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Americans should fight back
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In 1975, Frank Church, a Democratic senator from Idaho, told the American people that a government intelligence agency most of them had never heard of -- the National Security Agency -- "had the capability to secretly monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide."
Like many Americans, regardless of their political party, I was startled.
At the time, Church was the chairman of the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities, better known as the Church Committee.
Church assured us that "never again will an agency of the government be permitted to conduct a secret war against those citizens it considers threats to the established order."
But he could not predict the coming of a Congress wholly forgetful of the Church Committee and absorbed in internal wars to gain political party ascendancy, not to mention a two-term president who largely exterminated the separation of powers.
However, as I've been reporting, the revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and Democratic. Sen. Dianne Feinstein have partially reawakened Congress. In a spectacularly unexpected fusion of warring public figures, Feinstein, who had accused Edward Snowden of being a traitor, has now joined with him to expose government secrecy and make us Americans again.
And so there has been a Church Committee revival. But how will this new committee actually operate to accomplish this mission?
Frederick A.O. "Fritz" Schwarz Jr., who was chief counsel for the Church Committee and is currently the chief counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, challenges us to rescue our fading identity as a self-governing citizenry.
We The People should look deeply into the dark, extra-constitutional, subterranean activities of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
This committee should not engage in prosecutions, Schwarz says, but rather focus on the scope and depth of the culture of secrecy in government. For one example, the new committee should study and recommend deeper examination of continuing government super-surveillance technology.
"The technology the government now has to surveill is infinitely more powerful than it was in 1975 when we did our land-breaking work," Schwarz says.
We can't always depend on other Edward Snowdens to shock us into knowing what our government is hiding from us. If, by the 2016 elections, the CIA, NSA, et al. are still mysteriously ensconced, don't bother to celebrate Independence Day.
Nat Hentoff is an authority on the First Amendment and Bill of Rights.