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James Risen’s New Book on the Church Committee, CIA Assassination Attempts & Intel Oversight Today

Web ExclusiveJune 27, 2023
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In Part 2 of our interview with James Risen, Pulitzer-winning reporter formerly with The New York Times and now with The Intercept, we discuss more details from his new book, The Last Honest Man: The CIA, the FBI, the Mafia, and the Kennedys—and One Senator’s Fight to Save Democracy. He describes who Senator Frank Church was, revelations from the committee about assassination targets like Fidel Castro in Cuba, Patrice Lumumba in Congo and Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam. He also shares new details about the CIA’s MK-Ultra program and elaborates on the impact of the Church Committee in creating new intelligence agency oversight, including the congressional intelligence committees and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our conversation with James Risen, the twice Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, formerly with The New York Times, now with The Intercept, His brand-new book, The Last Honest Man: The CIA, the FBI, the Mafia, and the Kennedys—and One Senator’s Fight to Save Democracy.

In Part 1 of our discussion, we talked about Idaho Senator Frank Church’s decision to investigate these intelligence agencies, the CIA, the FBI and the agency that is many times larger than the CIA, the National Security Agency.

Jim, in Part 2, I want to continue talking about Lumumba and then talk about what happened in Chile. But if you can go more deeply into who Frank Church was, this Idaho senator, and why he took on, for the first time ever, the investigation into the U.S. intelligence community, and the regulations that came out of it?

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, he’s a fascinating character. He grew up in Boise, Idaho. He was born in 1924. And he was always considered like the smartest kid in school. He was very unique. He came from a family that really didn’t have much distinction, but he himself became very quickly seen as this — the most brilliant student in all of Boise. He won a national oratory contest while he was in high school, giving a speech that really reflected Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speeches. And then, after high school, he went to Stanford on a scholarship. And then Pearl Harbor happened, and he went into the Army.

And by 1945, he was an Army intelligence officer serving in China, where he became disgusted, really, by the corruption of the Chiang Kai‐shek regime and the incompetence of the Chinese Nationalist Army. And he really questioned why the United States was supporting China and Chiang Kai‐shek. And that really led him down the road of becoming much more progressive over time.

He was elected to the Senate in 1956 at the age of 32. He was one of the youngest senators ever. And in the late '50s, he was kind of a traditional Cold War Democrat. He was a hawk on most defense and national security issues, but then — you know, much like John Kennedy, who was also in the Senate at the time and who became a close friend of Church's.

But when the Vietnam War started, he went to Vietnam in 1962, and he saw that the — what he saw in Vietnam reminded him of the corruption and the incompetence of China. And he very quickly turned against the War in Vietnam, and he became the first prominent leader in Congress to become an against the war. And the Vietnam War really radicalized him. He became frustrated at his inability as a senator to stop the war. And for the larger Congress, he became deeply angry that Congress was willing to let both Johnson and then Nixon continue the war with very little oversight or efforts to stop it.

And so, ultimately, he became one of the leaders of the congressional antiwar movement with a series of amendments called the Cooper-Church Amendments, which were designed to defund military operations in Southeast Asia. And it’s clear that, ultimately, the Cooper-Church Amendments forced Nixon to accelerate peace talks with North Vietnam, and he probably helped bring the war to an end much sooner than it would have otherwise. And Church has never really gotten the credit for that, that he deserves.

But by the end of the war, he was incredibly radicalized. He gave speeches in which he compared the United States to the Soviet Union, saying that our War in Vietnam was no different from the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, that the Soviet empire was no different from the American empire. And he became convinced that the United States was on the verge of becoming a militaristic empire. And he would give speeches about that very clearly both in Washington and in Idaho,
which is kind of shocking.

