Excerpts from United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (1976), colloquially referred to as the “Church Report” (after Senator Frank Church of Idaho).

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND TO THE CIA: The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities has conducted a fifteen-month-long inquiry, the first major inquiry into intelligence since World War II. The inquiry arose out of allegations of substantial, even massive wrong-doing within the “national intelligence” system.' The shortcomings of the intelligence system, the adverse effects of secrecy, and the failure of congressional oversight to assure adequate accountability for executive branch decisions concerning intelligence activities were major subjects of the Committee's inquiry.

Equally important to the obligation to investigate allegations of abuse was the duty to review systematically the intelligence community's overall activities since 1945, and to evaluate its present structure and performance. An extensive However, both at home and abroad, the new intelligence system involved more than merely acquiring intelligence and evaluating information. The system also undertook activities to counter, combat, disrupt, and sometimes destroy those who were perceived as enemies. The belief that there was a need for such measures was widely held, as illustrated in, the following report related to the 1954 Hoover Commission Report on government organization:
It is now clear that we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination by whatever means and at whatever cost. There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply. If the U.S. is to survive, long-standing American concepts of “fair play” must be reconsidered. We must develop effective espionage and counterespionage services. We must learn to subvert, sabotage and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated and more effective methods than those used against us. It may become necessary that the American people will be made acquainted with, understand and support this fundamentally repugnant philosophy.
The gray, shadowy world between war and peace became the natural haunt for covert action, espionage, propaganda, and other clandestine intelligence activities. Former Secretary of State Dean Rusk described it as the environment for the nasty wars “in the back alleys of the world.”


The task of democratic government is to reconcile conflicting values. The fundamental question faced by the Select Committee is how to reconcile the clash between secrecy and democratic government itself. Secrecy is an essential part of most intelligence activities. However, secrecy undermines the United States Government's capacity to deal effectively with the principal issues of American intelligence addressed by the Select Committee : The lack of clear legislation defining the authority for permissible intelligence activities has been justified in part for reasons of secrecy.

Absent clear legal boundaries for intelligence activities, the Constitution has been violated in secret and the power of the executive branch has gone unchecked, unbalanced. -Secrecy has shielded intelligence activities from full accountability and effective supervision both within the executive branch and by the Congress. Reliance on covert action has been excessive because it offers a secret shortcut around the democratic process. This shortcut has led to questionable foreign involvements and unacceptable acts. The important line between public and private action has become blurred as the result of the secret use of private institutions and individuals by intelligence agencies. This clandestine relationship has called into question their integrity and undermined the crucial independent role of the private sector in the American system of democracy.

The Committee has already recommended, following its investigation of alleged assassination attempts directed at foreign leaders, a statute to forbid such activities. The Committee reaffirms its support for such a statute and further recommends prohibiting the following covert activities by statute. All political assassinations. Efforts to subvert democratic governments. Support for police or other internal security forces which engage in the systematic violation of human rights.

While the evidence in the Committee's Report emphasizes the misguided or improper activities of a few individuals in the executive branch, it is clear that the growth of intelligence abuses reflects a more general failure of our basic institutions. The legislative branch has been remiss in exercising its control over the intelligence agencies. For 25 years Congress has appropriated funds for intelligence activities. The closeted and fragmentary accounting which the intelligence community has given to a designated small group of legislators was accepted by the Congress as adequate and in the best interest of national security. The courts have also not confronted intelligence issues.

Recent Presidents have justified this secrecy on the basis of “national security,” “the requirements of national defense,” or “the confidentiality required by sensitive, ongoing negotiations or operations.” These justifications were generally accepted at face value. The Bay of Pigs fiasco, the secret war in Laos, the secret bombing of Cambodia, the anti-Allende activities in Chile, the Watergate affair, were all instances of the use of power cloaked in secrecy which, when revealed, provoked widespread popular disapproval. security.

Duplication, waste, inertia and ineffectiveness in the intelligence community has been one of the costs of insulating the intelligence bureaucracy from the rigors of Congressional and public scrutiny. -Finally, secrecy has been a tragic conceit. Inevitably, the truth prevails, and policies pursued on the premise that they could be plausibly denied, in the end damage America's reputation and the faith of her people in their government. For three decades, these problems

The evolution of the United States intelligence community since World War II is part of the larger history of America's effort to come to grips with the spread of communism and the growing power of the Soviet Union. As the war ended, Americans were torn by hopes for peace and fear Nowhere in the 1947 Act was the CIA explicitly empowered to collect intelligence or intervene secretly in the affairs of other nations. But the elastic phrase, “such other functions”, was used by successive presidents to move the Agency into espionage, covert action, paramilitary operations, and technical intelligence collection.

While the United States' technical, military and intelligence capabilities advanced, concern intensified over the vulnerability of the newly independent nations of Africa and Asia to communist subversion. And in the Western Hemisphere the establishment of a communist, Cuba by Fidel Castro was seen as presaging a major incursion of revolutionary communism to the Western Hemisphere. At his inauguration in January 1961, President Kennedy proclaimed that America would “pay any price and bear any burden” so that liberty might prevail in the world over the “forces of communist totalitarianism.” Despite the catastrophe of the CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion only four months later, the covert action and paramilitary operations staffs of the CIA were to shoulder a significant part of that burden.

