Long Read: “The First Congressman to Battle the NSA Is Dead”

Mark Ames, at PandoDaily:

Last month, former Congressman Otis Pike died, and no one seemed to notice or care. That’s scary, because Pike led the House’s most intensive and threatening hearings into US intelligence community abuses, far more radical and revealing than the better-known Church Committee’s Senate hearings that took place at the same time. That Pike could die today in total obscurity, during the peak of the Snowden NSA scandal, is, as they say, a “teachable moment” —one probably not lost on today’s already spineless political class.

In mid-1975, Rep. Pike was picked to take over the House select committee investigating the US intelligence community after the first committee chairman, a Michigan Democrat named Nedzi, was overthrown by more radical liberal Democrats fired up by Watergate after they learned that Nedzi had suppressed information about the CIA’s illegal domestic spying program, MH-CHAOS, exposed by Seymour Hersh in late 1974. It was Hersh’s exposés on the CIA domestic spying program targeting American dissidents and antiwar activists that led to the creation of the Church Committee and what became known as the Pike Committee, after Nedzi was tossed overboard…

Pike was less interested in sensational scandals like Church’s poison darts and foreign assassination plots than he was in getting to the guts of the intelligence apparatus, its power, its funding, its purpose. He asked questions never asked or answered since the start of the Cold War: What was America’s intelligence budget? What was the purpose of the CIA, NSA and other intelligence agencies and programs? Were they succeeding by their own standards? Were taxpayers getting their money’s worth? Were they making America safer?

It was Pike’s committee that got the first ever admission—from CIA director William Colby—that the NSA was routinely tapping Americans’ phone calls. Days after that stunning confession, Pike succeeded in getting the head of the NSA, Lew Allen Jr., to testify in public before his committee—the first time in history that an NSA chief publicly testified. It was the first time that the NSA publicly maintained that it was legally entitled to wiretap Americans’ communications overseas, in spite of the 1934 Communications Act and other legal restrictions placed on other intelligence and law enforcement agencies….

Pike’s investigations led him to believe that the combined intelligence agencies were massively understating their budgets, and that the true figure was in the area of $10 billion in 1975 dollars (about $43 billion today), with the NSA by far the largest intelligence agency of all. Broken down, he discovered that about one-fifth of the FBI’s budget went to counterintelligence, largely wasted except as it targeted and harassed leftist dissidents and political opponents. He estimated that the CIA spent about a third of its budget bribing or funding foreign political parties and foreign politicians, including in allied countries like Italy. And that the NSA was a powerful tool in some of the most nefarious—and illegal—domestic surveillance programs….

Meanwhile, an even more radical subcommittee on privacy in the House, headed by Bella Abzug, targeted the NSA’s domestic spying program, subpoenaing government officials and the heads of the major telecoms and cable telex firms—AT&T, ITT, Western Union and RCA. The more the House dug into the NSA’s foundations, the more they discovered about the murky extralegal arrangements and deals made between private telecom firms and the National Security State apparatus. In the late 1940s, as the NSA was being formed out of the Army Security Agency and other military signal intelligence branches, Truman’s top defense officials cajoled the major US cable telex firms to agree to let the nascent NSA tap into all international communications. Some of the firms were more reluctant than others; all asked for written legal assurances and legislative action, but were given less than they were promised. Everything remained legally murky—promises, but nothing concrete and publicly legalized, like the NSA itself. [For more on this, read James Bamford‘s excellent history of the NSA, “Puzzle Palace.”]…

79 replies
  1. 1
    Baud says:

    Every time I hear about how bad things are, I read some history to remind myself about how many bad things we’ve overcome. Thanks, AL.

  2. 2
    BGinCHI says:

    I miss me some Bella Abzug.

  3. 3
  4. 4
    Botsplainer says:

    Really? We’re going to lionize that incompetent, lying old fuck Sy Hersh again in order to give the rumormonger some cred against History’s Greatest Monster, Obama?

  5. 5
    Corner Stone says:

    @Botsplainer: Let’s launch some drones right up his ass so we can hear him scream as he dies in flames!!

  6. 6
    lamh36 says:

    I recall reading in the past weeks a post about whether or not Obama has been a “transformational” President. The usual people said the usual things.

    But at this point, are people now willing to admit that this President and AG have been the most progressive and supportive administration for LGBT rights in modern history!