And he got reelected in 1968 in the midst of the Vietnam War, when he was leading the opposition, and again in 1974, when he was — when Watergate was happening. And he became convinced that at the heart of this rising militaristic empire was the intelligence community. The CIA, the FBI, the NSA, along with multinational corporations, were perverting American foreign policy in secret ways and were eroding democracy in the United States, as well. And so, it was really the radicalization that transformed him from Vietnam that led him to want to lead the Church Committee.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you also talk about the connection between the Church Committee, the commission, as well as the investigation into the assassination of Kennedy, which is very interesting? In Part 1 of this discussion, we talked about the CIA’s attempts to kill Castro. And there’s a connection between the two.

JAMES RISEN: Right, yeah. Church initially thought, when he took over the committee, that it was going to focus on intelligence abuses under President Nixon, who had just resigned. He thought this was going to be like Watergate 2.0. But very quickly they realized that many of the scandals of the CIA went back decades, including in the Kennedy administration and the attempts to kill Castro, that had been a whole series of attempts, including the alliance with the Mafia, as well as other attempts, that never worked but which the Kennedy administration continued to push the CIA to do. And there was beginning to be evidence to the Church Committee members that this whole effort by the Kennedy administration to kill Castro was running in parallel to and was never fully shared with the Warren Commission, which investigated Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. And so, there was a sense within the Church Committee that it was possible that somehow the Kennedys’ efforts to push the CIA to kill Castro had led to Kennedy’s assassination.

And so, Gary Hart, who was a young senator on the Church Committee at the time — he had just been elected to the Senate — and Richard Schweiker, who was a Republican, formed a subcommittee of the Church Committee to investigate the CIA’s involvement or handling of the — in the Kennedy assassination. And they focused primarily on how much information the CIA had about the Kennedy assassination, and how much they shared with the Warren Commission, or didn’t share. And they found that there was — the CIA and the FBI and other agencies, as we now know, had a lot of information that they never shared with the Warren Commission.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you think was most striking about that information?

JAMES RISEN: Well, there’s no evidence that they came up with or that anyone else has come up with that proves that anyone else was involved in the assassination besides Lee Harvey Oswald. But what they did find was that the CIA and the FBI knew about Lee Harvey Oswald. They tracked him in various ways. They knew about his meetings in Mexico with — at the Soviet Embassy and the Mexican Embassy. The FBI had been in contact with him prior to the assassination. So there were a lot of things that neither agency, neither the FBI or the bureau, wanted to share with the Warren Commission. They believed that it was clear that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone, and they thought that this information would just muddy the waters. And so, what the impact or the consequence of their failure to turn over all the information they had was that it sparked a lot of conspiracy theories that we still have today about the Kennedy assassination.

AMY GOODMAN: We talked about Dan Ellsberg and him meeting privately with Frank Church to give information over about U.S. policy in Vietnam and the assassination of Diem. And we started talking about Patrice Lumumba and the assassination of the Congolese leader in Part 1 of this discussion. But continue with Patrice Lumumba and what you were most struck by in your investigation of what Frank Church knew, what he learned, and this goes to a number of assassinations — he gathered more and more shocking information, even for him, around U.S. involvement in assassinations — and then what they decided to make public or focus on.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, I think it’s fascinating, because no one really knew anything about these assassinations prior to the Church Committee. There were little hints that had come out in various places about U.S. involvement or CIA involvement, but there had been never, never any full disclosure or full investigation of any of these incidents.

And in the Lumumba case, the CIA, what they did was they sent — they were determined to kill Lumumba, and they sent hitmen to Congo to kill him. They also sent a CIA scientist with poison to give to the — and he gave it to the CIA station chief to have Lumumba poisoned. They tried a number of different ways. The CIA was involved in the coup that overthrew Lumumba. And then he was under house arrest under the supposed protection of the United Nations peacekeeping troops for a while. And they had a hitman who tried to — who was going to plan to shoot Lumumba through a window at the house where he was under U.N. protection, or to try to scare him to get out of the house so that he could be killed.

