Forty Years After Church-Pike: What’s Different Now?

By Joel Brenner
Friday, May 15, 2015, 10:00 AM

That is the title of remarks which I will deliver this morning at the National Security Agency, to mark the 40th anniversary of the Church and Pike hearings. My speech begins as follows:

You honor me greatly by inviting me back to address you today. I hope to prove worthy of it.

About ten years ago, when I was the inspector general here, I found myself one day in Hawaii, under the Pineapples, and by coincidence there was at the same time a conference nearby of the agency’s training staff from all over the Pacific region. And one of them came to me and said, We do all this training about the legal restrictions on our activities -- USSID 18 and Executive Order 12333 and all that – and we know it’s a big deal, but none of the people we’re training know why we’re doing it. And then after a pause she said: And frankly, we’re not sure either.

I had lived through the upheavals of the late ‘sixties and the ‘seventies – the Vietnam War, the intelligence scandals, the Nixon impeachment, and the implementation of the legislative and regulatory framework that we impliedly refer to every time we say that this agency operates under law. Younger people had not.

We Americans don’t take instructions well if we don’t understand the reasons for them. And so I decided it was incumbent on us to tell and re-tell the story of how and why the United States became the first nation on earth to turn intelligence into a regulated industry. But the story isn’t entirely behind us. It continues. And so this morning I’m not only going to recount what happened in the ’seventies; I’m also going to address the Agency’s position in the wake of the Snowden leaks, and how we got here. Because insofar as NSA has again been in the public’s doghouse (It is certainly not in the policymakers’ dog house), it is for very different reasons from those in 1976, and that difference is worth reflecting on.