Underlying the discussion about how to respond to the terror attacks was the mid-1970s investigation, led by Senator Frank Church (D-Idaho), into the government's sordid history of domestic spying. Through hundreds of interviews and the examination of tens of thousands of documents, the Church Committee found that the FBI, the CIA, and other government agencies had engaged in pervasive surveillance of politicians, religious organizations, women's rights advocates, anti-war groups, and civil liberties activists. At FBI headquarters in Washington, agents had developed more than half a million domestic intelligence files during the Cold War. The CIA had secretly opened and often photographed almost a quarter-million letters in the United States from 1953 to 1973. One of the most egregious intelligence abuses was an FBI counterintelligence program known as COINTELPRO. It was, the Church Report said, "designed to 'disrupt' groups and 'neutralize' individuals deemed to be threats to domestic security." Among other things, COINTELPRO operations included undermining the jobs of political activists, sending anonymous letters to "spouses of intelligence targets for the purposes of destroying their marriages," and a systematic campaign to undermine the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, civil rights efforts through leaked information about his personal life. "Too many people have been spied upon by too many government agencies and too much information has been collected" through secret informants, wiretaps, bugs, surreptitious mail opening, and break-ins, the Church Report had warned.
Christopher Pyle, a professor at Mount Holyoke College, remembers those days well. In 1967 and 1968, while serving in the Army, he taught law at the Army's intelligence school at Fort Holabird, Maryland. One of his classes focused on CONUS intelligence and spot reports, the Army's shorthand for intelligence in the continental United States. No one told him exactly what to teach, so he concentrated on what he thought the Army might need to quell riots, the use of maps, layouts of city parks for bivouacs, the configuration of bridges, so that Army trucks would not get stuck under them or fall through them on the way to a crisis. One day an officer directly involved in actual CONUS intelligence operations approached him.
"Captain Pyle, you don't know much about this, do you?"
"No," Pyle said. "What can you tell me?"