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Church Committee’s Fading Legacy

Photo of Frank Church in congressional hearing. Holding gun. BOISE — Forty years ago today, in a cramped room on Capitol Hill, Idaho Sen. Frank Church led a group that pored over many of the most highly classified documents of the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The room contained the staff and U.S. senators of the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, better known as the Church Committee. Church led the committee, which had unprecedented power to examine the country’s top intelligence agencies.

“It was the first open hearing into the role of a secret intelligence agency in a democracy,” said Tim Weiner, a former New York Times investigative journalist.

Weiner has won a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for his reporting on the intelligence community.

The Church Committee’s investigation revealed more about the secret, sometimes illegal, work of the nation’s top intelligence agencies than any comparable effort before or since. And it led to reforms meant to rein in the agencies and protect civil liberties, though many of those reforms were weakened in the years following the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

“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,” Church said at the time on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“That is the abyss from which there is no return,” he said

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On the NSA’s That ’70s Show Rerun: What would Frank Church say about the Snowden Affair?

Frank Church speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing

Frank Church speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. Photo courtesy of the Frank Church Papers, Special Collections and Archives, Boise State University

The most surprising reaction to Edward Snowden’s historic leak of top-secret intelligence documents is that anyone has been surprised at all. The National Security Agency (NSA) has brought us within view of a totalitarian America, we are told. The largest spying organization in the history of human civilization, arguably the vastest and most incomprehensible creation of the United States federal government, has finally gone too far. They are tracking our phone calls. Facebook and email messages have been handed over. The status of our text messages cannot be definitively vouched.

The story itself is juicy, too, its details bursting with cinematic flavor: the Hong Kong hotel, the man with the Rubik’s Cube, the Icelandic immunity uncertainty, and the lithe libertarian girlfriend in Honolulu, her young love sacrificed for Truth. Snowden’s age and overall bearing give him the air of a technocratic Millennial martyr, but strip away the graphite patina of metadata, supercomputers, and yottabytes, and you see echoes of earlier controversies. We’ve been here before. Read more – On the NSA’s That ’70s Show Rerun

Frank Church Institute Honors Vice President Biden, Mayor Bieter

Logo of Frank Church InstituteThe Frank Church Institute at Boise State University will honor Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Boise Mayor David Bieter with the second annual Frank and Bethine Church Awards for Public Service.

The awards will be presented during a dinner and reception at the Stueckle Sky Center on Sunday, Feb. 17, that benefits the Frank and Bethine Church Chair of Public Affairs at Boise State. Mayor Bieter will attend the dinner, and a representative will accept the award on behalf of Vice President Biden. The event also will celebrate the 90th birthday of Bethine Church.

The Frank Church Institute was established in 1982 as the Frank Church Chair of Public Affairs at Boise State University, to honor the achievements and to carry forward the principles of one of Idaho’s most distinguished native sons, Senator Frank Church. The Institute’s endowment also has been used to fund the annual Frank Church Conference on Public Affairs and Frank Church scholarships.

Last year’s Public Service Award honorees were Boise State President Bob Kustra and his wife, Kathy Kustra.

For information about the Feb. 17 dinner, contact Garry Wenske at 426-2941 or


Bangladesh Government Honors Former Senator Frank Church

Photo of Bangladeshis presenting award to Garry Wenske.  Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, President Zillar Rahman, and Foreign Minister Dipu Mon

Presenting the award to Wenske are Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, President Zillar Rahman, and Foreign Minister Dipu Moni.

The government of Bangladesh has honored former U.S. Sen. Frank Church with the Friends of Bangladesh Liberation Honor.

Garry Wenske, executive director of the Frank Church Institute at Boise State, traveled to Dhaka, Bangladesh, in March to receive the posthumous award. The awards were presented to 75 honorees or their representatives on the 40th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence.

Church was recognized for leading the effort in the U.S. Senate to sanction Pakistan for its role in crushing the Bangladesh independence movement in 1971. Other well-known leaders honored included former Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi; former British Prime Minister Edward Heath; former U.S. Ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith; and Mother Theresa.

The gold medal awarded to Church will be donated to the Frank Church Collection in the Albertsons Library, where the Senator’s papers document his role in the independence of Bangladesh.