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It has been a long and painful process, but both Republican lawmakers and their voting base have finally come to a belated realization: the intelligence apparatus that concocted Russiagate, sabotaged an entire presidency, suppressed the Hunter Biden scandal, and converted Twitter into its domestic censorship machine might not be friendly to their interests.
And so, a mantra for the new Republican Congress is making the rounds: Take Me to Church…
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… the Church Committee, that is.
One of the key concessions extracted by anti-Kevin McCarthy Republicans before they agreed to elect him House speaker was the creation of a new Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. The plan, for now, is that Freedom Caucus member Rep. Jim Jordan will head the subcommittee. And the explicit agenda is for this committee to serve as a spiritual successor to the Church Committee of almost half a century ago:
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the GOP chairman of the House Rules Committee, said the subcommittee will be modeled on the U.S. Senate’s 1970s Church Committee that investigated abuses by U.S. intelligence agencies. He said it will probe “the radical left weaponization of the federal government in recent years.” Texas Republican Chip Roy said it will target “weaponization of government against the American people” and be headed by Jordan.
Jordan, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, has introduced a resolution to create the subcommittee that’s scheduled for a vote this week. It says the subcommittee’s members will include him and the top Judiciary Committee Democrat, New York’s Jerrold Nadler, and no more than 13 other members, with five appointed by Democrats.
Its investigative topics will include examining “how executive branch agencies collect, compile, analyze, use, or disseminate information about citizens of the United States, including any unconstitutional, illegal, or unethical activities committed against citizens of the United States,” the resolution states.
The new committee is an idea that gained momentum over the second half of 2022. Steve Bannon and Revolver News’ Darren Beattie have been calling for a Church-style Committee for over a year now.
— Captain James West (@solfeggio777) October 16, 2021
In a recent conversation with Revolver News’ Darren Beattie, President Trump went on the record supporting such a Church-style committee:
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The idea quickly took root in the wider public discourse, fueled by the steady release of the Twitter Files. McCarthy himself endorsed the idea just before Christmas, as did venture capitalist and Elon Musk associate David Sacks, whose endorsement was in turn endorsed by Musk himself.
Hear, hear!! https://t.co/LbvnmOGAVy
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 20, 2022
We welcome all of this, and are very happy to see Jordan’s new committee take shape. But a Church Committee redux, by itself, is not enough to fix what ails the decaying American republic of today.
It’s understandable why the Church Committee is generating fond reflections nearly a half century later. The yearlong investigation, which at its peak employed more than 150 staffers, was the first, largest, and most substantive Congressional investigation of America’s intelligence apparatus, covering the thirty years where that apparatus ran wild following World War II. The committee’s work produced thousands of pages of collected evidence, testimony, and case studies (much of which remains classified to this day), and culminated in a six-volume final report totaling roughly 2500 pages. The second volume of that report, covering domestic surveillance within the United States, included this damning summary:
We have seen segments of our Government, in their attitudes and action, adopt tactics unworthy of a democracy, and occasionally reminiscent of totalitarian regimes. We have seen a consistent pattern in which programs initiated with limited goals, such as preventing criminal violence or identifying foreign spies, were expanded to what witnesses characterized as “vacuum cleaners”, sweeping in information about lawful activities of American citizens. The tendency of intelligence activities to expand beyond their initial scope is a theme which runs through every aspect of our investigative findings. Intelligence collection programs naturally generate ever-increasing demands for new data. And once intelligence has been collected, there are strong pressures to use it against the target.
The Church Committee successfully dug up a great many intelligence operations that had previously been unknown, or existed in the mind of the public only in the form of sensational rumors. Among them were:
Projects MINARET and SHAMROCK: NSA operations which placed hundreds of American citizens onto a watchlist, without any warrant or judicial oversight. The NSA intercepted communications which involved or mentioned those on the watchlist and disseminated them to the FBI, CIA, and other policing and intelligence agencies. Particularly shocking to Americans at the time was the collusion between the NSA and telecommunications companies. From World War II through the 1970s firms like Western Union gave the NSA unfettered access to incoming and outgoing messages. Eventually, in Church’s words, the programs “expanded [until the] NSA obtained from at least two cable companies essentially all cables to or from the United States, including millions of the private communications of Americans.”
COINTELPRO: Short for Counter Intelligence Program, COINTELPRO was the FBI’s original program for infiltrating and spying on supposed domestic subversives of all stripes, from black power and anti-war movements to the Communist Party USA and even feminists. COINTELPRO also spied on individuals deemed to be of interest for one reason or another; targets included the obvious (Martin Luther King and Malcolm X) to the not-so-obvious (Ernest Hemingway and Muhammad Ali).