Ultimately, when Lumumba finally decided to flee for safety back to his part of Congo, where he thought he might be safe, it was the Congolese government that had taken over from him, and which had been backed by the CIA and by Belgium, that tracked him down and captured him, and then flew him to Katanga, where Belgian police — and Katanga was a separatist, pro-Belgian part of Congo, where he was immediately executed. But the CIA clearly helped track Lumumba on his way as he was leaving what was then known as Léopoldville. And, you know, the fact that they were not directly involved in the actual murder doesn’t, in my opinion, give them — reduce their culpability, because they were pushing for his coup, they were pushing for his murder at every step of the way.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Mobutu Sese Seko would take over, who was supported by the CIA and the U.S. government, and he would continue —


AMY GOODMAN: — a murderous reign for decades.

JAMES RISEN: Right, right. And the interesting thing was that there’s a man named Devlin, who was the CIA station chief, who was handed the poison to try to kill Lumumba. He later claimed that he had thrown the poison into a river, so that nobody — so that it wouldn’t be used. And that was his justification, even though he went along with everything else and helped track Lumumba on his — as he fled Léopoldville.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, you talked about getting interested in the story around your investigations into 9/11, September 11, 2001, the attacks here in New York and in Washington. We were doing a special that day, and we were just blocks from ground zero — a special on the connection between terror and 9/11. That was September 11th, 1973, in Chile, when Salvador Allende died in the palace, and the Pinochet forces came to power. And we were particularly looking at what happened to General René Schneider. Now, you talk about this —


AMY GOODMAN: — because Frank Church started to investigate this. Talk about the U.S. role, Nixon’s role, Kissinger’s role, ITT’s role in what happened in Chile.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, I think that the assassination of René Schneider is probably the worst, in my opinion. It’s the one that’s the most offensive as an American, where you believe — where you want to believe that American foreign policy upholds the values of democracy and the rule of law.

But René Schneider was a general in the Chilean Army, the general — the chief of staff. And when Allende was elected president, the CIA wanted to stop him from being certified as president by the Chilean Legislature. And it has — resonates with January 6th here in this country. They were trying to stop the duly elected president from being certified. And they wanted the Chilean military to stage a coup to stop Allende. And Schneider refused to go along with it. He believed in the rule of law and in the Chilean Constitution. And because he believed in the rule of law and the Chilean Constitution, the CIA wanted to get rid of him. They didn’t like people who obeyed the rule of law in Chile.

And so they worked to have him kidnapped. And they worked with one group of a splinter group within the Chilean military, who they — originally they thought were amateur, too amateurish, and so they moved on to a second group within the Chilean military. And while they were working with the second group, the first group actually kidnapped him, or tried to kidnap him. And he fought back, and they shot him while in the midst of the kidnapping. Now, because the CIA claimed they had already moved on to work with the second group that didn’t actually do it, they claimed they weren’t involved, which is the height of hypocrisy and incredibly misleading. So, no one knew about this, really, until the Church Committee uncovered it. And I think the Schneider killing is really one of the darkest chapters in the history of the CIA.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, can you do the throughline from his murder in October 25th, 1970, to what happened to Salvador Allende? And also, on this — in the aftermath of the 100th anniversary, the 100th birthday of Henry Kissinger, and the kind of adulation he gets in the media as a kind of elder statesman who’s presided over so much in the world, if you can talk about his role?

JAMES RISEN: Yeah. I mean, one of the things that became clear from the Church Committee was that the CIA and the Nixon administration, even though they failed to stop Allende from coming to power, the René Schneider murder had a — created a backlash against efforts at a coup in 1970. But they didn’t stop. They continued to try to undermine Allende throughout his time in power. And finally, as you said, September 11th, 1973, he was finally overthrown in a coup, a CIA-backed coup, and he died in the process. And Augusto Pinochet came to power, and he was one of the most brutal dictators in modern history, backed by the CIA, and conducted torture and mass murder and set up an international assassination program to go after dissidents who had fled the country.

And one of those dissidents was Allende’s former foreign minister, Orlando Letelier, who had moved to Washington and was working in Washington and trying — and was a very vocal opponent of the Pinochet regime. And what I found that has first disclosed in my book — it’s never been known before, but he was a secret witness to the Church Committee. And they kept what he was saying — they didn’t make public the fact that he was testifying before them. But not long after the Church Committee, not long after he testified, he was blown up in a car bomb in downtown Washington.

