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Former members, staff say need for new Church committee

  • McClatchy Washington Bureau
  • Published Monday, March 17, 2014, at 5:13 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, May 15, 2014, at 4:16 p.m.

Nearly 40 years ago, Congress formed a special committee to investigate the U.S. intelligence community in connection with a series of domestic spying scandals.

There’s a need today for a similar effort, say 15 members and former staff of the former Church committee , citing the revelations of the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ daily communications data.

A new version of the Church committee should be formed “to undertake a thorough, and public, examination of current intelligence community practices affecting the rights of Americans and to make specific recommendations for future oversight and reform,” the signatories wrote in an open letter to President Barack Obama and Congress.

The letter comes a week after the current chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., accused the CIA of conducting unauthorized searches of computers used by her staff to compile a top-secret report on the spy agency’s infamous detential and interrogation program.

The signatories contended that revelations by the Church committee - named after the late Democratic Sen. Frank Church of Idaho - “bear striking similarities to the actions we’ve learned about over the past year.

Those revelations included the NSA’s decades-long collection of Americans’ international telegrams under secret agreements with major telegram companies, and the NSA’s monitoring of international communications of U.S. citizens, including prominent activitists in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements.

“Our findings were startling,” the 15 former committee members and staff wrote. “Broadly speaking, we determined that sweeping domestic surveillance programs, conducted under the guise of foreign intelligence collection, had repeatedly undermined the privacy rights of US citizens. A number of reforms were implemented as a result, including the creation of permanent intelligence oversight committees in Congress and the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”

“The need for another thorough, independent, and public congressional investigation of intelligence activity practices that affect the rights of Americans is apparent,” the signatories continued. “There is a crisis of public confidence. Misleading statements by agency officials to Congress, the courts, and the public have undermined public trust in the intelligence community and in the capacity for the branches of government to provide meaningful oversight.”

Email: jlanday@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @JonathanLanday.

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