In the wake of the Watergate affair and the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974, President Ford appointed a Commission on CIA Activities in the United States, headed by Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller. Having identified a number of questionable activities, this Commission was superceded by the Senate Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, headed by Senator Frank Church of Idaho. The so-called ‘Church Committee’ found that the CIA had violated its charter to perform only gathering of intelligence and uncovered plots to assassinate foreign leaders including Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba.
Among the covert operations exposed by the Committee in its 14 published reports were the FBI’s CointelPro operation to infiltrate and disrupt domestic organisations (e.g. the Black Panthers and various anti-war groups), illegal surveillance and mail opening by both the FBI and the CIA and abuses by the Internal Revenue Service.
The first of the reports, published in 1975, documented CIA plots to assassinate foreign leaders such as Castro, Lumumba, Rafael Trujillo (Dominican Republic), Ngo Dinh Diem (Vietnam), Rene Schneider (Chile), Mohammed Mossadegh (Iran) and Salvador Allende (Chile). The Committee found that the CIA initiated plots to assassinate Castro and Lumumba. In the other cases, American involvement was either deemed to be indirect or the evidence too inconclusive to issue a finding. Although the Committee absolved the CIA of responsibility for actually causing the deaths in each case (only Castro survived the attempts), it revealed the operational details of the plots and only stopped short of confirming that Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy actually authorised any of the assassinations.
The reports also declassified a ‘Heart Attack Gun’ conceived for the use of killing someone without detection. Cancer, car accidents, skiing accidents, suicide, boating accidents and heart attacks were all revealed as possible assassination methods.
Despite being recorded in full in congressional record, the Hearings are still ignored in school history lessons and the American public still has little idea that any of this actually took place. American involvement in the assassinations is generally dismissed as conspiracy theory.