    Justice Department To Launch Push For Full Recognition Of Same-Sex Marriage

    …”In every courthouse, in every proceeding and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States, they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law,” Holder said in prepared remarks to the Human Rights Campaign in New York. The advocacy group works on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equal rights.

    Just as in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, the stakes in the current generation over same-sex marriage rights “could not be higher,” said Holder.

    “The Justice Department’s role in confronting discrimination must be as aggressive today as it was in Robert Kennedy’s time,” Holder said of the attorney general who played a leadership role in advancing civil rights.

    On Monday, the Justice Department will issue a policy memo to its employees instructing them to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law…

    So, does anyone still believe that Biden “forced” the admin into Obama’s declaration, or is it now pretty the belief that Biden merely jumped the gun and the administration had to declare earlier than they would have liked.

  7. 7
    Baud says:


    You should read the thread below this one.

  8. 8
    Anybodybuther2016 says:

    @Botsplainer: Are you new?

  9. 9
    Corner Stone says:

    @Baud: Why?

  10. 10
    Baud says:

    @Corner Stone:

    She might enjoy the diversity of views presented.

  11. 11
    Anybodybuther2016 says:

    @lamh36: Give it a rest already. They don’t care.

  12. 12
    Botsplainer says:

    @Corner Stone:

    Let’s launch some drones right up his ass so we can hear him scream as he dies in flames!!

    Nah. Saving the Hellfire Up the Ass Drone for that cancerous, tumorous pustule that sits on the front side of Griftwald’s face in a facsimile of a nose.

    Hersh, I shove out on an iceberg and listen to him whine about his anonymous connections.

  13. 13
    Cassidy says:

    @lamh36: You already know the answer to your first question. The goal posts will always move.

  14. 14
    Corner Stone says:

    @Baud: Actually, I would probably buy raffle tix in the “Win a Chance to Ride with Diamond Joe Biden in the new Z06!” contest.

  15. 15
    Corner Stone says:

    Ride or Die, bitchez!

  16. 16
    Corner Stone says:

    @Botsplainer: What’s an iceberg?

  17. 17
    Cassidy says:

    OT: Caught a little local news before I switched channels and it appears the Dunn’s lawyer is going to follow the same strategy as the Martin case and prove the victim was young, make, and black.

  18. 18
    C.V. Danes says:

    Broken down, he discovered that about one-fifth of the FBI’s budget went to counterintelligence, largely wasted except as it targeted and harassed leftist dissidents and political opponents.

    I don’t guess it was “largely wasted” if your goal was a demoralized, defanged, and fragmented leftist movement.

  19. 19
    Botsplainer says:


    When the impeachment happens and the revolutionary junta recriminalizes Teh Ghey, I promise to do the happy dance in celebration of Griftwald feeling like he stepped on a giant turd that was in front of him with warning flashers blazing.

  20. 20
    Botsplainer says:

    @Corner Stone:

    Floaty thing, travels on ocean currents.

  21. 21
    Anoniminous says:


    National Polling has moved decisively in favor of LBG rights. Giving the Obama administration the political cover they needed to amp-up their efforts.

    Unfortunately Ts are still facing strong discriminatory efforts so there is still a lot of work to do.

  22. 22
    Baud says:


    Modern tech really is amazing, isn’t it?

  23. 23

    @efgoldman: Did you read the thread below, there is doom and gloom and rending of the garments.

  24. 24
    WaterGirl says:

    @BGinCHI: Me, too. I got to see her speak in a small venue when I was in college, an experience I will never forget. The line that stuck with me the most was the one where I identified with her the most. She said “I have always had a strong sense of outrage.”

    To this day, my car still has a sticker that says “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

  25. 25
  26. 26
  27. 27
    Baud says:


    I like tech because it’s such a concrete example of human capability.

  28. 28
  29. 29
    Cassidy says:

    Things more interesting to talk about than politics:

    1) Ronda Rousey is becoming MMA’s breakout star having been casted in Expendables 3 and one of the Fast and Furious movies as well as signing a two movie deal for a franchise built around her.

    2) The Olympics

    3) The addition of Marvel phase 3 is chugging along just fine. The addition of Paul Bettany as Vision is an excellent choice. The internets favorites for the casting of Ms. Marvel is Katee Sackhoff and Charlize Theron. I think Yvonne Strahovski would be good as well, but personally I think a younger actress might have more longevity. No is talking about it, but the current Ms. Marvel (teenage, Pakistani-American Kamala Khan) would be an interesting angle. I have no idea who could play that role, though. There has to be some young actors of Middle Eastern decent who could be cast.

