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.”]…