Levin Center at Wayne Law to present Oct. 20 conference in D.C. on congressional oversight

The Levin Center at Wayne State University Law School will present a half-day conference, “Congressional Oversight of Classified Programs – 40 Years after the Church Committee,” on Tuesday, Oct. 20, in Washington, D.C.

The conference, the first for the newly established Levin Center, will review the status of the Church Committee reforms of 1975 and Congress’ ability to oversee classified programs. This is a timely subject in light of the recent disputes between Congress and the Executive Branch over the CIA interrogation program and the National Security Agency’s expansive eavesdropping on the American public.

The U.S. Senate’s Church Committee, convened in 1975 and led by Sen. Frank Church of Idaho, was tasked with investigating federal intelligence operations in the wake of the Watergate scandal and the revelation of spying by the CIA on anti-war activists.

The conference, consisting of three panel discussions, is set for 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Kennedy Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Office Building, 2 Constitution Ave. N.E. Admission is free, including lunch, but registration is required. Register online and get complete conference details at law.wayne.edu/church.

The overall theme of the conference will be the mechanics, difficulties and importance of congressional oversight of intelligence activities, in particular how to oversee covert operations, secret budgets and classified materials. Congress is charged under the Constitution with the responsibility to inform the public of the workings of its government and the issues that the government should address. To meet that responsibility Congress needs to have the facts about what actions the Executive Branch is taking and upon what basis in law the Executive Branch is acting. Getting those facts becomes particularly difficult when the programs Congress is overseeing are subject to classification. Yet the programs carried out by agencies such as the CIA can have long-lasting ramifications to the future health and well being of the country and its people.

This conference will look at one of the most successful reviews of secret or covert activities by the CIA, the Church Committee investigation, and glean the lessons learned from the conduct of that committee. The conference will address the complex interaction of the oversight responsibilities of Congress with the classification of national security secrets by the Executive Branch and identify ways in which the two interests can be satisfied.

The eight panelists at the conference include officials – now former senators, lawyers and professors – who played key roles in the Church Committee and other noted congressional investigations since.

The panels will include:

  • The Church Committee’s Experience with Classified Information
  • Post Church Oversight and Congress’ Responsibility to Know and to Inform the Public
  • Achieving Fact-Based, Bipartisan Oversight of the Intelligence Community

Moderating the discussions and presenting the day’s final panel will be former Sen. Carl Levin, chair of the Levin Center, distinguished legislator in residence at Wayne Law and former chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, with former Sen. Richard Lugar, president of The Lugar Center and former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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