  30. 30
    gogol's wife says:


    The wisdom in that gaze just shames the whole human race.

  31. 31

    @efgoldman: Are you a follower of the Ceiling Dog, then?

  32. 32
    doug r says:

    @Botsplainer: Gigantic pile of plastic garbage?

  33. 33
    aimai says:

    @Botsplainer: I’m sorry, I guess I missed the crazy-people-memo.

  34. 34
    jeffreyw says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: Nope, just a semi-random shelter kitteh.

  35. 35
  36. 36
    lamh36 says:

    I just sent an email to my supervisor asking her for a “private meeting” at 2:30 tomorrow, before I leave for the day in one of the conference rooms.

    My hope is by asking for a “private meeting”, she will be discreet, but I suspect she will probably be discussing possible reasons for my request with the tech supvr who is also her friend.

    I was gonna just send an email before I leave for the day, but I figured it was time to “put on my big girl panties!

  37. 37
    Baud says:


    I assume this is about your changing jobs? Cuz, truth be told, I first read your comment to have a somewhat sexual connotation.

  38. 38
    Cassidy says:

    @Baud: Dear Penthouse, you won’t believe what happened to me….

  39. 39
    KG says:

    @efgoldman: just remember, according to Back to the Future, we are supposed to have flying cars and hover boards NEXT YEAR!

  40. 40
    gwangung says:


    No is talking about it, but the current Ms. Marvel (teenage, Pakistani-American Kamala Khan) would be an interesting angle. I have no idea who could play that role, though. There has to be some young actors of Middle Eastern decent who could be cast.

    Not a problem for Hollywood. They’ll just take your typical young white CW star, dip her in Lena Horne makeup and call it good.

  41. 41
    Ben Franklin says:

    Who can stand against US? Arrogance, requires no self-examination.

    The findings are striking because the N.S.A.’s mission includes protecting the nation’s most sensitive military and intelligence computer systems from cyberattacks, especially the sophisticated attacks that emanate from Russia and China. Mr. Snowden’s “insider attack,” by contrast, was hardly sophisticated and should have been easily detected, investigators found.


  42. 42
    Baud says:



    I should read more high brow stuff.

  43. 43
    Thlayli says:

    Ronda Rousey is a badass.

    I hadn’t heard that Otis Pike died. Which is odd, seeing as how I live in the district he represented (NY-1).

  44. 44
    lamh36 says:

    @Baud: lol. yeah, it’s about my new job…lol

  45. 45
    Baud says:


    I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed.

  46. 46
    Chris says:

    @C.V. Danes:

    I don’t guess it was “largely wasted” if your goal was a demoralized, defanged, and fragmented leftist movement.

    In the same way that class and class conflict are absolutely taboo in America (unless you’re a conservative yelling about how much of it there supposedly is), the use of the security state as an instrument of class war and as the private security force at the guys at the top is something you just don’t bring up in polite company.

    No, yeah – from a strictly counterintelligence perspective (as in “keeping Soviet spies from learning things vital to U.S. national security”), total fucking waste of time. I mean, seriously: what kind of information do you think Soviet fucking intelligence could’ve gotten from Students for a Democratic Society? Even if the entire organization had been a Soviet project from top to bottom, there was literally nothing useful to be learned from them.

    It always makes me wonder whether any of the agents who ended up in COINTELPRO had any second thoughts or realized what a complete joke their job was, or whether every one of them really was a thug like Hoover.

  47. 47
    lamh36 says:

    @Baud: ya perve.. lol

  48. 48
    Mike in NC says:

    Otis was the drunk guy on the Andy Griffith Show, right?

  49. 49
    Cassidy says:

    @Baud: I think Penthouse counts as classy porn.

    @gwangung: For any other franchise, I’d sadly agree, but Whedon and Marvel have a plan and have stayed pretty true to the comics, at least I’m spirit.

  50. 50
    Tripod says:

    The NSA wins again!

  51. 51
    Chris says:


    Still haven’t checked out the comic with Khan, but I have to say I’d be thrilled to see a Muslim superhero shoved into the faces of all the assholes via the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Dust still hasn’t shown up in the X-Men movies, so this can be it.

  52. 52
    Anoniminous says:


    That’s what you say now.

