How to Fix the CIA

Christopher Hayes rouses liberals with a call to bring back the Church Committee--the comprehensive 1970s investigation that uncovered CIA assassination plots and more.

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Christopher Hayes, the D.C. editor for the liberal bastion The Nation, has roused liberals by calling for a new Church Committee to expose not only CIA abuses, but the whole secretive activity of government. Why? As Hayes tells it, it was only after the original Church Committee uncovered the intelligence community's hand in assassination plots, the blackmailing of Martin Luther King, Jr., and LSD experiments on unwitting citizens in the 1970s that trust in the government could be rebuilt.

The idea is gaining traction with liberals, though it's attracted little attention on the right, where it's unlikely to be warmly received. For conservatives, the Church Committee is held up as the textbook case for endangering American security by making the CIA "risk-averse."

  • An Intelligence Enhancement, writes Spencer Ackerman at the Attackerman blog. "The proposition that secrecy is necessarily the ally of intelligence work is actually a dubious one." Ackerman cheers Hayes with unimpeded enthusiasm. "If it doesn't win an award, that proves journalism panels are corrupt."
  • Proof That Absolute Power Corrupts, writes Matt Duss at Think Progress. "This is a central conservative insight, one that animates much of their hysterical opposition to health care reform, so it's strange that conservatives seem to be the most resistant to applying it to executive overreach on intelligence."
  • Contradiction of Cheney's Philosophy, says Michael Scherer at Time. "The view of the Bush Administration, as demonstrated through their actions on a variety of legal issues, was that the Church Committee reforms, on foreign surveillance, on limiting executive power, on restricting assassinations, had been a mistake, dangerously limiting the power of the president to defend the nation against threats foreign and domestic."
  • An Unavoidable Cycle of Abuse, says Matthew Yglesias at Think Progress. "There really just is an inherent tension between the desire to have a highly effective security apparatus capable of operating in secret and the basic principles of liberal democracy...I think we're bound to continue on a sort of sine-wave trajectory of abuse -> backlash -> investigation -> retrenchment -> allegations of overreach -- > renewed abuse."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.