The Church Committee and it's effect on the IC

in #palnetlast year (edited)

Which issue or activity during the Early 20th century through Operation Iraqi Freedom had the greatest impact on the development of the United States Intelligence Community (IC)?

The 20th event that had the greatest effect on the IC was the Church Committee. There are several reasons for my claim.

1: The reforms resulting from the Church Committee had the effect of changing the direction and management of the IC from a right-wing and anti-leftist, nominally controlled by the public via the Exectuive Office, to a leftist oriented management dominated by the “Political Class”, as Rasmussen describes it. Codevilla, who served on the Church Committee, calls these people “the ruling class”, and in a 2019 interview (Samuels), argues that the Church Committee was “a joint operation between, let’s call it ‘the left’ inside the intelligence community, specifically the CIA, and their friends on the Hill” which left the Left in control of the CIA. I extrapolate that in light of subsequent events to include the entire IC.

Codevilla’s claim certainly updates my own views; my interest in intelligence began way back in high school (1987), and one of the first questions I asked was “Why was the FBI allowed to destroy the Klan, but held back in attacking the leftist terrorists (SDS, Weathermen, Black Panthers, et al)?” I have since learned there is much more to the question than the question of “allowed”, but I assumed a hostile attitude on the part of the Left to the defense of this country. Codevilla’s assertion that the left simply used the abuse crisis to take the reins makes more sense to me.

And it should, considering Conquest’s (Robert Conquest studied the Soviet genocide of Ukrainians) Second Law of Politics (2008) :
“Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.”

However, Codevilla also argues that the IC acquiesced to leftist control because that would free them from constantly being sued by the Left. Now that I reread my paraphrase, I have to imagine he said that with a smirk on his face. Andrew (1995) notes the eagerness in which Church took to the Committee

2:The actions of the Church Committee reflected a major shift in American political culture. I will note that Hoover, ever guarding his burrocratic turf, had restricted FBI operations including black bag jobs depending on court rulings, but before laws were put into place. I’ll also point you to the differences in Supreme Court cases involving Communists in 1961 (Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board) compared to1967 (Keyishian v. Board of Regents) to highlight a greater tolerance for leftism. This does not necessarily mean a sea change in popular political culture, but can be explained by changes in the attitudes and actions of the influential.

3: These changes left a number of hindrances to efficient IC management; such hindrances resulted in the consequences of failed information sharing in 9/11, and the political correctness that led up to terror attacks in San Bernandino, Fort Hood, Orlando, and Boston.

  • FSB had warned the FBI regarding the Tsarnaev brothers (Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector general, 2014). But “FBI training manuals were systematically purged in 2011 of all references to Islam that were judged offensive by a specially created five-member panel. Three of the panel members were Muslim advocates from outside the FBI, which still refuses to make public their identities” (“Examiner Editorial,” 2013).

Burrocratic limitations such as the Gorelick Wall were not new hindrances to intelligence sharing, simply reminders of restrictions of the legal environment that the Church Committee had created. Powers (2004a, 2004b) goes into detail on how the changes wrought by the Committee affected the ability of the IC to do it’s job.

4: There was no effort to determine how to define threats to the United States. While this is a constant through IC reformation efforts, consider that airing our “dirty laundry” was intended to prevent the repeat of intelligence abuses, keeping in mind that the portrayal of otherwise legal activities by the IC. In particular, COINTELPRO operations against violent terror organizations, was often portrayed as “abuse” by the Church Committee.

Johnson (2004) makes several claims along these lines; “simply because they had expressed opposition to the war in Vietnam, criticized the slow pace of the civil rights movement, or (quite the opposite) advocated racial segregation.”

For Johnson, who was also a staffer on the Church committee, to make this statement without acknowledging the 1000s of acts of terror committed by the Klan and the various leftist groups is base dishonesty, but his limited constriction of COINTELPRO efforts to only the abuses committed is gross deception:
“The goal of wrecking the civil rights movement stood at the heart of Cointelpro.”

Johnson’s claim is wholly without merit. Both Sullivan (1979) and Powers (1987) note Hoover’s reluctance to use the FBI to assist the civil rights movement, and provide reasons for the decision. But when Johnson ordered Hoover to deal with the Klan (WHITE HATE), the FBI did it’s job of countering violent subversion. But there is no evidence that “wrecking” the civil rights movement had anything to do with the goal of COINTELPRO operations, which Hoover himself explained in 1969, while addressing Klan and leftist terror:
“Every citizen and group has the right (and duty) to point out the many imperfections in society and to take steps to have them corrected. But these steps must be within the democratic process-not in opposition to the law. Civil disobedience, violence and flouting of the law have no place in a democratic society. Free government is tragically weakened when individuals show disrespect for the law, engage in vigilante actions or endeavor to set one element of society against the other. When any group openly proclaims that our government should be overthrown by violence, the time has come to be concerned-and we as a nation have reached that point!”

