Uncanny Echoes of the NSA Debate From the 1970s
Before the Church Committee reports were released, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller described the shocking CIA abuses it chronicled as "not major."
In June of 1975, the investigations into the CIA that would eventually be summarized in the Church Committee reports were already underway, spurred in large part by the shocking claims made in Seymour Hersh's journalism. But the public did not yet know the extent of CIA misdeeds. Many Americans were curious and suspicious. But confirmed facts were hard to come by, and some people thought that they shouldn't come out at all, as the New York Timesreported:
Do even select members of Congress need to poke into every nook and cranny of the country's intelligence operations? This is the heart of the debate now raging in Washington in response to the report of the Rockefeller Commission on its investigation of the C.I.A. The same questions will underly the investigations of two Congressional committees, one in the House of Representatives, the other in the Senate. A substantial portion of the public believes that too much information on the intelligence agency has already come out. These critics say that every new publicized detail serves to weaken national security and unnecessarily expose intelligence operations to foreign governments.
Some members of the public were reassured that they had all the information they needed by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, whose characterizations are captured in this Associated Press article:
Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller said today his commission's five-month investigation of the Central Intelligence Agency has uncovered instances of wrongdoing but no pattern of widespread illegality. "There are things which are in contradiction to the statutes," Rockefeller said, "but in comparison to the total effort, they are not major."
The vice president told newsmen he doubted that either President Ford or the public would be shocked by the contents of the 350 page report which the 8-member commission will deliver to the President on Friday. "That doesn't mean that there haven't been things done that were wrong and ... we recommend extensive steps to be taken to prevent it in the future," Rockefeller said. "I think you're going to be surprised and pleased by the comprehensive nature of the material that's in here."
If all of this is sounding quite familiar, you won't be surprised to learn that the executive branch's characterizations were challenged as misleading by a senator pushing for transparency.