  53. 53
    Culture of Truth says:

    I saw some of the NSA hearings that aired last week. The questions from members of Congress strongly suggested they have no clue they don’t glean from random blogs or Fox News. Even if you loathe the NSA I imagine it would be hard at some point not feel a little sorry for the nat sec witnesses. Darrell Issa, who one would expect to nail the NSA from a GOP POV or at least have his facts straight, was a total embarassment. He asked the FBI guy “Is James Rosen a criminal?” prompting baffled looks, then insisted the Fox New reporter’s family had been wiretapped, before his aide whispered to him that never happened. Issa can be heard whining off camera that he heard that (on Fox? Limbaugh?) before admitting he was wrong. Then he asked about the IRS and made a crack about Merkel (tapped under Bush, not Obama). Other members asked about IRS and Benghazi!1! Oh and of course Snowden is either a hero or deranged traitor. So there’s you’re oversight.

  54. 54

    @jeffreyw: How is your crew, especially nawty Homer kitteh?

  55. 55
    Anybodybuther2016 says:

    Poor Ann, every time you throw shit at PBO in yet another pathetic attempt to make hillz look good it fails miserably. I don’t understand how you people think undermining PBO is a good strategy. I understand why the repugs need to weaken him by bogging him down with bullshit (Benghazi,IRS etc) but I’m trying to figure out why are his “allies” are doing it.

  56. 56
    Cassidy says:

    @Chris: The casting will be the blond, buxom, charismatic Carol Danvers. The character is too iconic. It would be awesome though, and I can see Whedon doing this, to lay the groundwork for the current Ms. Marvel.

  57. 57
    gwangung says:

    @Cassidy: Hope so. But the forces in Hollywood are very strong at whitewashing characters if you’re not African American.

  58. 58
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    Derp, derp, derp.

  59. 59
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Culture of Truth:

    So there’s you’re oversight.

    Pretty pathetic. I don’t mind congressmen intelligently grilling witnesses about matters that they have oversight for, but Issa and the rest of the Rethgulican crew are not intelligent. They are assclowns.

  60. 60
    Chris says:

    @Culture of Truth:

    The questions from members of Congress strongly suggested they have no clue they don’t glean from random blogs or Fox News. Even if you loathe the NSA I imagine it would be hard at some point not feel a little sorry for the nat sec witnesses.

    That’s why my eyes tend to glaze over at their contributions. For most of Congress, the MSM and other chattering classes leading this thing, the entire process is such a joke and so clearly intended to be dropped the nanosecond a Gooper is back in the White House that it’s really hard to take seriously. Same with drones. Rand Paul did his grandstanding thing for ten hours about a complete hypothetical, then quickly said that he’d totally be okay with that hypothetical In Extreme Circumstances (as if the security state’s lawyers hadn’t learned long ago to claim that anytime they want to do something, it’s an Extreme Circumstance).

    There was some pushback against the security state in the nineties, too – Congressional Republicans were able to block or water down antiterrorism efforts by Clinton, I believe (back when the militia movement was on the rise, good old days when terrorists were freedom fighters). All vanished in 2000, and we got a decade of these same people ramming through the kind of legislation Clinton had never dreamed of.


    Yeah, that seems like the kind of thing Whedon would do.

    ETA: it’s also kind of taking back superhero comics to their roots. Superman is often pointed out to have immigrant and specifically Jewish (his writers were, I believe) overtones, and Captain America was an Irish city kid – this in the 1930s when both these things were more controversial than they are now. Having a Muslim superhero is really just keeping that tradition of “fuck you, bigots, we’re Americans too” alive.

  61. 61
    jeffreyw says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: Homer had me chasing him with a spoon today as I fixed dinner. He attacked Ginger, was just boxing him about the head with a fast flurry that looked like a speed bag workout.

  62. 62
    Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism says:

    @Chris: Picked it up yesterday. Very promising start.

  63. 63

    @jeffreyw: Have you tried gently tapping him on the nose? I do that to my boss kitteh, he hates it but that stops him from bothering my more placid ginger kitteh.

  64. 64
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    OT from Noisemax:

    Mary Matalin: Hillary Won’t Even Run

    So, the Bellatrix Lestrange of the GOP has been heard from on this matter.

  65. 65
    Chris says:

    @Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism:

    Reading an interview at one of the links at the bottom of the Ms. Marvel wikipedia page;

    She’s not a poster girl for the religion, or some kind of token minority. She does not cover her hair –most American Muslim women don’t—and she’s going through a rebellious phase. She wants to go to parties and stay out past 9 PM and feel “normal.” Yet at the same time, she feels the need to defend her family and their beliefs.

