The CIA and Congress: Creation of the SSCI
The establishment of the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) in 1946—one of CIA’s predecessors—marked the beginning of a new relationship between intelligence organizations and Congress. During the next 30 years, Congress gradually acquired more oversight, although the formalization of its authorities did not occur until the mid-1970s, a tumultuous time for the Intelligence Community. Since then, Congress and the Community have collaborated to ensure that our nation’s intelligence operations are conducted in strict accordance with America’s laws. Two congressional committees were created to monitor intelligence activities — The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI). This article focuses on the SSCI.
In 1975, amid a flurry of media allegations of wrongdoing by the Agency—including intelligence collection on U.S. citizens and foreign assassination plots—the Senate created the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. It was better known as the Church Committee—named for its chairman, Senator Frank Church of Idaho.
The Church Committee’s investigation lasted 15 months. During that time, the committee:
- Held 126 formal hearings and 21 public hearings,
- Conducted 800 interviews, and
- Released 14 volumes of hearings and reports.
This investigation marked the first time Congress launched investigations of Agency operations. Previously, Congress would refer questions or concerns to the Director of Central Intelligence for clarification, but only rarely. With the creation of the Church Committee, Congress exercised its legal authority to gain access to Agency documents and personnel, and the Agency fully cooperated.
The committee’s final report, released in April 1976, concluded that the CIA had breached legal boundaries and violated the rights of U.S. citizens, particularly when it kept files on members of the antiwar movement, although the report also cited areas in which the Agency had “made important contributions to the nation’s security.” Director William Colby called the report “a comprehensive and serious review of the history and present status of American intelligence.”
Within a month of the release of the Church Committee’s final report, the Senate drafted and passed Senate Resolution 400 creating the Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI). The resolution that established the SSCI stated that no more than eight of the committee’s 15 members were to come from the majority party in the Senate. Senator Daniel Inouye from Hawaii was named the SSCI’s first chairman.
The creation of SSCI and HPSCI not only marked the beginning of greater attention to oversight, but also the start of a more transparent and collaborative relationship between the Intelligence Community and Congress. After more than 30 years of oversight, both committees continue to look out for our nation’s security in partnership with the Intelligence Community.
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