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Congress and the American Experiment in Holding Intelligence Agencies Accountable

  • Loch K. Johnson (a1)



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1. See Larson, Edward J., The Return of George Washington, 1783–1789 (New York, 2014); and Robertson, David, The Original Compromise: What the Constitution’s Framers Were Really Thinking (New York, 2013).

2. James Madison, “Speech before the Virginia State Constitutional Convention” (1 December 1829).

3. James Madison, “Federalist Paper, No. 51” (8 February 1788), reprinted in The Federalist (New York, 1937), 337.

4. 272 U.S. 52.293 (1926), emphasis added.

5. Thomas Jefferson, “Draft of the Kentucky Resolutions” (October 1798), in Thomas Jefferson: Writings, ed. Merrill D. Peterson (New York, 1984), 455.

6. Quoted in Loch K. Johnson, America’s Secret Power (New York, 1989), 10, drawing on the Final Report, Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (the Church Committee), Sen. Rept. No. 94–755, Vol. 1, U.S. Senate, 94th Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington, D.C., 1976), 9.

7. For example: Church Committee, Final Report, ibid., 9.

8. One of the intelligence chiefs during the Cold War era, William E. Colby, entitled his memoir Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA (New York, 1978), with Peter Forbath. On the limited degree of intelligence oversight during these years, see Barrett, David M., The Congress and the CIA: The Untold Story from Truman to Kennedy (Lawrence, Kans., 2005), and “Congressional Oversight of the CIA in the Early Cold War, 1947–1963,” in Essentials of Strategic Intelligence, ed. Loch K. Johnson (Santa Barbara, 2015), 367–86; Ransom, Harry Howe, The Intelligence Establishment (Cambridge, Mass., 1970); Snider, L. Britt, The Agency and the Hill: CIA’s Relationship with Congress, 1946–2004, Center for the Study of Intelligence (Washington, D.C., 2008); and Walden, J. L., “The C.I.A.: A Study in the Arrogation of Administrative Power,” George Washington Law Review 39 (1970): 66101.

9. New York Times, 22 December 1974, A1.

10. Light, Paul C., Government by Investigation: Congress, Presidents, and the Search for Answers, 1945–2012 (Washington, D.C., 2014), 193.

11. “The CIA Report the President Doesn’t Want You to Read: The Pike Papers,” Village Voice, 16 February 1976. Despite an intensive FBI investigation, it was never determined who leaked the top-secret Pike Committee report. The CIA pointed a finger at the committee; some committee members pointed back at the CIA, saying it had tried to further disparage the panel by accusing it of the leak. Schorr admitted to the role he played in passing along the committee’s report, but he refused to reveal his source; see Daniel Schorr, Clearing the Air (New York, 1977).

12. See Commission on CIA Activities within the United States, Report to the President (Washington, D.C., 1975).

13. Church Committee Final Report, as well as Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, An Interim Report, Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (the Church Committee), 94th Cong., 1st sess. (November 1975). For a summary of the Church Committee’s findings, see Johnson, Loch K., “Congressional Supervision of America’s Secret Agencies: The Experience and Legacy of the Church Committee,” Public Administration Review 64 (January–February 2004): 314; and Schwartz, Frederick A. O. Jr. and Huq, Aziz Z., Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror (New York, 2007). Schwartz served as chief counsel of the Church Committee.

14. See Church Committee, Final Report, Book II, Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans (1976), 227–38.

15. Congressional Record (11 November 1975), which is summarized in Johnson, Loch K., A Season of Inquiry: The Senate Intelligence Investigation (Lexington, Ky., 1986), 119–20.

16. Gates, Robert M., From the Shadows (New York, 1996), 559.

17. Johnson, Loch K., “Educing Information: Interrogation, Science and Art,” Studies in Intelligence 51 (December 2007): 4346.

18. See Mayer, Jane, The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals (New York, 2008); and Joe Navarro [a twenty-five-year FBI agent and supervisor], “Why CIA Interrogations Report Matters: Torture Doesn’t Work and Americans Need to Know,” (9 December 2014).

