June 9: Congressional Briefing on Intelligence

The National History Center of the American Historical Association will be presenting a Congressional briefing on the history of Congress’s relationship with the intelligence community.  The briefing will be held on June 9, 2014, at 9:30 a.m. in Room 121 of the Cannon House Office Building.  Professors Laura Donohue of Georgetown Law School and Mark Lowenthal of The Intelligence & Security Academy and Johns Hopkins University will discuss the origins and consequences of the Church Committee and more.  James Grossman, the Chairman of the National History Center’s Board and Executive Director of the American Historical Association, will moderate the discussion.

Congressional oversight of intelligence is a recurring flashpoint in Executive-Congressional relations. Dr. Mark Lowenthal, who has served as the staff director of the House Intelligence Committee and as a senior intelligence officer (State, CIA), will discuss the origins of the current intelligence oversight system and touch on some of the key developments that have helped shape the current system and serve as a prelude to today’s intelligence oversight issues.

In the early 1970s, as Dr. Laura Donohue will explain, public allegations related to intelligence agencies’ impropriety, illegal activities, and abuses of authority prompted both Houses of Congress to create temporary committees to investigate the accusations: the House Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities.   The allegations centered on activities undertaken by three organizations: the NSA, the FBI, and the CIA.  The Senate Select Committee, Chaired by Senator Frank F. Church (D-ID), with the assistance of Senator John G. Tower (R-TX) as Vice Chairman, was a bipartisan initiative.

The Committee found that broad domestic surveillance programs, conducted under the guise of foreign intelligence collection, had undermined U.S. citizens’ privacy rights.   The illegal activities, abuse of authority, and violations of privacy uncovered by the Church Committee (as well as the Rockfeller Commission, the Pike Committee, and the Murphy commission) spurred a number of reforms, including (1) creation of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Senate Resolution 400 (passed within a month of the Church Committee’s final report); (2) Creation of the House Permanent Select committee on Intelligence; (3) Executive Order 11905 (banning political assassination/creating a new command structure, requiring the CIA IG to be involved in internal oversight, followed by Carter’s Executive Order 12036 in 1978); (4) the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; and (5) various administrative initiatives, such as a reduction in the size of the intelligence community and development of a new mechanism for intelligence estimates.

Part of the National History Center’s series of sessions aimed at providing Congressional staff members with the historical context necessary to understand issues of current legislative concern, the briefing is open to the public.

For further information, please contact the Center’s assistant director, Amanda Moniz, at amoniz@historians.org or 202-450-3209.