Posted: March 18th, 2023
The Church Committee Investigations which began in 1974 after the Watershed Scandal in President Nixon’s administration found that intelligence agencies had unlimited executive power. The committee found that intelligence agencies abused this power and harassed and disrupted targeted groups and individuals, spied on citizens, assassination plots, manipulation and infiltration of businesses and media. Recommendations made by the Church Committee in the 1970s concerning intelligence agencies have been overlooked. As President Nixon’s administration gave more executive power to intelligence agencies during his reign, so did President Bush. Intelligence agencies acquired executive authority after 9/11 are founded on the rhetoric of the war on terrorism, finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and identifying the link between Iraq and Al-Qaida. The agencies have carried out executive authority of unwarranted surveillance at home and abroad, arresting and detaining citizens and groups in secret prisons abroad, using enhanced interrogation, and denying detainees legal representation. It is evident these executive power has made intelligence agencies intractable after 9/11 as they were in the post cold war era. This executive power has made intelligence checkpoints like the congressional oversight committees, FISA court and the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act invaluable.
Church Committee Investigations on Intelligence Pathologies
The Church Committee arose from the cold war era during the Watergate scandal, the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974, and the reform of congress. These led to congressional investigations into abuses and illegal activities of U.S. intelligence agencies, especially the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Led by Idaho’s Senator, Church Frank, the congress committee carried out a 17th month investigation into the activities of the CIA, FBI, NSA, other intelligence agents, and their relationship with the president, attorney general, national security advisers, and high ranking executive branch officials (Miller, 2008). The committee revealed that there was gross abuse of power by the agencies and the administration that included domestic spying on American citizens, assassination plots on foreign leaders, disruption and harassment of targeted groups and individuals, human experimentation with drugs in mid control programs, manipulations and infiltration of businesses and media houses (Miller, 2008). This research carries out an investigative analysis on the findings of the Church Committee Investigations of the intelligence agencies during the post cold war era. The findings of the Church Committee investigations of this era are compared to intelligence pathologies of 9/11 and the War on terrorism in Iraq. The goal of the analysis is to prove the thesis that “intelligence agencies like the CIA and FBI in the 9/11 era are intractable and a function of the post-cold war era.”
As was seen in the 1970s, congressional oversight investigations have risen again in the recent congress due to reports by intelligence community agencies to congress on sensitive matters like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The need for congressional oversight investigations arises from the need for independent auditing authority in the U.S. government Accountability Office (GAO) on the intelligence agencies, restricting congress oversight mechanisms, and clarifying reporting requirements to congress (Halchin & Kaiser, 2012). This situation arises from growing uncertainty and security challenges, traditional state and non-state threats, transactional threats like cyber attacks, energy security concerns, epidemic diseases, and organized crime. The need for a congressional oversight investigation arises from the realization that these challenges, along with terrorism pose problems to U.S.’s bureaucratic national security and intelligence sector (Dale, Serafino, & Towell, 2008). The growing concern is the need for the re-examination of how the U.S. government, especially the executive branch, congress, and national security agencies are applying their national power. The suggestion is that these systems pose a 21st century security challenge to the nation since they are inadequate (Dale, Serafino, & Towell, 2008). The feeling among defense and foreign relations analysts is that the U.S. government’s operations like those in Iraq and Afghanistan have deep flaws that provoke attacks from foreign threats and make the nation vulnerable to attacks. Moreover, they are deemed inadequate since the procedures currently in use to formulate strategy plan and execute missions, support presidential decision-making, and budget for activities are founded in the post World War II.
These issues are similar to the basis on which the Church Committee was founded in 1974. The congressional investigation carried out an investigation of U.S. intelligence agencies and government operations in terms of intelligence activities and executive branch decisions. The committee made an audit of executive branch decisions on matters like covert operations and civil liberty abuses, and a lack of accuracy in information and analysis by security agencies to the executive branch (Miller, 2008). The Church Committee investigations exposed decades of misconduct at home and abroad by the executive branch and the intelligence agencies, which violated American ideals, the law, and constitution. The Church committee also revealed that intelligence activities abroad were inconsistent with decent respect for human kind and were harmful to America’s long-term interests. The investigations revealed that the U.S. adopted the enemy tactic from fear of a powerful enemy abroad and at home.
