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The CIA and Congress: The Creation of HPSCI

The U.S. Congress has had oversight of central intelligence since 1946, when one of CIA’s postwar predecessors was created. Over the years, Congress and the Intelligence Community have worked together to promote national security. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is one of two congressional committees devoted exclusively to the monitoring of intelligence activities on behalf of the American people. That oversight is critical to CIA’s place in our democracy.

At the urging of their newly elected Speaker, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, members of the House of Representatives on July 14, 1977 passed a resolution creating the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI). A counterpart committee in the Senate—the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI)—had been in existence for more than a year.

The creation of the oversight committees came out of the recommendations of two congressional investigatory panels established in 1975 to look into allegation of CIA abuses:

  • The Church Committee, named for its chairman Senator Frank Church of Idaho; and
  • The Pike Committee in the House, chaired by Representative Otis Pike of New York.

The work of the Pike Committee was especially contentious, with Republicans and Democrats in the House joining forces to prevent publication of its final report. The delay in launching HPSCI was one result of that highly charged environment

While the resolution that set up the SSCI stated that no more than eight of the committee’s 15 members were to come from the majority party in the Senate, the resolution that established HPSCI said its composition would fully reflect the strength of each party in the House. Between 2003 and 2010, HPSCI had 11 members from the majority party and nine from the minority. After the 2010 elections, the balance shifted to 12 from the majority and eight from the minority.

The emergence of SSCI and HPSCI, which brought about a more thorough oversight of intelligence, reflected a shift in congressional attitudes toward the CIA and its partner agencies. Today, more than 30 years later, the impact of both committees can be found in the accountability, efficiency, and cohesion of the American Intelligence Community.


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Posted: Aug 04, 2011 11:15 AM
Last Updated: Apr 30, 2013 12:54 PM