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But COINTELPRO far exceeded mere warrantless surveillance. The FBI often used dirty tactics, such as forged correspondence, threatening letters, and misinformation (actual misinformation, that is, not disputed tweets) to undermine groups or individuals it saw as a menace. Most famously, the FBI in 1964 sent a blackmail letter to Martin Luther King, suggesting he take some unspecific action (interpreted by King and others as a demand he commit suicide) or else have private scandalous behavior revealed to the public. That letter, and its FBI origin, was just one of many discoveries unearthed by the Church Committee.
Some of the other COINTELPRO tactics identified in the Church final report included:
-Anonymously attacking targets for their political beliefs to induce their employers to fire them;
-Anonymously mailing letters to the spouses of intelligence targets for the purpose of destroying their marriages;
-Obtaining from the IRS the tax returns of a target and then attempting to provoke an IRS investigation for the express purpose of deterring a protest leader from attending the Democratic National Convention;
-Falsely and anonymously labeling as Government informants members of groups known to be violent, thereby exposing the falsely labelled member to expulsion or physical attack;
-Uuse “misinformation” to disrupt demonstrations, employing such means as broadcasting fake orders on the same citizens band radio frequency used by demonstration marshalls to attempt to control demonstrations;
-Duplicating and falsely filling out forms soliciting housing for persons coming to a demonstration, thereby causing “long and useless journeys to locate these addresses.”
-Sending an anonymous letter to the leader of a Chicago street gang (described as “violence-prone”) stating that the Black Panthers were supposed to have “a hit out for you”. The letter was suggested because it “may intensify . . . animosity” and cause the street gang leader to “take retaliatory action.”
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MKUltra: Likely the single most infamous program whose existence was confirmed by the Church Committee, MKUltra was the CIA’s decades-long practice of experimenting on human subjects with various drugs, including LSD, to investigate possible means of brainwashing or psychologically breaking down targets. Although few details were found at the time (due to the CIA’s deliberate destruction of records), the Committee did at least confirm that the experimentation happened, that the CIA deliberately covered it up to avoid “political repercussions,” and that the secret experimentation involved manipulating hospitals, universities, and other private actors while hiding the CIA’s involvement.
The ramifications of Church’s committee were far-reaching. Many of the committee’s recommendations were aimed at the NSA, which had clearly grown out of control. In 1978, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known today by millions of Americans as FISA. The bill created the now-infamous FISA courts, which are required to approve intelligence requests to monitor or spy on American citizens. The reform massively weakened the NSA’s power as a de facto domestic espionage force for a quarter of a century, until the post-9/11 Patriot Act expanded its powers once again, creating the NSA of the Edward Snowden era.
So if the Church Committee accomplished so much, why do we say that a redo of it is not enough to fix what ails America today? It comes down to two major factors. First, the nature of America’s deep state has changed, and second, America itself has changed.
Many of the worst problems of modern surveillance exist precisely thanks to the changes that the Church Committee brought about, and simply reenacting that strategy won’t resolve them.
In the 1960s and 1970s, government espionage actually did have to come from the government. Government censorship had to come from the government. Government misinformation had to come from the government. Put in the simplest truism possible, the government was… the government!
Today, much of the ruling regime is not formally affiliated with the United States government.
In the 1960s, U.S. intelligence could spy on everyone by asking Western Union to fork over telegrams. Today, there’s a more subtle dynamic in play. James Baker can leave his job as FBI general counsel to become deputy general counsel at Twitter, and have so many ex-FBI colleagues that the company has a special Slack channel for onboarding them.
29. As of 2020, there were so many former FBI employees — “Bu alumni” — working at Twitter that they had created their own private Slack channel and a crib sheet to onboard new FBI arrivals. pic.twitter.com/prVhPGohOC
— Michael Shellenberger (@ShellenbergerMD) December 19, 2022
In the 1960s, FBI agents had to use blackmail and menacing letters to try to silence dissenting voices. Today, “former” intelligence agents can just sign a letter calling a negative news story Russian disinformation, and get the press and tech to act in lockstep to suppress it.
Today, there is a rich ecosystem of NGOs that “independently” promote the narratives favored by the American security state. Last May, for instance, Revolver exposed the Integrity Initiative, an offshoot of the NATO-funded U.K.-based “non-profit” Institute for Statecraft:
In its organization, funding, operation, structure, and rhetoric the Integrity Initiative is the single best template for understanding how the entire hornets’ nest of NGOs, journalists, and “national security” bureaucrats work secretly and in concert to wage psychological warfare against citizens of the West. … The Integrity Initiative was a secret, government-funded influence operation that engaged secret “clusters” of journalists and academics to coordinate in order to meddle in the political process of Western democracies under the guise of combating “disinformation” and “defending democracy.”
