Church Committee staff: NSA 'dwarfs' past spying scandals

Former surveillance investigators want Congress to create a committee to examine the controversial surveillance practices at the National Security Agency (NSA).

"Such congressional action is urgently needed to restore the faith of citizens in the intelligence community and, indeed, in our federal government," a group of former members and staff of the Church Committee — which investigated government surveillance practices in the 1970s — said in an open letter to Congress and President Obama on Monday.

The group called on Congress to create another committee to investigate government surveillance programs — including a controversial NSA program that collects information about Americans' phone calls — which first came under public scrutiny after leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began last year.

A new Church Committee "would work in good faith with the president, hold public and private hearings and be empowered to obtain documents" to conduct "a significant and public reexamination of intelligence community practices that affect the rights of Americans and the laws governing those actions," the letter said.

The creation of such a committee would be a step toward reestablishing the current "crisis of public confidence," the group said.

"As former members and staff of the Church Committee we can authoritatively say: the erosion of public trust currently facing our intelligence community is not novel, nor is its solution."

The group noted the similarities between the surveillance revelations of the 1970s and those revelations that began to surface last year.

The Church Committee "determined that sweeping domestic surveillance programs, conducted under the guise of foreign intelligence collection, had repeatedly undermined the privacy rights of U.S. citizens," the group wrote, calling the report's findings "startling" and its conclusions "eerily prescient."

The letter highlights the committee's concerns about technological advances and the intelligence community's ability to easily collect vast amounts of information, adding that "the scale of domestic communications surveillance the NSA engages in today dwarfs the programs revealed by the Church Committee."