By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
A look back at—until now—the darkest hours at the CIA, from the only CIA director in American history to also serve as U.S. president. The situation was very similar to today's headlines: Congress held hearings into alleged illegal actions by career CIA agents, and the new head of the CIA, who was a former congressman himself, faced a broken and demoralized agency and public outrage.
Here's President Bush #41 on the 1975 congressional hearings known as the Church Committee hearings, when the CIA was under fire for alleged assassination attempts against Fidel Castro:
"I still will never forget the effect those young [congressional] staffers had when they went out there and almost accused everybody there of being a crook—'You know you're guilty, and we're going to find it out!' And it just sent terrible vibrations through the building ... people were down. They were discouraged. They wanted a leader who would stand up for them. That's what I did. I was no expert on intelligence, but they knew that I believed in the importance of their missions, the importance of intelligence for the president, and conforming to the law."
The deputy director of the CIA at the time, Hank Knoche, remembers:
"There were a lot of high-powered people in this country who, at that stage, were wondering whether you could have an intelligence service as part of a free and democratic society. And then your whole career and whole purpose is being questioned—well, I think many good organizations would break.... We did have the feeling we were terribly alone, that there was nobody out there defending us or championing the cause. George brought that to us. He became a champion."
That's the reason the CIA headquarters is named after George Bush. Let's hope this time, Director Panetta doesn't allow the organization to break, either.
[Excerpts are from My Father, My President: A Personal Account of the Life of George H.W. Bush, by Doro Bush Koch. New York: Warner Books, 2006.]