In Latin America the Alliance for Progress, the overt effort to help modernize the southern half of the hemisphere, was accompanied by a significant expansion of covert action and internal security operations aimed at blocking the spread of Castro's influence or ideology. This was accompanied by an intense paramilitary campaign of harassment, sabotage, propaganda against Cuba, and attempted assassination against Castro. Nearby, in the Dominican Republic, the United States had already supported the assassins of Dictator Raphael Trujillo in order to preempt a Castro-type takeover.

PARAMILITARY OPERATIONS: In Africa, significant paramilitary aid was given in support of anti-Soviet African leaders. In Asia, American intelligence had been involved for a long time in the Indochina struggle. The CIA, along with the rest of the United States government, was drawn ever deeper into the Vietnamese conflict. Early in the decade, the United States faced its most serious postwar crisis affecting its security-the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. It illustrated a number of important facts concerning the nature and structure of American intelligence. During the summer of 1962, overhead reconnaissance confirmed agent intelligence reports that some form of unusual military installation was being placed in Cuba.

Of the five paramilitary activities studied by the Committee, only one 'appeals 'to have achieved its objectives. The goal of supporting a central government was achieved-the same government is still in power many years later. There were a few sporadic reports of the operation in the press, but it was never fully revealed nor confirmed. In no paramilitary case studied by the Committee was complete secrecy successfully preserved. All of the operations were reported in the American press to varying extents, while 'they were going on. They remained deniable only to the ex8tent that such reports were tentative, sketchy, and unconfirmed, and hence were not necessarily considered accurate.

The Committee finds that major paramilitary operations have often failed to achieve their intended objective. Most have eventually been exposed. Operations, as in Angola, recently, and Indonesia in the late 1950s are examples of such paramilitary failures. Others, such as Laos, are judged successes by the CIA and officials within the executive branch. The “success” in Laos, however, must be seen against the larger American involvement in Indochina which failed.

COVERT OPERATIONS: The Committee finds that covert action operations have not been an exceptional instrument used only in rare instances when the vital interests of the United States have been at stake. On the contrary, presidents and administrations have made excessive, and at times self-defeating, use of covert action. In addition, covert action has become a routine program with a bureaucratic momentum of its own.

The Committee has found that the CIA has conducted some 900 major or sensitive covert action projects plus several thousand smaller projects since 1961. The need to maintain secrecy shields covert action projects from the rigorous public scrutiny and debate necessary to determine their compatibility with established American foreign policy goals. Combat operations frequently amount to making war, but they do not come under the War Powers Act since they usually do not involve uniformed U.S. military officers. American military officers engaged in CIA-sponsored paramilitary operations are “sheep-dipped” for paramilitary duty-that is, they appear to resign from the military yet preserve their place for reactivation once their tour as civilian in paramilitary operations has ended.

No activity of the CIA has engendered more controversy and concern than “covert action,” the secret use of power and persuasion. The contemporary definition of covert action as used by the CIA-“any clandestine operat.ion or activity designed to influence foreign governments, organizations, persons or events in support of United States foreign policy”-suggests an all-purpose policy tool. By definition, covert, action should be one of the CIA's least visible activities, yet it has attracted more attention in recent years than any other United States foreign intelligence activity. The CIA has been accused of interfering in the internal political affairs of nations ranging from Iran to Chile. from Tibet to Guatemala, from Libya to Laos, from Greece to Indonesia. Assassinations, coups d'etat, vote buying, economic warfare-all have been laid at the doorstep of the CIA. Few political crises take place in the world today in which CIA involvement is not alleged.

In addition to the major covert action case studies, the Committee spent five months investigating alleged plots to assassinate foreign leaders. This inquiry led, inevitably, into covert action writ large. Plots to assassinate Castro could not be understood unless seen in the context of Operation MONGOOSE, a massive covert action program designed to “get rid of Castro.” The death of General Rene Schneider in Chile could not be understood unless seen in the context of what was known as Track II--a covert action program, undertaken by the CIA at the direction of President Nixon, to prevent Salvador Allende from assuming the office of President of Chile in 1970.

The Bay of Pigs disaster in 1961 prompted a reorganization of CIA covert action and the procedures governing it. ,4 new form of covert action-counter-insurgency-was now emphasized. Under the direction of the National Security Council, the CIA rapidly expanded its counterinsurgency capability, focusing 011 Latin America, Africa, and the Far East.

Chile can serve as an example of how oversight of covert action was conducted. According to CIA records, there was a total of 53 Congressional briefings on Chile by the CTA between April 1964 and December 1974. At 33 of these meetings there was some discussion of covert action; special releases of fluids for covert action from the Contingency Reserve were discussed at 23 of them. Of the 33 covert action briefings, 20 took place prior to 19'73, and 13 took place after. Of the 33 covert action projects undertaken in Chile between 1963 and 1974 with “40 Committee” approval, Congress was briefed in some fashion on 8. Presumably the 25 others were undertaken without congressional consultation.

The Committee has found that certain covert operations have been incompatible with American principles and ideals and, when exposed. have resulted in damaging this nation's ability to exercise moral and ethical leadership throughout the world. The U.S. ,involvement in assassination plots against foreign leaders 'and the attempt to foment. a military coup in Chile in 1970 against 'a democratically elected government were two examples of such failures in purposes and ideals. Further, because of widespread exposure of covert operations and suspi