The Church Committee investigates JFK

In 1976, the Senate investigated CIA plots to assassinate foreign leaders and their possible connection to the assassination of JFK. What they found was disturbing.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities, chaired by Senator Frank Church, re-opened the investigation of JFK’s murder after revelations about CIA assassination plots showed the superficiality of the Warren Commission’s investigation.

The Church Committee did not have the authorization or resources to do a comprehensive investigation but it did provide the most penetrating account to date of CIA activities before and after JFK was killed.

H/T Our Hidden History


  1. Gary Aguilar, says:

    In an essay on Max Holland, I addressed a number of JFK-related issues the Church Committee raised. The footnotes can be found here:

    Part I:

    The Church committee did not “disqualify” itself by having disagreed with the Warren Commission’s conclusions about Oswald. It did not address that question. It only addressed the manner in which JFK’s murder was investigated.

    “Almost immediately after the assassination, Director Hoover, the Justice Department and the White House ‘exerted pressure’ on senior Bureau officials to … issue a factual report supporting the conclusion that Oswald was the lone assassin. Thus, it is not surprising that, from its inception, the assassination investigation focused almost exclusively on Lee Harvey Oswald … The pressure to issue a report that would establish Oswald as the lone assassin is reflected in internal Bureau memoranda. On 11/24/63, Assistant FBI Director Alan Belmont informed Associate FBI Director Clyde Tolson that he was sending to Headquarters supervisors to Dallas to review ‘… [interviews and findings] so that we can prepare a memorandum to the Attorney General … [setting] (sic) out the evidence showing that Oswald is responsible for the shooting that killed the President.”[60] So while Hoover immediately sought to narrow the scope to Oswald, a powerful brigade swiftly joined him in lockstep.

    The Senate Select Committee also addressed one of Holland’s central concerns: to rebut the notion the Commission was overly dependent on intelligence agencies. Apparently Commissioner McCloy’s word–“We are so dependent on [the FBI] for our facts”–accounts for nothing with Max Holland. His retort is that the FBI did work satisfactorily with the Commission, which was not overly dependent on the Bureau. The Commission, you see, independently double-, or triple-checked any important FBI evidence it doubted.

    Unfortunately for Holland, the Senate committee saw things pretty much the way McCloy had described them: “[T]he Commission was dependent upon the intelligence agencies for the facts and preliminary analysis … The Commission and its staff did analyze the material and frequently requested follow-up agency investigations; but if evidence on a particular point was not supplied to the Commission, this second step would obviously not be reached, and the Commission’s findings would be formulated without the benefit of any information on the omitted point.”[61] Furthermore, “although the Commission had to rely on the FBI to conduct the primary investigation of the President’s death … the Commission was perceived as an adversary by both Hoover and senior FBI officials … such a relationship,” as the Committee dryly put it, “was not conductive to the cooperation necessary for a thorough and exhaustive investigation.”[62]

    • Gary Aguilar, says:

      In an essay on Max Holland, I addressed a number of JFK-related issues the Church Committee raised. The footnotes can be found here:

      Part II:

      The Senate discovered that Hoover had deployed one of his favorite dirty tricks to deal with the Warren Commission. “[D]erogatory information pertaining to both Commission members and staff was brought to Mr. Hoover’s attention.”[63] Given the FBI’s history of destroying Oswald’s note to FBI agent James Hosty, Hosty’s recent admission that his own personnel file, and other FBI files, had been falsified,[64] and given the report by author Curt Gentry that assistant FBI director William Sullivan learned of other JFK documents in the Bureau that had been destroyed,[65] skeptics find cold comfort in the Committee’s follow-up comment that, “the Bureau has informed the Committee staff that there is no documentary evidence which indicates that such information was disseminated while the Warren Commission was in session.”[66] (emphasis added)

      Although Holland touts Earl Warren’s bold declaration, “Truth is our only client,” he omits a more telling Warren directive, one that has been borne out by the Commission’s own internal record: “[O]ur job here is essentially one for the evaluation of evidence as distinguished from the gathering of evidence, and I believe that at the outset at least we can start with the premise that we can rely upon the reports of the various federal agencies.”[67] Peter Gross noted that Warren’s inclination toward the FBI’s solution was shared by another powerful Commissioner, Allen Dulles, who “urged that the panel confine its work to a review of the investigation already being made by the FBI.”[68]

  2. Joseph says:

    This whole period of history – the Church Committee and the HSCA – is really fascinating and I wish someone would make a documentary or even a proper film about it. The story of how some people tried to conduct a real investigation of the case, while many of the major players were still alive, and how others thwarted those efforts, has all the makings of a great, if tragic, story. Not to mention all the murders and suicides that occurred at the same time – Giancana, Roselli, DeMohrenschildt.

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