The Pike Committee and White House clashed over CIA secrets in the 1970s

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tags: Gerald Ford, Pike Committee



The Ford administration came close to igniting a constitutional showdown with Congress more than 40 years ago over demands by a House panel known as the Pike Committee for evidence of possible abuses by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). At the height of congressional pushback against the “imperial presidency” in the mid-1970s, Representative Otis G. Pike’s investigation, which paralleled Senator Frank Church’s simultaneous inquiry, raised fears at the CIA and the White House about secret activities coming to light but also about setting precedents for Congress’s right of access to Executive Branch information.

The Pike Committee

The year 1975 saw the first set of major public investigations into U.S. intelligence agencies, with one in the Senate, another in the House of Representatives, and a blue-ribbon commission empaneled by the president of the United States. The congressional probes, especially, made for a dramatic “season of inquiry,” and 1975 has become known as the “Year of Intelligence.”  The House Select Committee on Intelligence (HSC) was created on February 19, 1975 by a vote of 286 to 120.  (The Senate established a parallel committee a few weeks earlier, chaired by Frank Church [D-ID].) The HSC’s charter was to examine all aspects of U.S. intelligence performance. Its inquiry got off to a slow start amid disputes among some members, including Michael J. Harrington (D-MA), a notorious CIA critic, and Chairman Lucien N. Nedzi (D-MI), who turned out to have received private information from the agency. On July 10, the House agreed to re-align the HSC, and Otis G. Pike (D-NY) was named chairman a week later.

The Ford administration initially stopped supplying Pike with documentation, and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, among others, lobbied for a strong stand on unconditional secrecy, which would have escalated the confrontation dramatically. Pike eventually defused the crisis by establishing a procedure for congressional declassification of information – one that may have applications for future legislative probes of the Executive Branch.





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