    Yep. Pretty much exactly what the Muslim girls at my high school in DC/Maryland suburbia were like. No headscarves, certainly no veils, as prone to teenage rebellion and all that as anyone else, but also just as prone to cultural pride as anyone else. Religious devotion varied wildly, depending on the topic. Don’t think any of them gave a damn about prohibitions on premarital sex or relationships with non-Muslims, but I think all of them observed Ramadan.

    In other words, exactly what happens when people live in a melting pot and secular society. (The Catholics and Jews whose families have been here for a hundred years aren’t any different).

    Will check out the story the next time I’m at Barnes & Noble or a comic book store, but if that nugget was anything to go on, they’re getting it exactly right.

  66. 66
    danielx says:

    Did someone uncap a bottle of troll attractant spray this evening, or what?

  67. 67
    Cervantes says:

    A key point:

    Any politician — or political handler — with a sense of history will point to Otis Pike’s fate: He stuck his neck out and took on the National Security State on terms that should’ve appealed to common sense conservative values: Are taxpayers getting fleeced? Is America safer under these programs? He was destroyed.

    Also destroyed at the same time were Bella Abzug and Frank Church, for much the same offenses.


    Every time I hear about how bad things are, I read some history to remind myself about how many bad things we’ve overcome.

    Can you elaborate? (Thanks.)

  68. 68
    Cassidy says:

    @Chris: I’ll be patiently waiting for Bill O’Reilly ranting about how it’s a degradation of a ‘Merican icon.

  69. 69
    srv says:

    Congressman Pike was really the first Firebagger and thus was first on the list for Obama’s Death Panels.

    Saves a lot of space at the FEMA camps if they can just DP the old folks.

  70. 70
    danielx says:


    All too true. Pols back in the day went in fear of what that malignant old crossdresser J. Edgar Hoover might have in his “secret files” – which, be it noted, seemed to just up and disappear upon Hoover’s death. The NSA has surveillance capabilities the likes of which Hoover (or for that matter Stalin or Hitler) could only dream of, and given recent history I don’t have a whole lot of faith in Congressional oversight capabilities. Power of the purse, my ass.

    “Congressman, given the importance to us of your vote on the upcoming appropriations bill, you should be aware of the information we have on your relationship with congressional page Kathy/Kyle Doe. Do you really want this information made public?”

  71. 71
    LAC says:

    @Anybodybuther2016: lol! A good PUMA never gives up.

  72. 72
    Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism says:


    if that nugget was anything to go on, they’re getting it exactly right.

    It is, and they are. The interactions between her father and her brother are priceless.

  73. 73
    Bobby Thomson says:

    Forgive me if a 92-year-old gadfly dying in bed doesn’t send me into fits of paranoia.

  74. 74
    liberal says:

    @Bobby Thomson: that wasn’t the point.

  75. 75
    Cervantes says:

    @danielx: In addition to exposing the FBI’s misdeeds and fecklessness, Congressman Pike showed that the NSA, too, had been supporting the CIA in its illegal domestic surveillance programs. Virtually all the targets were leftist dissidents, anti-war activists, civil rights “radicals,” progressive politicians and lawyers, as well as journalists such as Warren Hinckle and the folks at Ramparts who were exposing CIA crimes around the world.

    As Ron Dellums, a member of the Pike Committee, said in 1975:

    We should dismantle every intelligence agency in this country piece by piece, brick by brick, nail by nail. If there is a need for us to rebuild such organizations, then we should rebuild them with civil liberties and civil rights and justice to people in mind.

    True then, just as true now.

  76. 76
    karen says:


    Yes, Obama’s drones killed Pike. I know you want Obama dead but do you have to be so obvious about it?

  77. 77
    WaterGirl says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Mary Matalin: Hillary Won’t Even Run

    It’s very disturbing to wake up and find that I agree with Mary Matalin on something anything.

  78. 78
    Li says:

    @Baud: The point of this article is that we never overcame any of this shit. Our intelligence apparatus been steadily progressing towards ‘1984’ style despotism since the 40’s, and every attempt to reign them in has failed. They, basically, are running our country, and many foreign countries to boot, now. Who dares stand against them?

  79. 79
    Cervantes says:


    Who dares stand against them?

    People have stood against them. People are doing so now.

    May I, composed like them
    Of Eros and of dust,
    Beleaguered by the same
    Negation and despair,
    Show an affirming flame.

    ― W. H. Auden

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