And Kissinger, who had been, supposedly — you know, had been very closely working with the CIA to overthrow Allende, had been meeting with Pinochet not long before that, in which — and I wrote about this in my book and in The Intercept recently, how Pinochet openly complained to Kissinger about Letelier, and Kissinger was silent about his complaints about Letelier. He didn’t say anything about him. And Pinochet’s complaints about Letelier came in a meeting in Chile where Kissinger told him that “I’m going to publicly criticize your human rights record, but you can ignore it, because I’m here, because we really want you to succeed, and we support you, and you can ignore all this leftist talk about human rights.” And it was in that conversation that Pinochet told Kissinger, “I have a real problem with Letelier,” and Kissinger didn’t say anything. And so, it’s hardly surprising that Pinochet would have taken that as a green light to murder Letelier.

AMY GOODMAN: And Letelier was killed along with his assistant, Ronni Moffitt, on the streets right in Embassy Row in Washington, D.C., in that car bomb attack. Kissinger famously said, “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.” Jim?

JAMES RISEN: Right. Yeah, that was — you know, Kissinger is such a war criminal that it’s hard to understand how the Washington establishment continues to adore him. I’ve never understood that. And he is — I guess the fact that he’s been around for so long, people forget the truth. But the truth is really ugly about his bloody record.

AMY GOODMAN: Jim Risen, I wanted to ask you about Sukarno, the founding precedent of modern-day Indonesia, who ultimately would be followed by the ruthless dictator Suharto, who killed, what, between half a million and a million of his own people, not to mention the occupation and genocide in East Timor. Talk about what Frank Church found, what the Church Committee hearings found, about the CIA’s role in attempting to take him down.

JAMES RISEN: One of the — it’s one of the weirdest stories that I found, was Bob Mayhew, who was the former FBI agent who had — who was working on contract with the CIA and who helped — who created the alliance with the Mafia to kill Castro. Prior to that, the CIA had hired him to create what we would now call a deepfake about Sukarno. Sukarno at the time was kind of one of the leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement, where he was — you know, he would be interested in working with the United States, but he was also interested in working with the Soviet Union. And he was trying to balance the interests for his country with both superpowers. And that angered the Eisenhower administration, because they were afraid that he was going to tip too closely to Moscow. And so they wanted to discredit him in the Third World, in the nonaligned world.

And so, they knew or the CIA suspected that he had slept with a woman in Moscow when he had visited the Soviet Union. And so, they had Mayhew create a fake movie in which he hired some people in Los Angeles to pretend to be Sukarno and the Russian woman, and showed — it was a tape that showed them in bed. And it was so amateurish — it was amateurish, but they got the studio or the facilities to do it, thanks to Bing Crosby, who was a big supporter of the CIA. And Bing Crosby’s brother helped produce this video or film. And ultimately, the CIA only used still photos from it, but they tried to get it distributed all over —

AMY GOODMAN: They only used the stills because he didn’t look like Sukarno?

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, yeah, they realized that it didn’t look very — you could tell that it wasn’t him, if you actually looked at the film. So, they tried to — they distributed that all over Asia and in Indonesia. But, you know, it didn’t affect — he wasn’t forced out of power anytime soon. But it just showed the lengths of insanity that the CIA was going to in the days when it had no supervision and no oversight.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Jim, if you can talk about what then was made public? I mean, in fact, wasn’t it just Chile that was used as an example, and the other information that they uncovered was not focused on?

JAMES RISEN: No, all the assassination plots were all made public. Everything I’ve talked about was all public in their reports. They had some information that they didn’t make public, which were a separate investigation of specific covert action operations. They had one big first report on all of these assassination plots, and that was all made public. Then they later — a separate team of people in the Church Committee investigated covert action and the history of covert action. And the CIA pressured them to only make one of those — hold hearings on one of those. And they held hearings and made public what they had found on Chile. And it was in that regard that they did interviews with Orlando Letelier. But for the most part, they made public pretty much everything that they had. You know, they would — one of the things that they were pressured to do was use pseudonyms for some people from the CIA. But apart from that, they did make public most of what they found.

