1956 April 11

CIA Narrowly Escapes Closer Senate Oversight


The Senate on this day defeated a bill sponsored by Senator Mike Mansfield (D–Montana) that would have provided closer Senate oversight of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Mansfield was still only in his first term, but took a special interest in the issue of the lack of oversight of the secretive CIA. Initially, he had a fair amount of support for his bill, but the Eisenhower administration lobbied hard against it, and the bill was defeated by a vote of 59 to 27.

Oversight of the CIA did not get serious support again until the 1970s, with the investigations by the Church Committee, created by the Senate on January 27, 1975, and the Pike Committee, created by the House of Representatives on February 19, 1975. As a result of the revelations of the violations of Americans’ rights and of human rights principles, both houses of Congress created permanent intelligence committees to oversee the CIA and the NSA. In the years that followed, however, many critics argued that the CIA succeeded in co-opting the congressional committees, with the result that Congress did not provide meaningful oversight of the intelligence agencies.

Read: Don Oberdorfer, Senator Mansfield: The Extraordinary Life of a Great Statesman and Diplomat (2003)

Visit the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center at the University of Montana: http://www.umt.edu/mansfield/

Learn more about the history of the CIA: Tim Wiener, A Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (2007)

Learn more about CIA covert actions: John Jacob Nutter, The CIA’s Black OPS: Covert Action, Foreign Policy, and Democracy (2000)

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