Like the Church Committee in 1974, congressional investigations into intelligence agencies today are concerned with the response to terrorist attacks and war on Iraq. Congressional intelligence oversight committees in the current government increase investigation given that the current U.S. government was spawned under increased partisan tensions on terrorism and the oversight process. These committees were created after 9/11 under Lee Hamilton and Thomas Kean, and were slowed by a lack of compliance by the executive branch (Miller, 2008). A request by the committee to extend its deadline from the original May 2004 to complete interviews and review official documents became a political affair. Other challenges facing this committee were the war on Iraq, the mistakes of intelligence agencies, their reporting to the White House, and the intelligence handling by Bush’s Administration.
According to Warner and McDonald (2005), the attacks of 9/11 like watershed, called for high-level investigations and reforms to the national security, intelligence agencies, and executive branch decision on security. The commission proposed several changes like the splitting of the intelligence community and Director of National Intelligence (Miller, 2008). This arose from congressional investigations that revealed that the Director of Central Intelligence was an unworkable position. Secondly, the investigations after 11th September 2011 revealed that the intelligence community was largely a political controversy, especially in 2004 presidential campaigns, which were marred by visible disputes over the use of intelligence resources in the war in Iraq and the hearings of the DCI (Miller, 2008). The other similarity between intelligence oversight post 9/11 and in Church Committee’s was that intelligence followed a partisan nature and were highly political. This was also indicative of the nature by which investigations scrutinized the intelligence information used by Bush’s administration for justifying the invasion and war on Iraq.
This analysis identifies that intelligence agencies post 9/11 follow the post cold war era in Richard Nixon’s era as established by Church Committee. Church Committee found that at the time, intelligence agencies carried out spy operations on domestic and foreign grounds and followed political ideals, carried out assassination plots. At the time, intelligence agencies were acted under orders of the executive branch of the government (Miller, 2008). Church Committee made recommendations like the establishment of a separate and permanent select committee on intelligence to offer congressional oversight. As a result, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 was created to establish procedures for intelligence activities. In addition, the special FISA court was established to authorize warranted electronic surveillance operations by intelligence agencies (Miller, 2008). The investigations of the Church Committee are applicable to the aftermath of 9/11 since President Bush used “war on terror” to justify the invasion of Iraq and the breaking away from restrictions and procedures put in place in the 1970s. Moreover, this research finds that current intelligence activities are a replica of intelligence agencies in the post cold war era for bypassing procedures, the constitution, laws, and human rights issues.
Intelligence agencies post 9/11 by-passed the FISA court to carry out unwarranted electronic surveillance especially against groups that are anti-Iraq-War and civil liberties of American Citizens citing counter terrorism activities. Church committee revealed countless examples of intelligence agencies like the CIA, NSA, and FBI’s abuses. The committee revealed that despite the abuse of intelligence resources like the Watershed Scandal by executive branch of government, the government was unable to oversee and control intelligence agencies. This made agencies like the FBI, CIA, and NSA intractable. The U.S. intelligence community that seems unchanged by the various recommendations and investigations by the congressional committees include the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). These agencies are intractable and significance for they given the Secretary of Defense authority over U.S. intelligence analysis and gathering operations. The agencies with this capability are CIA, FBI, and NSA. The Church committee found that the executive branch government too actions in the name of national security and subversion, which were shielded by secrecy and without guidance by the law. At the time, intelligence activities within and out of the boundaries of America were not controlled or governed according to fundamental principles of the constitution. The Church Committee concluded that these activities made the intelligence community a secret government that was illegal, unethical, and improper and did not reflect the people or the nation of America.
