Former Church Committee members see need for new group to investigate NSA

n13-iconThreatpost: In a letter sent to President Obama and members of Congress, former members and staff of the Church Committee on intelligence said that the revelations of the NSA activities have caused “a crisis of public confidence” and encouraged the formation of a new committee to undertake “significant and public reexamination of intelligence community practices”.

Although it may seem like the NSA’s activities have only recently come under public scrutiny, the agency first was dragged into the light in 1975 when reports surfaced that for decades it had had secret agreements with telegram companies to get copies of Americans’ international communications. The Church committee, formally known as the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, was formed to investigate the NSA’s methods and produced a report that took the agency to task for overstepping its bounds and expanding programs well beyond their initial scope.

“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,” the committee’s final report said.

In the letter sent Monday to Obama and Congress, several former advisers to and members of the Church committee, including the former chief counsel, said that the current situation involving the NSA bears striking resemblances to the one in 1975 and that the scope of what the NSA is doing today is orders of magnitude larger than what was happening nearly 40 years ago.

“The need for another thorough, independent, and public congressional investigation of intelligence activity practices that affect the rights of Americans is apparent. There is a crisis of public confidence. Misleading statements by agency officials to Congress, the courts, and the public have undermined public trust in the intelligence community and in the capacity for the branches of government to provide meaningful oversight,” the letter says.

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