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.
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...?