Frank Church.
Was Channel with NCPAC? I recall his being part of the "National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty" -- a name that screams out for quotation marks if there ever was one. I'm sure all those groups passed around their donor list as if it were a Bob Baumann rent-boy at a YAF mixer, but I can't find a reference to his ever being officially affiliated with NCPAC.

No matter with which organizations Channel was affiliated, I probably was at least partially to blame for his fund-raising materials. In the early 80s, I worked at a 5-person graphics shop in Falls Church that turned out to be the pet graphic arts studio for one of the big right-wing direct mail houses. (The owner was a libertarian whose greatest moment was being allowed to visit Ayn Rand on the latter's deathbed -- note: if at all possible, do *not* choose as an employer anyone whose greatest life experience is having visited Ayn Rand on her deathbed -- but our incredibly low hourly rates may have had more to do with being so anointed than did the owner's politics.)

As a first job after dropping out of grad school [for the first time] goes, it wasn't that bad -- aside from the helping-to-hasten-the-collapse-of Western-civilization part, that is. As a Randian, the owner celebrated self-starters and those intent upon overcoming life's obstacles (especially if they were willing to work for cheap), so I was able to work with some fascinating people. One of our artists' father had been a friend and confidante of Chiang Kai-shek during the War and at the time was one of the leaders of Taiwan's loyal opposition. ("Leave Taiwan," he told his children. "Go to America. They can't do anything to me because they need me to legitimize their rule -- but you'll find there's no future for you here.") Her father-in-law was an acclaimed erhu ('Chinese violin') performer who once stayed with her family for a couple of months while in DC as part of a Smithsonian Resident Artists program. ("I can't stand it!" she said one day. "He practices all day long: Wahhh-oowww, wahhh-oowww, wahhh-oowww -- like someone stangling a cat!") Later on, when business had increased to the point where we needed a full-time person manning the front desk, the owner hired a refugee from the Killing Fields who spent months as a boat person -- repeatedly swallowing her family's entire accumulated wealth, converted to uncut gemstones not long before they fled. (She also spoke a completely unintelligible variant of English -- not the best thing in a receptionist.)

And even the civilization-destroying parts had their high points -- discussing nylon panties with Phyllis Schlafly, for instance,* or getting to typeset and paste-up Terry Dolan's business card...
* and their relationship to herpes, for an anti-sex education fund-raising screed.
Great stuff, Maz! And beautifully written. About Carl:
Thanks for the kind words, Joe - coming from one of the best writers on the 'net, they mean a lot.

I'd seen that Angelfire page -- but I missed the NCPAC reference. Turns out many of the documents referring to Channel [sic] either start with his founding of NEPL or, bizarrely, start pre-1976, skip his years at NCPAC, and pick up again after he went solo. The ones that spell his name correctly - Channell; I learn something new every day -- seemingly do better on their biographical sketch, as well....
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