19. Johnson, Loch K., The Threat on the Horizon: An Inside Account of America’s Search for Security After the Cold War (New York, 2011).

20. See Jervis, Robert, Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War (Ithaca, 2010).

21. Laurence H. Tribe, “Reagan Ignites a Constitutional Crisis,” New York Times, 20 May 1987, A31.

22. Hearings, Senate Select Committee on Secret Military Assistance to Iran and the Nicaraguan Opposition and House Select Committee to Investigate Covert Arms Transactions with Iran, 100th Cong., 1st sess. (1987), Washington, D.C., 159, chaired by Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Representative Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), respectively, and known as the Inouye-Hamilton Committees.

23. Quoted in Malcolm Byrne, Iran-Contra: Reagan’s Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power (Lawrence, Kans., 2014), 253.

24. When further queried about his misleading answers to lawmakers on the Iran-contra investigative panel, a high-ranking CIA officer replied that he had been “technically correct, [if] specifically evasive” (Hearings, Inouye-Hamilton Committees, 142). An important, if reluctant, witness to the unfolding affair was Secretary of State George Shultz of the Reagan administration. Shultz admonished the vice president at the time, George H.W. Bush, who was aware of the expanding Iran-contra operations, that he ought to exercise greater caution in dealing with the NSC staff plotters. Bush said he would be careful in what he said publicly about their activities, leading Shultz to emphasize to him (according to notes taken by the Secretary’s aide): “You can’t be tech[nically] right, you have to be right” (Byrne, Iran-Contra, 257)—good advice that some in the CIA failed to understand.

25. See Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo, “C.I.A. Officers Are Cleared in Senate Computer Search,” New York Times, 15 January 2015, A8.

26. See James Risen and Matt Apuzzo, “C.I.A. on Path to Torture, Chose Haste over Analysis,” New York Times, 16 December 2014, A4.

27. McCubbins, Matthew D. and Schwartz, Thomas, “Congressional Oversight Overlooked: Police Patrols and Fire Alarms,” American Journal of Political Science 26 (1984): 165–79.

28. See Byrne, Iran-Contra. Lee Hamilton, HPSCI Chair at the time of the Iran-contra affair, recalls: “They [McFarlane and North] lied to me. So did Elliott Abrams” [an assistant secretary in the State Department also caught up in the Iran-contra scheme], in a remark to Loch K. Johnson during Representative Hamilton’s visit to the University of Georgia, Athens (9 April 2008).

29. See The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (New York, 2004).

30. See Johnson, Threat on the Horizon, 123–24.

31. Johnson, Loch K., “A Framework for Strengthening U.S. Intelligence,” Yale Journal of International Affairs 2 (February 2006): 116–31.

32. Pilar, Paul R., Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform (New York, 2009).

33. James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts,” New York Times, 16 December 2005, A1.

34. On the Huston Plan, see Johnson, America’s Secret Power, chap. 7; and Loch K. Johnson, “National Security, Civil Liberties, and the Collection of Intelligence: A Report on the Huston Plan,” in Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence and the Rights of Americans, Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Book III, U.S. Senate (23 April 1976), 921–86.

35. These subjects are discussed in depth in the Church Committee’s Final Report.

36. David Ignatius, “The Senate’s CIA Report Is a Necessary Public Accounting,” Washington Post, 11 December 2014, A18.

37. See note 23. For other illustrations, see Byrne, Iran-Contra, as well as Cohen, William S. and Mitchell, George, Men of Zeal: A Candid Inside Story of the Iran-Contra Hearings (New York, 1988); Johnson, Threat on the Horizon; and the Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affairs (the Inouye-Hamilton Committees).

38. See Johnson, Loch K., ed., “An INS Special Forum: Implications of the Snowden Leaks,” Intelligence and National Security 29 (December 2014): 793810; and Bendix, William and Quirk, Paul J., “Secrecy and Negligence: How Congress Lost Control of Domestic Surveillance,” Issues in Governance Studies 68, Brookings Institution (2 March 2015): 119.

39. See Mazzetti, Mark, The Way of the Knife: The CIA, A Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth (New York, 2013).

40. Johnson, Season of Inquiry.

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Journal of Policy History
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