Former Church Committee Chief Counsel Fredrick A.O. Schwarz, Jr. Calls for a Committee to Investigate Mass Surveillance

Today, The Nation Institute announced that Frederick A.O. “Fritz” Schwarz, Jr., Chief Counsel of the Brennan Center and former Chief Counsel of the Church Committee, will receive the Ridenhour Courage Prize. The Nation magazine will also publish his editorial, “Why We Need a New Church Committee to Fix Our Broken Intelligence System,” calling for a modern-day Church Committee to investigate the legality of mass surveillance activities carried out by federal agencies.

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In reflecting upon its decision to award Fritz Schwarz the Ridenhour Courage Prize, the awards committee said, “Spanning more than four decades, Fritz Schwarz’s remarkable career exemplifies the true spirit of the prize. In the mid-1970s as the Chief Counsel of the Church Committee, Fritz engaged in the most wide-ranging, effective and famous investigation of the intelligence community that our nation has ever seen. Those hearings were instrumental in placing checks upon the power of the intelligence community. In light of the challenges from today’s surveillance state, and in recognition of his life-long commitment to strengthening democracy and rule of law, we can think of no one more deserving of the 2014 Ridenhour Courage Award than Fritz Schwarz.”

Read Mr. Schwarz’s piece in full HERE.

Formally known as the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, the Church Committee was formed in 1975 in the wake of the Watergate scandal to investigate illegal intelligence gathering by federal agencies including the CIA, the FBI and the NSA. Chaired by Frank Church (D-ID), Schwarz acted as its chief counsel. The committee revealed shocking activities such as the CIA hiring the Mafia to help in its attempts to assassinate Cuba’s Fidel Castro, the FBI wiretapping certain members of congress, and, for 30 years, that the NSA received copies of most telegrams leaving the United States. Furthermore, in an eerily analogue premonition of what Snowden would later reveal, these federal agencies also intercepted, opened, and photographed mail without warrant or notification, deceiving the United States Postal Service and the American public.

As a result of the Church Committee, two institutions were created as checks and balances to the enormous powers of our secret government: Intelligence Committees in both houses of Congress, and passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which established the FISA court to oversee requests for surveillance warrants against suspected foreign agents inside the United States. Through time, both have become less reliable checks and have not served their original functions, particularly in regard to the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, which have gone unchecked.

Schwarz went on to serve as New York City Corporation Counsel (1982-86) under Mayor Edward I. Koch. Then in 1989, he chaired the Commission that extensively revised New York City’s Charter. And from 2003-’08 he chaired the New York City Campaign Finance Board. He is currently Chief Counsel to the Brennan Center.

Upon hearing that he had been awarded the prize Schwarz said, “I am honored to receive the Ridenhour Courage Prize and hope that my experience with government surveillance will serve as an example of how Congress and the American people can continue to stand up against mass surveillance.”

In his piece in The Nation today, Mr. Schwarz writes:

“Now it is time for a new committee to examine our secret government closely again, particularly for its actions in the post-9/11 period.

The need is underscored by what has become a full-blown crisis, with Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein accusing the CIA of spying on the committee, possibly violating the Constitution’s separation-of-powers principles, the Fourth Amendment and other laws.”

Mr. Schwarz will be awarded the 2014 Ridenhour Courage Prize on Wednesday, April 30th, from 12pm to 2pm at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. This event is open to press.

About The Ridenhour Prizes

The Ridenhour Prizes recognize and encourage those who persevere in acts of truth-telling that protect the public interest, promote social justice, or illuminate a more just vision of society. The Prizes are named after investigative journalist Ron Ridenhour, to commemorate his lifetime of fearless truth-telling and to inspire others to do the same.

In 1969, Vietnam veteran Ron Ridenhour wrote a letter to Congress and the Pentagon describing the horrific events at My Lai — the infamous massacre of the Vietnam War. Although the upper echelons of the military establishment resisted his revelations, his dogged persistence eventually brought the scandal to the attention of the American public and the world at large.

Ridenhour later became a respected investigative journalist, winning the George Polk Award for Investigative Journalism in 1987 for a yearlong investigation of a New Orleans tax scandal. He died suddenly in 1998 at the age of 52. At the time of his death, he was working on an article for the London Review of Books, had co-produced a story on state militias for NBC’s Dateline, and had just delivered a series of lectures commemorating the 30th anniversary of My Lai.

The Ridenhour Prizes were established by The Nation Institute and the Fertel Foundation in partnership with The Fund for Constitutional Government, Government Accountability Project, and Project on Government Oversight. For more information, visit www.ridenhour.org.

About The Nation Institute

A nonprofit media center, The Nation Institute is dedicated to strengthening the independent press and advancing social justice and civil rights. Our dynamic range of programs includes a bestselling book-publishing imprint, Nation Books; our award-winning Investigative Fund, which supports groundbreaking journalism; the widely read and syndicated website TomDispatch; the Victor S. Navasky Internship Program at The Nation magazine; and Journalism Fellowships that fund over 25 high-profile reporters. Work produced by The Nation Institute has sparked Congressional hearings, new legislation, FBI investigations and the resignation of government officials, has a regular impact on the most urgent social and political issues of our day. For more information, visit www.nationinstitute.org.

About the Fertel Foundation

Energized by a passion for weaving ideas and people together, the Fertel Foundation, based in New York and New Orleans, has a special interest in initiatives from which new communities and new insights may emerge and those that challenge entrenched communities of power. The New Orleans-based foundation, established in 1999, also helps rebuild a better New Orleans — and create national models — in a post-Katrina world. For more information, visit www.fertel.com

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Mr. Schwarz will have limited availability for interviews. To speak to him or a spokesperson from The Nation Institute, or to RSVP to attend the 11th Annual Ridenhour Prizes Ceremony and Luncheon in DC, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.716.1953 or christina@fitzgibbonmedia.com

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