AMY GOODMAN: Jim Risen, talk about MK-Ultra and what was uncovered, and especially for young people. They may never have heard of MK-Ultra.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, MK-Ultra was a mind control program, supposedly, that started in the late 1940s and early '50s by the CIA to, effectively, use drugs to see if there were any drugs available that could help people — help the CIA control people's minds. And they very quickly focused on LSD, which was a new synthetic drug at the time. And under MK-Ultra, the CIA scientific — supposedly scientific unit began to dose people unwittingly around the country, thousands of people, with LSD to see what the impact would be on them. They set up — they started — they set up safe houses in New York and San Francisco, where they would lure people to come and be given LSD without their knowledge, and then see what happened to them. They dosed prostitutes and their johns. They dosed — they gave it at prisons to large numbers of convicts at prisons. They gave it at universities. It was just an amazingly mass program of LSD usage, that was covered up for decades. And the leader of the program, a man named Sid Gottlieb, who was not a doctor and was really just a — almost a quack, when he retired, and when Richard Helms, the CIA director, who knew about it and had approved it, retired, they agreed to destroy all the records. And so, the full extent of MK-Ultra has never been made public.

But there was one victim that did become public. It was Frank Olson, who was involved in the program in the Army. The Army was jointly involved with some aspects of the program. And he was a scientist at Fort Detrick in Maryland. And he went to a retreat with the CIA people, with Sid Gottlieb and others, to talk about the program. And while he was there, Gottlieb secretly dosed him with LSD. And he left the retreat and went home in a deep psychosis. And Gottlieb panicked and took him to New York to meet another doctor, who — or a psychologist, who was really kind of a fraud but who knew about the CIA program. And within a day, Olson fell out of a hotel window to his death. And it’s never been convincingly determined whether he was pushed out of the window to keep him silent about — to cover up MK-Ultra, or whether he committed suicide. His family believes he was murdered.

And that incident only came out in 1975, just as the Church Committee was beginning its operations. There was a line, one line, in what was known as the Rockefeller Commission, which was the Ford White House’s efforts to stop the Church Committee from doing its work. They were going to whitewash everything about the CIA. But they did find a few things. And one of the things they found out about was Frank Olson’s death. And Frank Olson’s family, then, once it became known, Jerry Ford had them into the Oval Office and apologized to them. But that led to the Church Committee to conduct its investigation of MK-Ultra. And Gottlieb became a key witness. It’s clear, though, that he lied or omitted a lot of facts in his testimony to the Church Committee. And he had a very good defense. He was able to — with a good defense lawyer, he was able to try and get some immunity from the Church Committee to testify. And then he was never really — he was never prosecuted after that.

AMY GOODMAN: And people can go to democracynow.org to see our coverage of Frank Olson’s death and his family’s pursuit of the truth. I don’t know if you saw this piece in The Washington Post, Jim, that just came out a week or so ago, “Before he was the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski was a mind-control test subject.” And it says, you know, Ted Kaczynski, “who died in a federal prison medical facility … transformed from boy genius to terrorist … Kaczynski entered Harvard … [at 16] … on a scholarship, after skipping the sixth and 11th grades. It was there that he was subjected to an experiment run by Harvard psychologist Henry A. Murray [who] was backed by the Central Intelligence Agency.” Did you hear about this?

JAMES RISEN: That’s — I didn’t know that. That’s really interesting. But, you know, there have been a lot of stories in the last few years about the extent of MK-Ultra. And one of them was a few years ago. There’s been a lot of questions about whether Charles Manson was caught up in MK-Ultra and the LSD dosing, unwitting dosing, of him. So, we still don’t know the full extent of what they did. But it’s clearly there were thousands of people who were unwittingly given LSD in quantities that we still don’t know how much LSD they were given or how frequently. And, you know, many people can take LSD and then be normal after that. But certainly, Frank Olson was a case in which it triggered a psychotic — a series of psychotic episodes. And so, we don’t know how much of an impact MK-Ultra had on just a broad swath of American society.

AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, in this article — and this goes back to the Church Committee — it says it was believed to be part of the MK-Ultra experiment that Kaczynski was experimented on. And it says, ”CIA Director Richard Helms ordered the destruction of many files related to MK-Ultra in 1973. Nevertheless, Kaczynski disclosed some of his apparent involvement in the study in correspondence from prison with the professor … who later wrote a book about [him].” I found that interesting because you had Richard Helms, who helmed the CIA, but during the Church hearings, it was William Colby, head of the CIA, who actually participated willingly in the Church hearings and was vilified by the Washington establishment for what he revealed.

JAMES RISEN: Right. Helms was the CIA director before Colby. And he had been — you know, he was one of the longest-serving CIA directors ever. I think he may have been the longest-serving. And he was very close to Sid Gottlieb and allowed MK-Ultra to continue for years. And he knew everything about MK-Ultra, and that when he retired, Gottlieb called him up and said, “Well, if you’re retiring, I’m going to retire, and we should destroy all these records.” And so, it was a conspiracy of silence by both Helms and Gottlieb. And Gottlieb left the country for a long period of time and was trying — and tried to avoid ever talking to anybody about all this, but the Church Committee demanded, finally demanded, that he come back to Washington and testify.

And you’re right, Colby was — who came, who was CIA director at the time of the Church Committee, was much more cooperative with them than Helms was. In fact, Frank Church got Helms prosecuted for lying to Congress about Chile. And Colby was much more cooperative, and secretly cooperated much more with the Church Committee than even the Ford White House realized. But he was ultimately fired by Jerry Ford, because Ford found out how much he was cooperating with the Church Committee.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about that, being forced out because of what happened, and, ultimately, what came of this? I actually wanted to go to an interview I did in 2009 as the Democratic congressional leadership was debating how the Obama administration should address the Bush administration’s use of torture. I went to Idaho to speak with Bethine Church, the widow of Senator Frank Church. She was considered the matriarch of the Democratic Party in Idaho and was seen by many as the state’s third senator, because she was so active while her husband served on Capitol Hill. She passed away in 2013 at 90. This is what she had to say.

BETHINE CHURCH: When you think of all the things that the Church Committee tried to straighten out, and when you think of the terrific secrecy that Cheney and all of these people dealt with — they were always secretive about everything, and they didn’t want anything known — I think people have to know what went on. And that’s why I think an independent committee outside of the Congress that just looked at the whole problem and everything that happened.

I remember Colby was very, very good. He cooperated with the committee. And the administration and the CIA and everybody were just furious with him, just furious, because he was so cooperative. But I think that’s the kind of thing that the people in government need to be, is very upfront about what’s happening.

And I think we’ve made the world a lot more dangerous and our country a lot more dangerous by the kind of things we’ve done, in terms of spying on people, in terms of torture. Everything that’s happened, I think, has made us much less secure.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Bethine Clark Church, the wife of Frank Church and the daughter of Idaho Governor Clark. James Risen, as we begin to wrap up, if you can talk about the lessons learned and what kind of regulation there is today of these intelligence agencies?

JAMES RISEN: Bethine, yeah, Bethine was an amazing figure. You know, she and Frank met in high school in Boise, and they got married right after World War II. And she was just — she was much more politically astute in a lot of ways than Frank Church was. She really pushed him and was probably more politically ambitious than he was. Clearly, she pushed him to run for president. And she understood the politics of Idaho in a way that Frank Church really didn’t. And so, she was really like the guardian of his political fortunes.

In the 1960s, she became worried by Church’s move to the left on Vietnam. And that was the one moment when she misread Idaho, because Church was willing to become much more opposed to the war, and he thought that the people of Idaho would support him. And he was right. He won reelection in 1968 in the midst of the war. It kind of shocked Bethine, because she was pushing him not to go so far, because she was always worried about what people in Idaho would think of him.