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During the Russiagate hoax, the FBI ran a complicated scheme of getting the press to report on innuendos like the Steele dossier, then using those innuendos as justification for further FBI fishing on the topic. This is far more sophisticated than the blunt methods used by J. Edgar Hoover’s Bureau.
In other words, a modern Church Committee that exclusively looks for examples of misconduct by actual U.S. agencies — whether it’s politically-motivated investigations, or use of entrapment and agent provocateurs, or censorship pressure — risks missing the bigger picture, and the full scope of how the modern system operates.
But there’s another, equally important factor that a modern Church Committee would have to overcome: the fact that America itself is a far different country from what it was in 1975.
Crucially, many of the changes engineered by the Church Committee didn’t require legislation at all. In short, the American ruling regime had a far greater sense of shame. It was far more true then that simply publicizing the actions of the American deep state was enough to drive a change in behavior. Within months of the Church investigation, President Gerald Ford — who wasn’t even in the same party as Sen. Church — issued executive orders banning human experimentation by U.S. intelligence agencies and barring U.S. intelligence agencies from participating in political assassinations; the ban on assassinations would be expanded and refined by presidents Carter and Reagan.
Part of this pliability was that the American public itself had not been as beaten down by the power of Washington and the repeated curtailment of civil liberties in the name of national security. In 1975, America was in its post-Vietnam haze. America’s military and intelligence apparatus had carried the country into a war it didn’t need to fight, perpetuated that war by lying about how much progress was being made, and ultimately lost the war utterly despite the loss of more than 50,000 American lives. The Watergate scandal had just brought down a president. In the 1970s, America’s institutions were very low on credibility, and the public was angry.
Also, importantly, in the 1970s, America had a Congress that really cared about and was disturbed by the excesses of the intelligence world. More precisely, it had a liberal faction that cared about these things. The left of the 1970s saw the CIA as a hostile, fundamentally right-wing entity whose powers had to be checked.
That last point is particularly crucial. One reason the Church Committee could inspire so much change so quickly is that the committee was primarily a response to abuses by the intelligence world against the Left. The FBI spied on Martin Luther King. COINTELPRO targeted Vietnam War protesters and black radicals. Watergate, in the public eye at least, was a series of “dirty tricks” by a right-wing president to cling to power. Half a century ago, America’s prestige press was already liberal, but the military and intelligence worlds were not. As such, the media were sympathetic to Church’s goals, and could quickly build a societal narrative in which the committee’s work was of utmost importance and immediate reform essential.
Today, everything is different. The CIA is now an allied entity of the woke regime, fully sharing its values. Today’s CIA puts out videos like this:
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Today, a frank question has to be asked: What could a Republican Church Committee discover that would compel new executive orders from the Biden Administration? What could come out that would make the press unite with House Republicans to demand dramatic changes to the intelligence world? Is there anything at all?
Shame is not going to cut it in 2022. By all means, use a new Congressional investigation to find the truth, and maybe get some political news cycle wins. But there is no chance of the Biden Administration, or the intelligence community itself, reforming itself purely out of shame or revulsion at what an investigation uncovers. And that means fixing the intelligence community will require a commitment to tearing down what exists and building anew — or not building anew, and simply leaving a well-deserve ruin.
Having said all of that, we want to be clear – Jim Jordan’s new committee is an excellent idea, and worth applauding. The Republican Party of just five years ago would not have had the innate deep state skepticism, or the guts, to create such a committee. That the GOP of 2023 is willing to do so shows valuable evolution, and a much-needed increase in creativity as well.
The committee also presents an excellent opportunity. It’s a chance to dig up and expose truths that America’s intelligence agencies have been fighting tooth and nail to suppress for the past seven years. It’s a chance to fundamentally alter how American patriots understand and relate to the senior levels of their government. Most importantly, it’s a real chance to make America’s government better and less hostile to its own citizens, if only through fear of eventually being found out and prosecuted.
But Republicans in 2023 have a much tougher job than Frank Church did forty-eight years ago. That means they will have to be tougher, and smarter, and far more surgical than Church was forty-eight years ago, because absolutely no part of the American regime will be working to assist them.
And of course, grassroots patriots will have to nudge Republicans to keep fighting, to leave no stone unturned, and to make sure that the committee’s findings become real changes the next time Republicans hold power. It’s up to us to keep up the pressure on politicians to do the right thing, because the fake media isn’t going to do any of it for us.
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