Secret intelligence actions were used to disrupt, harass, and destroy domestic law-abiding citizens and groups. At the time, people were spied on with excessive intrusion with the methods being illegal. In addition, the intelligence agencies carried out secret infiltration and surveillance activities of lawful groups, with mail being illegally opened (McCarthy, 2009). The recommendations to establish the FISA court and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 have failed following the aftermath of 9/11. Current intelligence agencies are once more intractable as they carry out the decisions of the executive branch of government and legislator (McCarthy, 2009). Like intelligence activities under the rule of President Nixon, intelligence agencies have searched, arrested, and detained many legal citizens and groups in the name of counter-terrorism measures. The CIA has spread its surveillance operations in nations considered terrorism strongholds like Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Libya and made numerous arrests. Unlawful surveillance, searches of personal communication and arrests have led to unlawful detention of people considered as threats to national security at Guantanamo. The Church Committee also found that the congressional was given misleading and incomplete intelligence reports on subjects of national security by intelligence agencies like anti-Vietnam war protests and Civil Rights Movement were being controlled from overseas (McCarthy, 2009). As a result, intelligence agencies provided false information to President Nixon’s administration leading to unlawful acts like intelligence spy activities on political opponents, assassination plots on foreign leaders like Fidel Castro and the use of Mafia efforts. The CIA was also instrumental in overthrowing Chile’s democratic elected government.
Despite these findings, and the resulting changes, intelligence agency activities did not change. The U.S. intelligence community after 9/11 continued to operate under false assumptions and misleading intelligence reports that contravened the FISA court. President Bush’s administration led the war in Iraq under intelligence reports of terrorist activities. The invasion continued under intelligence reports of the existence of weapons of mass destruction and ongoing WMD programs. The congressional committee inquiries after 2003 reveal that intelligence agencies made inaccurate analysis of Iraq’s WMD programs. Secondly, the administration, especially that at the defense department augmented federal intelligence gathering and analysis methods. The investigation reports identify a support for the administration’s invasion by the CIA and FBI to find evidence of a working relationship between Al-Qaida and Iraq, and the existence of active chemicals, nuclear and biological weapon programs in Iraq (McCarthy, 2009). This is evidence that intelligence agencies in America are intractable, even after the numerous congressional recommendations after Church Committee’s recommendations. It is evident that Bush’s administration like President Nixon’s administration did not rely on established methods of intelligence analysis in WMD programs in Iraq and links with Al-Qaida. The lack of evidence indicates the result to supplementing, circumventing, and revisiting standard procedures of intelligence agencies to achieve regime change in Iraq (McCarthy, 2009). As a result, Bush’s administration resulted to use all available raw evidence on Iraq to support the case against Saddam Hussein and find legitimate reasons for military action in Iraq.
It is apparent that the administration sought to find evidence of WMD programs in Iraq immediately after invading the nation with the aim of protecting existing UNSC resolutions. Moreover, the administration sought to use intelligence agencies especially the CIA to find evidence of Iraq’s participation in 9/11 attacks, immediately after the attacks. This was the basis of Rumsfeld’s instructions to intelligence agencies to get “best info fast” on the 9/11 attacks, and to judge if the evidence was worthy for America to go after Baghdad (McCarthy, 2009). Intelligence agencies were involved in the attack of Iraq after 9/11 as Wolfowitz’s made a request to James Woolsey, the former CIA director and Defense Policy Board member to find evidence of Iraq’s involvement in the attacks. Such a request saw new intelligence analysis activities taking place in the Pentagon officer under Douglas Feith, the Secretary of Defense for Policy after 9/11 (McCarthy, 2009). Feith was senior of all four under secretaries of defense, and a protege of Richard Perle, and the third in command to Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense and Paul Wolfowitz his Secretary. Feith supported the war on terror and on Iraq, consequently, leading to intelligence activities authorized by the Pentagon.
Like President Nixon’s era, Feith and the Secretaries of Defense and intelligence supported the war on terror and Iraq. This support led to the setting up of a unit in Feith’s Department on October 2001, to analyze documents and reports from various intelligence agencies like the NSA, CIA, DIA, and other agencies on terrorism. The analysis was trying to find evidence of a link between the terrorist organizations and countries, especially of Al-Qaida and Iraq. This unit referred to as the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group that presented a report on terrorist networks in 2001 and a second report on Al-Qaida and Iraq in August of 2002 (Auerswald & Campbell, 2012). The intelligence agencies were involved in presenting misleading and inaccurate intelligence reports to congress. This is because the reports by CTEG were presented by Feith and the DIA director to George Tenet the CIA director, Stephen Hadley the Deputy National Security Advisor and Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, Lewis Libby. The intelligence briefing was also given to the Office of the Vice President and the National Security Council. After the CTEG was disbanded, Wolfowitz crated the Office of Special Plans (OSP) (Auerswald & Campbell, 2012). The group explored policy issues around the planning of Iraq, coordinated options with the Department of Defense across inter-agencies, implemented defense policy and recommended a course of action. The OSP created tensions between the administration and the CIA, for it’s appeared to carry out the role of the CIA in such missions.
