The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

These officials took the CIA to task in the 1970s for illegal spying. Now they want another investigation.

Chairman Frank Church (D-Idaho), of the Senate Intelligence Committee, displays a poison dart gun Sept. 17,1975 as Co-Chairman John G. Tower (R-Tex.), looks at the weapon during the panels probe of the Central Intelligence Agency at a Washington hearing. The committee also heard from CIA Director William E. Colby, who told them that 37 lethal poison were discovered in an agency lab. (AP Photo/hlg)

A team of former congressional investigators is calling for a new inquiry into the CIA — not unlike one they performed nearly four decades ago.

The officials — who helped lead a months-long study in 1975 to assess allegations that the CIA had improperly spied on U.S. citizens — say Congress should convene a special panel to determine whether America's intelligence agencies have overstepped their bounds.

In a letter sent to the White House and top lawmakers on Monday and obtained by The Washington Post, the officials drew parallels between recent allegations of overreach and their work on the Church committee, the investigative body chaired by the late Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) that resulted in a two-feet-thick report on the intelligence community's secret activities.

"There is a crisis of public confidence," they wrote. "Misleading statements by agency officials to Congress, the courts, and the public have undermined public trust in the intelligence community and in the capacity for the branches of government to provide meaningful oversight."

Among those who signed the letter are the Church committee's chief counsel, Frederick A.O. Schwartz; top committee staffer and University of Georgia professor Loch Johnson; and more than a dozen others.

The letter comes days after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, accused the CIA of searching through computers used by the committee and intimidating its staff.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who heads the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, backed Feinstein's assertion of congressional authority and said that his very first vote as a senator was to support the creation of the Church committee. But he resisted the idea of a new investigation.

"We don't need another Church committee," he told reporters last week. "We need a good, strong intelligence committee, and that's what Sen. Feinstein is doing."