This post, written by Nicole Belle, originally appeared on Crooks and Liars
BILL MOYERS: Remember "The Lives of Others" - the movie that won this year's Academy Award for best foreign language film....a story of life under East Germany's secret police. The critic Roger Ebert said: "The movie is relevant today, as our government ignores habeas corpus, practices secret torture, and asks for the right to wiretap and eavesdrop on its citizens. Such tactics, he said, did not save East Germany; they destroyed it, by making it a country its most loyal citizens could no longer believe in." You want to say it couldn't happen here but we've been close before. During the cold war with the Soviet Union and then the hot war in Vietnam, a secret government mushroomed in this country. ...(transcript)
In 1975 the Select Senate Committee headed by Sen Frank Church (D-ID) began looking into allegations first reported by Seymour Hersh in the NYT and found that the CIA, NSA, FBI and other federal agencies had been involved in everything from plots to assassinate foreign leaders, illegal storage of poisons and biological warfare agents including anthrax, warrantless opening of mail and wiretapping and other intel-gathering on US citizens, and misuse of the IRS , just to name a few of the abuses by the Executive Branch they discovered.
One of the ways Congress responded to try and restore checks and balances was by passing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978, which established a secret court to oversee all domestic wiretapping activity. Bill Moyers looks at the undoing of Congress' checks and balances put in place following the Church Committee hearings and the unprecedented expansion of Executive authority in the wake of 9/11. You can watch the entire episode online here.