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A Season of Inquiry

A Season of Inquiry: The Senate Intelligence Investigation

LOCH K. JOHNSON
Copyright Date: 1985
Pages: 328
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130htz6
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    A Season of Inquiry
    Book Description:

    The civil rights movement, protests against the Vietnam War, Watergate -- rumors and revelations stemming from these and other events provoked in the 1970s a rising clamor against the scope and conduct of American intelligence operations. Finally, in 1975, Congress launched investigations of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other federal agencies in the intelligence community. This is the story of one of those investigations -- that by the Senate committee chaired by Frank Church of Idaho.

    The hearings of the Church committee, together with investigations by the House of Representatives and a presidential commission, rocked the intelligence bureaucracy like nothing before; even the CIA's involvement in Kennedy's Bay of Pigs debacle paled in comparison. A deep schism developed within the Senate committee, and the House of Representatives was torn by acrimony and recrimination.

    From his special vantage point as an investigator and aide to Senator Church, Loch Johnson incisively portrays the human element -- jealousy, friendship, pique, ambition, fatigue -- in these deliberations and traces the tangled lines of conflict and cooperation that stretch between Congress and the White House.Season of Inquiryaffords a unique look at the workings of the United States Senate, not in its ordinary day-to-day business but in the heat and glare of publicity during the conduct of a major inquiry.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6338-3
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[x])
  3. Preface
    (pp. 1-4)
  4. 1 The End of an Affair
    (pp. 5-11)

    Two young men stood on either side of an easel that supported oversized charts, expertly drawn. One man braced the charts while the other occasionally moved a pointed marker along rows of figures or up and down the slopes of trend lines.

    Seated near them, a stout man in his fifties read from a typed statement. He spoke precisely, seldom looking up. His words fell in a dry monotone on the table before him. A gray ribbon of cigarette smoke curled slowly toward the high ceiling from an ashtray on the table. All three men wore white shirts with buttoned-down...

  5. 2 A Committee Is Formed
    (pp. 12-26)

    With the following words, on January 21, 1975, Senator John O. Pastore (Democrat, Rhode Island) introduced Senate Resolution 21 to establish the investigating committee:

    In recent weeks and in recent months there have been charges and counter charges spelled out on the front page of every newspaper in this country. The matter has been discussed over television and radio. The people of America are confused. They are asking themselves, “What is actually happening to these organizations which are essential for the security and the survival of our great Nation.?”

    In order to clear the air, in order to cleanse whatever...

  6. 3 Establishing an Agenda
    (pp. 27-44)

    “As with a child, so with a serious congressional inquiry—the first few steps set the eventual course,” noted a Washington columnist soon after the creation of the Senate committee.¹ Which direction our first few steps would take us was far from clear at the beginning, though we had no lack of signposts.

    The mandate of the committee, spelled out in Section 2 of Senate Resolution 21, was extensive.² well as “other matters as the Committee deems necessary,” we were charged specifically with a responsibility to probe fourteen major areas—with illegal CIA and FBI operations at the top of...

  7. 4 Assassination Plots
    (pp. 45-53)

    On May 15, 1975, William Colby walked down a long echoing corridor toward S407, the most remote—and eerie—hearing room in the Capitol. Nestled high by the dome, hidden from the crowds of tourists flowing through the building, this former safehaven of the Joint Atomic Energy Committee provided a secure location for the conduct of sensitive hearings. Inside, the Church committee members sat in red leather armchairs around a curved bench that looked out to the table where Colby would take his place as our opening witness. The low ceiling, windowless walls, and heavily insulated silence—disturbed only by...

  8. 5 Rogue Elephant
    (pp. 54-62)

    To find the assassination issue officially dumped into our lap in May had been a surprise. As President Ford explained at a press conference, “The Rockefeller Commission, on its own, decided that it wanted to conclude its operations on the basis of the original responsibilities given to it”¹—that is, the investigation of CIA domestic abuses. The president said he agreed with the decision, since he planned to have the attorney general analyze the commission’s assassination documents “for any further investigation and prosecution” and would provide the Church committee with materials, too. On June 11 the Rockefeller Commission released its...

  9. 6 The Cave of Bugs
    (pp. 63-77)

    “We need to decide on some procedures,” said John Tower, opening a business meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee on July 23. The suggestion sounded reasonable enough, but the Democrats stiffened at Tower’s next sentence. “The minority members of this committee have just met for over an hour, and there is a matter we believe must be settled by the full committee. I yield to Senator Baker.”

    “Senator Tower has yielded to me because I’m the noisiest on this matter,” said Baker, with a disarming grin. He came straight to the point: “I strongly favor a single assassination report to...

  10. 7 Sinister Forces
    (pp. 78-88)

    “Let’s don’t rush into more hearings,” advised Senator Barry Goldwater. The Senate Intelligence Committee had convened on September 19, 1975—the day after the Cave of Bugs hearings—to decide what to do next. “We’re in very, very ticklish waters,” he added.

