White House Efforts to Blunt 1975 Church Committee Investigation into CIA Abuses Foreshadowed Executive-Congressional Battles after 9/11

#AceHistoryNews – In Washington, D.C. on July 20, 2015 it was forty years ago this year, since Congress’s first serious inquiry into CIA abuses faced many of the same political and bureaucratic obstructions as Senate investigators have confronted in assessing Intelligence Community performance since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Records posted today for the first time by the National Security Archive document the often rough-and-tumble, behind-the-scenes dynamics between Congress and the Executive Branch during the “Year of Intelligence” – highlighted by the investigations of the congressional Church and Pike committees.

Among White House and Intelligence Community stated concerns during the period of the Church and Pike inquiries were preserving the effectiveness of the CIA and reassuring future operatives who might fear their “heads may be on the block” for their actions, no matter how well-intentioned. But intelligence officials also worried that disclosures of agency operations would be “disastrous” for CIA’s standing in the world: “We are a great power and it is important that we be perceived as such,” a memo to the president warned, urging that “our intelligence capability to a certain extent be cloaked in mystery and held in awe.”

In 1975, it was then-Deputy Chief of Staff Dick Cheney who spearheaded the Ford White House’s hostile approach to Congress, which required the CIA to submit all proposed responses to Capitol Hill for earlier presidential approval and featured the explicit intent to keep investigators away from the most sensitive records. Those events presaged the battles between the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) and the U.S. Intelligence Community since 2012 over plans to publish the former’s 6,000-page report on the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program.

Related to today’s posting, a much larger compilation of 1,000 documents, many of them previously classified, was published in June 2015 in the online collection CIA Covert Operations II: The Year of Intelligence, 1975, the second in a series on the CIA through the Digital National Security Archive, a joint project with the scholarly publisher ProQuest.

Today’s e-book touches on the high points of one major aspect of the 1975 experience – the Church committee’s efforts to obtain evidence for its inquiry and countervailing work by the White House and CIA to limit and restrict the Senate’s access. Documents posted today show that:

– The White House of President Gerald R. Ford, spearheaded by deputy assistant to the president Richard Cheney, quickly seized control of the administration’s response to the congressional investigations.
– Lists of records to which the Church committee requested access for its investigation were reviewed in detail and Mr. Cheney ultimately decided whether to provide them in each case.
– Specific records in categories approved for access were first sent to the White House for individual review and recommendation by National Security Council staff, followed by approval from Mr. Cheney.
– The White House required the CIA to propose measures to govern Church committee access to CIA materials. These accommodation measures were then reviewed both by Deputy Assistant Cheney and Counsel to the President Philip Buchen.
– CIA accommodation measures were explicitly designed to keep Church committee investigators away from its most important records.
– National Security Council officials convened at the White House to express themselves in advance regarding proposed CIA testimony to the Church committee.

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