WASHINGTON — To investigate the merits of a new Church committee to take a comprehensive look at intelligence activities, I asked someone who was part of the first one in the 1970s: retired U.S. Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado.
While Hart saw significant differences between the Bush administration’s intelligence abuses and those of the Nixon administration, “in the sense of abuses of privacy of American citizens, in some respect, I think there are sufficient parallels to warrant a kind of sweeping investigation,” he said by phone from his Denver offices. Such an investigation ought to cover Congress as well, to “settle the dispute between CIA and Congress about who briefed whom on what.”
Hart added that it would be instructional for any successor investigation to examine the structural focus the Church committee took, not its caricature as persecutors of the CIA. “If there were to be something like that comprehensive review, it ought to adopt the principle policy we adopted in the Church committee, which was less about fixing blame than about systemic failure,” Hart said. If the review finds there widespread abuses of civil liberties, “How did that happen? Who gives the order? Why are some people complicit, why do some people object, what’s going on in minds of participants.” That was how the panel secured the support of Barry Goldwater, John Tower, Howard Baker — all “very influential and partisan Republicans,” Hart added.
“For 30 years I’ve listened to people say [the Church committee] ruined intelligence for a generation,” Hart said. “It’s not true. There were dissenting views, there were recommendations for reform.”
Spencer Ackerman covers national security for The Colorado Independent’s sister site in the nation’s capital, The Washington Independent.