1974 December 22

New York Times Exposes CIA Spying on Americans


A front-page story by reporter Seymour Hersh in The New York Times on this day exposed a massive program of domestic spying by the CIA. The article reported that the CIA had files on over 10,000 Americans — by its charter, the CIA is barred from gathering intelligence within the U.S. The political uproar triggered three investigations of the CIA and the other intelligence agencies. The Times story revealed one part of what was known as Operation Chaos in the CIA. The program had begun on August 15, 1967, when President Lyndon Johnson ordered the CIA to investigate support for the anti-Vietnam War movement by foreign governments. The CIA subsequently delivered four reports to President Johnson, on November 15, 1967, December 22, 1967, January 5, 1968, and September 4, 1968. Operation Chaos expanded under President Richard Nixon before being terminated by the CIA in March 1974, prior to the Times story on this day.

The exposé triggered three investigations of the CIA. The first was a presidential commission appointed by President Gerald Ford, the Rockefeller Commission, created on January 4, 1975. It was designed to head off congressional investigations, but failed in that regard. The Senate Created the Church Committee on January 27, 1975, and the House of Representatives created the Pike Committee on February 19, 1975.

The Church and Pike Committees revealed a series of shocking misdeeds by the intelligence agencies. The revelations led to a number of important reforms, including a ban on assassinations by the CIA (February 18, 1976) and the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (October 25, 1978).  Both houses of Congress, meanwhile, created permanent intelligence committees. Subsequent events, however, called into question the effectiveness of these efforts in controlling the intelligence agencies. With regard to the National Security Agency (NSA), for example, see the revelations in the series of stories that began on June 5, 2013, based on documents stolen and leaked by Edward Snowden.

Watch an interview with Seymour Hersh: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jD7dMscxGts

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

Read the Church Committee report on CIA domestic spying:  http://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/contents/church/contents_church_reports_book3.htm

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