Authored by Jennifer Gheller
On December 22, 1974, The New York Times published an exposé on the Central Intelligence Agency. This front-page story reported that the CIA, which was not permitted to report on American citizens, had gathered files on over 10,000 Americans, including political dissidents (Hersh 1974, 1). This was a significant breach of the privacy of American citizens. On January 4, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford established the Commission on CIA Activities Within the United States in response to these allegations. This Commission, also known as the Rockefeller Commission, was “to determine whether or not any domestic CIA activities exceeded the Agency’s statutory authority and to make appropriate recommendations” (Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum n.d., under “Introduction”).
A copy of these Presidential Documents, located in the Arthur P. “Skip” Endres Collection in the Center for Migration Studies, detail President Ford’s intentions for this Commission. President Ford acknowledged that the successes of the CIA cannot be divulged publicly, in order to protect our national security, but that the organization must also be held accountable for instances where it went beyond the authority it was given (Exec. Order No. 11,828 1975). The Rockefeller Commission’s findings were summarized in The New York Times on June 11, 1975, showing that the CIA had intercepted and opened citizens’ mail, intervened in domestic politics, infiltrated domestic dissident groups, engaged in illegal wiretaps and break-ins, and other activities which were not under the CIA’s jurisdiction (New York Times 1975, 18). The Commission’s recommendations culminated in the need to clarify which specific actions fell under the CIA’s role in national security.
Although the Rockefeller Commission was ultimately overshadowed by what came to be known as the Church Committee (History Matters, n.d.), it can be seen through the lens of St. John’s Vincentian core values because it shows President Ford’s commitment to transparency, truth, and respect (St. John’s University 2015). The summary on the Commission’s findings stated, “The government has both the right and the obligation within Constitutional limits to use its available power to protect the people and their established form of government” (New York Times 1975, 18). This right, however, does not mean the government has unlimited power in the name of national security (New York Times 1975, 18). Had President Ford ignored the allegations against the CIA, he would have betrayed the trust of the American people by letting the CIA’s power go unchecked. Instead, by creating the Rockefeller Commission, he reinforced the fact that the government is supposed to work in the best interests of the governed.
Exec. Order No. 11,828. 4 January, 1975. 287-cms-105, Box 4, Folder 1, Item 4. Center for Migration Studies, New York, New York.
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum. n.d. “U.S. President’s Commission on CIA Activities Within the United States Files, [1947-74] 1975.” Accessed October 2, 2021.
Hersh, Seymour M. 1974. “Huge C.I.A. Operation Reported in U.S. Against Antiwar Forces, Other Dissidents in Nixon Years.” New York Times, December 22, 1974, sec. Archives.
History Matters. n.d. “Rockefeller Commission Report.” Accessed October 7, 2021.
New York Times. 1975. “Summary of Rockefeller Panel’s C.I.A. Report.” June 11, 1975, sec. Archives.
St. John’s University. 2015. “St. John’s Mission and Values.” Last modified October 2015.