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A tame elephant under rogue control.

August 27, 2009, 6:28 am

Chris Hayes has the cover story in this week’s Nation with a case why we need a new Church Committee to investigate CIA abuses. Or rather, we need something even better than the Church Committee.

As historian Kathy Olmsted argues in her book Challenging the Secret Government, Church was never quite able to part with this conception of good Democrats/bad Republicans. Confronted with misdeeds under Kennedy and Johnson, he chose to view the CIA as a rogue agency, as opposed to one executing the president’s wishes. This characterization became the fulcrum of debate within the committee. At one point Church referred to the CIA as a “rogue elephant,” causing a media firestorm. But the final committee report shows that to the degree the agency and other parts of the secret government were operating with limited control from the White House, it was by design. Walter Mondale came around to the view that the problem wasn’t the agencies themselves but the accretion of secret executive power: “the grant of powers to the CIA and to these other agencies,” he said during a committee hearing, “is, above all, a grant of power to the president.”

A contemporary Church Committee would do well to follow Mondale’s approach and not Church’s.

Ackerman concurs, using the same pullquote citing Kathy and adding, “I don’t know how someone this perceptive and this insightful and this diligent is allowed to go on television.”

Have I mentioned how you should buy this book?

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