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Senator Frank Church and Senator John Tower with CIA poison dart gun, photograph by Henry Griffin, September 17, 1975

At a televised hearing, Senator Frank Church of Idaho, committee chairman (left), and Senator John Tower of Texas, vice chairman (right), exhibited a dart gun that the Central Intelligence Agency had stockpiled, along with enough shellfish toxin to kill thousands. The nearly undetectable poison dart could cause a heart attack as a means of assassination.

© 1975 Associated Press

Senator Frank Church and Senator John Tower with CIA poison dart gun, photograph by Henry Griffin, September 17, 1975

Foreign and Domestic Spying

Allegations of domestic spying by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) surfaced in the 1970s, triggering public demand for an investigation of federal surveillance operations. In 1975 the Senate established the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, headed by Senator Frank Church of Idaho. The Church Committee’s reports exposed abuses and led to legislation governing domestic and foreign surveillance—most notably, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. House and Senate permanent select committees established at that time now oversee U.S. intelligence.

The critical question before the committee was to determine how the fundamental liberties of the people can be maintained in the course of the Government’s effort to protect their security.

Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans . . . United States Senate . . . , Final Report, April 26, 1976