    Goldwater was concerned about staff recommendations to hold open hearings on the National Security Agency (NSA), the headquarters of our communications intelligence and the most hidden of the American intelligence organizations. I had the feeling that if the committee moved like a centipede with a hundred bad knees, it would still be too fast for Goldwater. Certainly he...

  11. 8 Adrift
    (pp. 89-100)

    With the Huston Plan hearings behind me, I felt a great sense of relief. A score of things could have gone wrong, each of which had given me nightmares during the summer. Perhaps at the last moment, with the committee, the public, and the television cameras assembled, a key witness would fail to appear (Angleton seemed like a likely candidate for this scenario). I could hear the squawk of a faulty microphone sending ear-piercing sounds throughout the ornate caucus room. Or perhaps something I or someone else had placed in the thick briefing books would prove to be incorrect, desite...

  12. 9 Bombarded
    (pp. 101-110)

    Once the senators were seated on October 23, William Colby and his aides were ushered into S407 by our security personnel. Finally, the committee would begin its cross-examination of CIA officials on the subject of covert action other than the assassination plots—the form of secret “intervention” that had occupied our attention for many months.

    In 1947, a directive passed at the first meeting of the then newly created National Security Council authorized the CIA to engage in covert action in order to diminish and discredit the influence of international Communism. As Henry Kissinger once described the rationale, “We need...

  13. 10 Orwellian Nightmares
    (pp. 111-129)

    Senator Church turned to the main issue before the committee on November 5. “Bill,” he said to the staff director, “please read the decision of the parliamentarian concerning SHAMROCK.”

    Miller reported that no Senate rules prohibited the committee from presenting a statement on SHAMROCK at a hearing scheduled for the next day. This declaration from the office of the Senate parliamentarian crushed the central argument upon which Tower, Goldwater, and Baker had rested their case; the three men sat silent. So the committee would have its hearing on Operation SHAMROCK—through it would be carefully focused, with Church reading the...

  14. 11 Resistance
    (pp. 130-142)

    The assassination report had been ready for over a week and required only one last-minute change. United States District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell had agreed with Church committee attorneys that the name of the CIA scientist in charge of the shellfish toxin (as well as the poison for Lumumba) should appear in the report. He acknowledged that this might place the scientist’s life in danger, as the CIA counsel had argued, but he concluded that “the public interest outweighs any private interest of the individual.” In his decision, Gesell added that “a former government official has no right of privacy...

  15. 12 Covert Action
    (pp. 143-155)

    On the morning of December 4, I drove with Church in his aged Mustang convertible to the Sheraton-Park Hotel in Washington, where he and Colby were speaking to an academic forum on covert action. The vast hotel auditorium was filled with people, and Colby was already on the stage, along with three men invited to evaluate the remarks of the two speakers.

    Colby spoke first; the attentive audience applauded him stormily during and after his remarks. “In a number of instances,” he said,

    some quiet assistance to democratic and friendly elements enabled them to resist hostile and authoritarian groups in...

  16. 13 Tragedy
    (pp. 156-162)

    On December 12, the day after its last public hearing, the committee convened in S407 for a business meeting. The objective was to decide upon an agenda to finish its work. Drawing on memoranda from Schwarz and Miller, Church presented a brief outline of how all the remaining tasks could be finished by February. His spirits were high, perhaps because we were finally discussing the end of the road, but this cheery countenance soon sank under a barrage of objections to his proposed schedule, coming (to his dismay) from his own party colleagues.

    First, Gary Hart rejected Church’s suggestion that...

  17. 14 From Abuses to Reform
    (pp. 163-171)

    The chairman’s authority over the Senate Intelligence Committee went into a steady slide toward decentralization as we moved into the writing of our final reports. No doubt much of this fission would have occurred even if Senator Church had tried to maintain a secure hold on every project, and even if the committee staff had avoided the confusion of administrative control by two individuals, Miller and Schwarz, so different in style, temperament, and objectives. By virtue of this uneven leadership, though, the centrifugal forces almost always present in larger groups were given freer rein.

    The reins in the chairman’s hands...

  18. 15 Backlash
    (pp. 172-182)

    On January 20 I walked into Fritz Schwarz’s section of the auditorium. As he spoke into the telephone, he motioned me to sit down. As usual, his desk overflowed with papers and on the floor a leather briefcase bulged at the seams as documents pushed out of its top. Crumpled yellow legal paper filled the trash can and spilled onto the floor. Schwarz sprawled in his chair, his long legs stretched out. Blue semicircles spread out under his tired eyes, and his pinstriped suit was rumpled. The chief counsel looked as if he had just detrained from the Trans-Siberian Express....