But she was — she thought about running for Senate after Frank Church died. And she decided not to, but she spent the next 30 years or so after his death kind of guarding his legacy and really helped keep his legacy alive today.

AMY GOODMAN: Which was also an environmental legacy.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, yeah, he was probably one of the — no one remembers, but he saved so many — or, preserved so much American wilderness, millions and millions of acres of wilderness, not only in Idaho but around the country, the wild rivers acts that he passed. You know, the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states is in Idaho. It’s the Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness Area, that is like two-and-a-half million acres of land. And he saved a number of other places around the country that would have been developed if it wasn’t for Church.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s end with what the Church hearings mean for today, almost a half-century later, what we understand about the CIA, the NSA, the FBI? What are the rules that, the regulations that control them, if they do at all?

JAMES RISEN: Well, there were a number of laws and regulations put in place as a result of the Church Committee’s investigation. Probably the most famous one is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA, which is a deeply flawed law, but there was nothing prior to the Church Committee. There were no rules whatsoever governing national security surveillance of Americans. Then there was the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which was passed as a result of Church’s investigation of ITT in Chile and Lockheed in Japan and elsewhere. Then there were the creation of permanent intelligence committees in the House and the Senate as a result of the Church Committee’s work. Then there was a ban on assassinations and bans on the use of American journalists as CIA agents and ministers. So, there was just a whole series of changes in the rules governing CIA operations. The FBI then changed its guidelines for its actions following the Martin Luther King scandal. So, there was a — and then the NSA was, for the very first time, brought into the rule of law under FISA and other rules.

So, it set a whole new regime of laws and rules that forced the intelligence community under the rule of law for the first time. You know, those are deeply flawed rules today that are in many ways outdated, so we probably need another Church Committee. But I think that the bigger legacy is that the Church Committee is now seen as kind of a synonym for any major congressional investigation. And today, the irony is, you have Jim Jordan and his weaponization committee in Congress. They call themselves the “new Church Committee,” because everyone now recognizes that the name “the Church Committee” has gone into the American political lexicon as a synonym for a major investigation of American scandals. It’s become a shorthand name for an American Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to just read from Politico for a moment, “As former Sen. Gary Hart, the last surviving member of the Church Committee recently observed, Jordan and his colleagues, [quote] 'appear to believe agencies of the national government have targeted, and perhaps are still targeting, right-of-center individuals and groups, possibly including individuals and right-wing militia groups that participated in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrectionist attack on the Capitol.'” Your thoughts, Jim?

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, I think it’s a ridiculous comparison. They’re just trying to coopt the name “the Church Committee,” because they know that the name “Church Committee” now means a serious congressional investigation. But this weaponization committee is nothing more than a partisan attack based on conspiracy theories and false evidence. And I think it’s going to — it’s clearly been falling apart and hasn’t really gotten — had the impact that they — the political impact they hoped it would.

AMY GOODMAN: Which brings —

JAMES RISEN: But it does show —

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

JAMES RISEN: It does show that the name “the Church” — yeah, it just shows to me that the name “the Church Committee” has become synonymous on both sides politically with an important investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, amongst all the shocking revelations in this book, The Last Honest Man, what shocked you most?

JAMES RISEN: I think it was the fact that the CIA — if the Church Committee had not come along and started these investigations, that the CIA and the FBI would have been allowed to continue down the road towards really rogue operations that would have continued to this day, and the idea that there would have been some truth to the idea that there was a deep state. The deep state today, I think, is a conspiracy theory. But prior to the Church Committee, there was the growth of a parallel, a secret government that was not being reined in. And I think the fact that the Church Committee had such a dramatic impact on the life of the American republic, I really believe that the republic would have been in danger if the Church Committee hadn’t done its work.

AMY GOODMAN: James Risen, I want to thank you so much for being with us, twice Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, now with The Intercept, formerly with The New York Times. His new book is just out. It’s called The Last Honest Man: The CIA, the FBI, the Mafia, and the Kennedys—and One Senator’s Fight to Save Democracy To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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