News Release

NSA Spying — Church Committee Whilstleblower: “Are Senators Compromised?”

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Matthew Aid and William Burr reveal in “Secret Cold War Documents Reveal NSA Spied on Senators,” that “As Vietnam War protests grew, the U.S. National Security Agency tapped the overseas communications of prominent American critics of the war — including a pair of sitting U.S. senators. That’s according to a recently declassified NSA history, which called the effort ‘disreputable if not outright illegal.’ …

“The names of the NSA’s targets are eye-popping. Civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Whitney Young were on the watch list, as were the boxer Muhammad Ali, New York Times journalist Tom Wicker, and veteran Washington Post humor columnist Art Buchwald. But perhaps the most startling fact in the declassified document is that the NSA was tasked with monitoring the overseas telephone calls and cable traffic of two prominent members of Congress, Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) and Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.). As shocking as the recent revelations about the NSA’s domestic eavesdropping have been, there has been no evidence so far of today’s signal intelligence corps taking a step like this, to monitor the White House’s political enemies.”

CHRISTOPHER H. PYLE, cpyle@mtholyoke.edu
In 1970, Pyle disclosed the U.S. military’s surveillance of the civil rights and anti-war movements and worked as a consultant to three Congressional committees, including the Church Committee, which investigated such abuses. He now teaches constitutional law and civil liberties at Mount Holyoke College and is author of Military Surveillance of Civilian Politics and Getting Away with Torture and other books.

He said today: “We knew the NSA targeted Rev. King and Dr. Benjamin Spock and could infer that they targeted Ali as well. I didn’t know that they targeted Sen. Frank Church and Sen. Howard Baker. It could mean they were trying to get information or dirt on senators involved in the Church committee and Watergate committee investigations respectively — either to learn something about their investigations or to discredit them.

“The National Security Archives news release indicates that the surveillance at least began earlier than the Watergate and Church committee hearings. But that would imply that they were conducting surveillance on quite a wide net of people even back then.

“We still need more information about what happened then. But more critically, we need more information about what’s happening now. These revelations raise the obvious question: If the NSA was targeting people like Sen. Frank Church, who were in a position to oversee the NSA — is that happening now? That is, are people like intelligence committee chairs Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and other congressional leaders — who are supposed to be providing oversight themselves — compromised in some way by the NSA? If so, as seems quite certain from the recent Edward Snowden revelations, then how can they conduct genuine oversight of the NSA with their committees?”