*1975–1976: Church Committee Report laid the foundation for NSA surveillance controversy
The Church Committee investigation was the most far reaching and comprehensive; the Committee interviewed 800 individuals and conducted 250 executive (closed) hearings and 21 public hearings. The Church Committee Report (14 reports in all) provides the most extensive review of U.S. intelligence activities. Distinguished historian Henry Steele Commager observed: “indifference to constitutional restraints is perhaps the most threatening of all the evidence that emerges from the findings of the Church Committee.” The Church Committee reports laid the foundation for the current (2014) controversy over NSA surveillance activities. On August 17, 1975 Senator Church stated on NBC’s Meet the Press:
In the need to develop a capacity to know what potential enemies are doing, the United States government has perfected a technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go through the air. Now, that is necessary and important to the United States as we look abroad at enemies or potential enemies. We must know, at the same time, that capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left such is the capability to monitor everything — telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide.
If this government ever became a tyrant, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology.
I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.