  19. 16 The Big Leak
    (pp. 183-191)

    Senator Church introduced his committee’s bill for a permanent Senate intelligence committee on January 29, 1976. The proposal, noted John Tower on the floor that day, was “hastily conceived and simplistic.” Its distribution of responsibility was a “prescription for jurisdictional jealousy” within the Senate, and it unnecessarily proliferated the number of persons having access to sensitive information—”the very antithesis of keeping a secret.” The proposal was, in short, said the vice-chairman, “a legislative disaster.”¹

    Undaunted by this lack of support, Church responded that “it might still be possible, as we work our way through the legislative process, to find...

  20. 17 White House Counteroffensive
    (pp. 192-202)

    Actually, the Dirksen Building seemed more like an oven than a bunker. As spring arrived prematurely, the Senate maintenance crew seemed unable to turn down the heaters—or perhaps they simply assumed that the warm spell would soon vanish. Instead, it lingered. The only solution for staffers was occasional escape.

    One balmy afternoon in mid-February, Schwarz and I struck off in shirt-sleeves for a quick walk. He was distressed with the Senate and with Frank Church. “Chaos! That’s what this place is,” he grumbled. We discussed the oversight bill. “Why is Church so unwilling to lobby other senators?” he asked...

  21. 18 The Late, Late Strategy
    (pp. 203-210)

    On the evening of March 2, Senator Church appeared before the American Newspaper Women’s Club in Washington, D.C., where he explained his “late, late strategy” for winning his party’s nomination for the presidency. “This strategy,” he said, “is based on the supposition that a number of candidates will knock themselves out of the race, and the opportunity will open up for a late entrant.” Church listed the primaries he would contest, beginning with Nebraska in May, then Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Rhode Island. (Massachusetts and other competitions Church had once eyed had been abandoned in favor of states where he...

  22. 19 The Committee Reports
    (pp. 211-226)

    Soon after the announcement in Idaho City, Church appeared on NBC’sTodayshow. “We’ve recommended the establishment of a permanent oversight committee,” he stressed. “That’s moving through the Senate now, and the last of our recommendations will soon be issued.”¹ The proposal for a new oversight committee was, in truth, moving through the Senate, but with about the same ease and confidence as pioneers once passed through Comanche territory.

    The fundamental problem remained the ancient question of turf—the territorial imperative. What jurisdictions belonged to which senators? The oversight resolution that emerged from the Ribicoff committee in February stripped the...

  23. 20 The Oversight Bill
    (pp. 227-237)

    Ultimately, the purpose of all the investigations and seemingly endless hearings on intelligence reform in 1975-76 was to develop a new legislative charter for the intelligence community—to recast the National Security Act of 1947 so that it would more clearly define the limitations of and prohibitions on intelligence agencies and, in the words of our report, “set forth the basic purposes of national intelligence activities.” The committee urged that a new charter “be given the highest priority by the intelligence oversight committee of Congress, acting in consultation with the executive branch.” The sine qua non for success—the vehicle...

  24. 21 Victory—and Defeat
    (pp. 238-251)

    On May 17, the Senate floor was practically empty of senators. Staff aides, though, crowded the few seats along the walls, and tourists filled the galleries.

    The Stennis-Tower amendment would “go to the heart of breaking the compromise,” Percy was saying.” Once we invade this area and break the compromise that has been so painstakingly worked out, would we not then establish a precedent to say, then, let us take everything else back into the other Committee?”¹

    Agreeing, Mondale forcefully checked off the central arguments against the Stennis-Tower amendment: first, the amendment would remove from the new committee’s jurisdiction “the...

  25. 22 Aftermath
    (pp. 252-265)

    The intelligence investigation of 1975 must surely rank as one of the most significant inquiries conducted by the United States Senate. It represented the first serious examination of the “dark side” of government since the establishment of the modem intelligence bureaucracy in 1947; it unearthed more information (much of it highly classified) from the executive branch than any previous congressional inquiry had done; it set in motion forces that would revolutionize the approach to intelligence policy on Capitol Hill and, consequently, within the intelligence community.

    As a result of the investigation, the public gained an awareness of an important part...

  26. 23 Reflections
    (pp. 266-277)

    The Church committee investigation opened a new age in the conduct of intelligence policy, with Congress demanding an opportunity for closer supervision of our secret agencies. Above all else, the Year of Intelligence stands as a benchmark in the history of intelligence oversight.

    Both the investigation and the new oversight have been scorned by some, praised by others.¹ From the perspective of six years, theWall Street Journalsummarily dismissed the Church and Pike inquires as “witch-hunts.”² “In the zeal of some to reform and others to expose,” concluded former President Nixon, “we have come very near throwing the baby...

  27. Chronology
    (pp. 278-282)
  28. Appendix
    (pp. 283-285)
  29. Notes
    (pp. 286-304)
  30. Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 305-308)
  31. Index
    (pp. 309-317)