Is it time for a new Church Committee?
It’s time for a new Church Committee. Earlier this month, Glenn Greenwald revealed details of how GCHQ (the British equivalent of the NSA) had a special “dirty tricks” intelligence gathering group known as the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group. This week - Greenwald released more details on the group over at The Intercept, his new media venture.
The newly released details include a top-secret GCHQ presentation that sheds light on how the group, cooperating with the NSA, would go after, infiltrate, and in some cases ruin the reputations of, specific groups or individuals online.
And we’re not just talking about terrorist masterminds here.
According to Greenwald, “Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable.”
Greenwald goes on to say that, “To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums.”
According to the top-secret presentation, the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group, or JTRIG, would leak confidential information to companies and the press, post negative information on “appropriate forums,” and actively try to stop business deals and ruin relationships. And if JTRIG was going after a specific person it would do things like set up honey traps, using sex to lure people into compromising situations.
JTRIG would also write emails and texts to friends, family, and colleagues of the individual, and would also write blogs and messages pretending to be that person.
While this all sounds extremely disturbing and very creepy, it should also sound pretty familiar, because we’ve seen these kinds of covert government interference and manipulation efforts before. These kinds of reputation-destroying smear campaigns and intentional sabotage missions were key parts of the Richard Nixon presidency.
After all, back in 1969, the Nixon administration put together a so-called “enemies list,” that contained the names of hundreds of people that the administration considered to be political opponents. Even actor Paul Newman made that list. And of those hundreds of names, there was a “shortlist” of targets for political retribution. Officials working for The White House would find “dirt” and personal information on those that were “shortlisted,” and leak the information to the press.
Two of those “shortlisted” were Senator Edward Kennedy and the Democratic Speaker of the House at that time, Carl Albert. In fact, Nixon even sent a couple “spies” to be part of the Secret Service detail for Senator Kennedy, because he thought that the agents might catch Kennedy with a mistress, and that it would “ruin him for ’76,” referring to the 1976 election.
Nixon also used government agencies to go after his enemies. The IRS was ordered to conduct audits of organizations opposed to Nixon’s policies, and the CIA’s Special Operations Group spied on leftist activist groups and black power groups. And of course there were the “White House Plumbers,” a covert White House Special Investigations Unit, which was involved in a lot of illegal activities, including the Watergate break-in.
Once the Watergate scandal broke open and news of illegal intelligence gathering by government agencies began to spread, Senator Frank Church, a Democrat from Idaho, formed the Church Committee, which was tasked with investigating illegal intelligence gathering activities by the FBI, NSA, and CIA.
Between 1975 and 1976, the Church Committee published fourteen reports on intelligence gathering abuses by U.S intelligence agencies.
In August of 1975, the Church Committee released its findings.
Senator Church went on NBC’s Meet the Press after the findings were released, and said that, “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.”
Church added that, “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.”
Fast-forward nearly four decades, and we are staring into that “abyss from which there is no return.”
And while the technology may be different, the goals and methods are the same. If the NSA and GCHQ are actively using the Internet to destroy people’s lives, manipulate political discourse and quash civic activism, as Glenn Greenwald puts it, they’re “compromising the integrity of the internet itself.” But more importantly, they’re attacking our very freedoms and way of life.
We can’t continue to let them run amok, and trample all over our lives. President Ford once referred to the Nixon era in America as this nation’s “long national nightmare.” The out-of-control nature of our national security agencies today is our new “national nightmare.”
And the only way to wake up from that nightmare is to create a new Church Commission, which will investigate the intelligence community, and put in place the reforms that are needed to protect our freedoms and way of life.