The administration especially under President Bush abused the intelligence agencies resources, and for this reason, the tensions between the administration and CIA. Under the executive authority of President Bush, intelligence agencies carried out intelligence activities in America like wiretapping, creation of secret prisons abroad, preventing White House staff from testifying to congressional oversight committees (Auerswald & Campbell, 2012). The President also authorized the use of enhanced interrogation or torture on terrorists, extraordinary rendition involving the capture and transportation of terrorist suspects to undisclosed prisons in foreign nations for enhanced interrogation. These executive orders gave intelligence agencies power as the President interpreted several sections and provisions of the law as he saw fit by signing statements (Auerswald & Campbell, 2012). The intelligence agencies received power from the executive authority, which pushed back congress against executive power. In addition, intelligence agencies had more executive power to carry out intelligence activities and execute the law domestically as well as abroad, especially in terrorist prone nations since the President had pushed for a revision of FISA. Congress under executive authority was made to revise FISA to give additional guidelines on warrantless surveillance and prevent decisions by federal courts from constraining executive power in wartime.
President Bush, like President Nixon increased the responsibility and role of the intelligence agencies at the height of their administration making them intractable. President Bush made huge expansions to the intelligence community. This is seen in the incorporation and creation of added intelligence organizations and groups within the intelligence system (Auerswald & Campbell, 2012). after 9/11 and by 2009, there were 1,271 government organizations and 2,000 private contractors working on counterterrorism efforts at home and abroad, especially in terrorist friendly nations like Iraq and Afghanistan. The efforts to fight terrorism saw the homeland security and intelligence agencies carry out intelligence activities in over 10,000 locations nationally and internationally (Auerswald & Campbell, 2012). The problem with this system as was seen with the Church commission is redundancy and waste arising from security and intelligence agencies carrying out the same work. In addition, President Bush’s administration and congress gave intelligence agencies more funds at two and half more times previous budgets after 9/11 (Auerswald & Campbell, 2012). Though his successor President Obama dismantled some, his administration maintained many of the security agencies. President Obama gave a legal basis for the CIA’s global activities by retaining and maintaining 14 intelligence orders from the previous administration.
The research finds that the recommendations made by the Church Committee in the 1970s concerning intelligence agencies have been overlooked. As President Nixon’s administration gave more executive power to intelligence agencies during his reign, so did President Bush. Intelligence agencies acquired executive authority after 9/11 are founded on the rhetoric of the war on terrorism, finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and identifying the link between Iraq and Al-Qaida. It is evident these executive power has made intelligence agencies intractable after 9/11 as they were in the post cold war era. This executive power has made intelligence checkpoints like the congressional oversight committees, FISA court and the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act invaluable.
Auerswald, D.P., Campbell, C.C. (2012). Congress and the Politics of National Security. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Best, R.B., Jr. (2011, Dec 16). Director of National Intelligence Statutory Authorities: Status and Proposals. Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, 7-5700, RL34231.
Dale, C., Serafino, N.M., & Towell, P. (2008, Dec 16). Organizing the U.S. Government for National Security: Overview of the Interagency Reform Debates. Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, 7-5700, RL34455.
Halchin, L.E., & Kaiser, F.M. (2012, May 14). Congressional Oversight of Intelligence: Current Structure and Alternatives. Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, 7-5700, RL32525.
McCarthy, G.C. (2009). Congressional Oversight of Intelligence: 9/11 and the Iraq War. MI, U.S.A.: UMI Microform, ProQuest LLC.
Miller, R.A. (2008). U.S. National Security, Intelligence and Democracy: From the Church Committee to the War on Terror. New York, NY: Routledge.
Warner, M., & McDonald J.K. (2005, Apr). U.S. Intelligence Community Reform Studies Since 1947. Center for the Study of Intelligence (CSI).
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