It is a shame that we as a nation have never sat down and decided what makes an inherent, or fundamental, threat to our liberty and prosperity. A major consideration is that we have decided as a nation, born out of political strife, to forgo the creation of “political crimes”. Kittrie and Wedlock (1998) point out that while there have been may politically based prosecutions, there is not a body of American law devoted to “political crime”.

5: An adjunct idea to Item 4 is that we have a legal separation between foreign and domestic threats to the nation. There are good reasons for this, but I will argue that we can achieve both a more efficient and Constitutionally adherent IC by defining what the threats are first, and legally organizing the IC from there.

The idea of what a threat is may have been simpler at the time the country was created, but the idea that a hostile ideology must be of foreign origination certainly has been overtaken by political evolution. The idea is tested by terror acts committed by recent immigrants or their first generation citizens. It is also tested by citizens taking up a fundamentally hostile ideology. A good example of this is pointed out by Johnson (2004):
“The executive branch had concluded, wrongly, that the youthful dissenters were agents of Moscow.”

CHAOS/ and the Huston Plan were indeed abuses. There were also abuses under the COINTELPRO aegis. Opposing a policy is not adherence to overthrowing the government. But what about those who choose a political goal that is the subversion of the Constitution?

From the beginning of the country, the idea was such ideologies had to be of foreign origination: the Alien and Sedition Acts, and the Red Scare of the 20s (Palmer, 1920) come to mind. Eliff (1979), referring to the pre-Church FBI asserts that “the constitutional legitimacy of FBI security operations in this period depended primarily upon the link with foreign threats”.

The Alien and Sedition Acts were certainly used to attack political opponents, highlighting the danger of political definitions of threats, but at the same time, terror attacks and subversive information war present a threat as well. Where should the line be drawn?

The saying, “The Constitution is not a suicide pact” is most linked to Supreme Court Justice Jackson”
“The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the Court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.”

In conclusion, the Church Committee brought about several things, while signifying others:

  • A shift in management of the IC towards a leftist political class
  • A restriction on IC ability to defend the country
  • A reflection of change in American political culture
  • A traditional failure to define “threat” as a basis of existence


Andrew, C. (1995) For the President’s Eyes Only. New York. Harper-Collins Publishers Inc.

Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector general. (2014). Unclassified summary of information handling and sharing prior to the April 15, 2013 Boston marathon bombings. Retrieved from

Elliff, J. (1979). The reform of FBI intelligence operations. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Examiner Editorial: How the FBI was blinded by political correctness. (2013, April 25). Retrieved October 30, 2019, from Washington Examiner website:

Johnson, L. (2004). Congressional Supervision of America’s Secret Agencies: The Experience and Legacy of the Church Committee. Public Administration Review, 64(1).

Hoover, J. E. (1969). Study in Marxist Revolutionary Violence: Students for a Democratic Society, 1962-1969, A. Fordham L. Rev., 38, 289.

Kittrie, N. N., & Wedlock, E. D. (Eds.). (1998). The tree of liberty: A documentary history of rebellion and political crime in America (Rev. ed). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Palmer, A. M. (1920, February). Political speech and sedition. The Forum. Retrieved from

Powers, R. G. (1987). Secrecy and power: The life of J. Edgar Hoover. New York; London: Free Press ; Collier Macmillan.

Powers, R. G. (2004a). A Bomb with a LONG FUSE: 9/11 and the FBI “reforms” of the 1970s. American History, 39(5), 42–47.

Powers, R. G. (2004b, November). Stunned Guns. The Washington Monthly, 36(11), 37–43.

Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics. (2008, July 11). Retrieved February 19, 2017, from Isegoria website:

Samuels, D. (2019, October 24). The Codevilla Tapes. Retrieved October 25, 2019, from Tablet Magazine website:

Sullivan, W. C., & Brown, B. (1979). The Bureau: My thirty years in Hoover’s FBI. New York: Ishi Press.

results of yet another leftist terror bombing, of the 1000s commited between 65 and 75 - source -getty


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Hoo boy. Let me preface my remarks with appreciation of this excellent research and well sourced content.

Beyond that, my good friend, I fear that my comments will be found offensive, in light of the ideological paradigm you here present. I do not wish to comment so as only to offend, and do not expect my arguments to be convincing, and thus able to supercede your personal beliefs.

I will hope and recommend you deeply examine and challenge your fundamental beliefs, and will state this: Free government is an oxymoron. Government itself is the abnegation of freedom, and cannot be otherwise. No matter the ideological underpinnings of the institution of government, it inevitably devolves as a result of corruption to aggrandize psychopaths seeking nothing but their own benefit that gain control of it. Absolute power does not corrupt anyone. The corrupt continually reach for absolute power, and find the closest analogue to it in government.


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