From The Archives

Going All In to Expose Intelligence Malfeasance

Now that the spooks are heroes for protecting democracy, it’s helpful to keep their full history in perspective


Earlier today, MuckRock, a site dedicated to transparency in government, reported on the Village Voice’s 1976 exposé of a damning report from the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

Back in the day, special sections of the Voice were generally reserved for taking deep dives into the culture: twenty pages celebrating Frank Sinatra’s relationship to jazz, say, or an insert exploring the convolutions of the downtown theater scene, or the long-running Voice Literary Supplement. The editors saw these packages as street-level views of the culture, which would enlighten readers in the moment but also give posterity something to think about. (And maybe sell a few extra ads in the bargain.)

But in February 1976, the paper published a 24-page supplement reprinting much of the report, called “the Pike Papers,” which detailed the Committee’s investigations into problems in the nation’s intelligence agencies. When the Voice hit the streets, one congressman expressed his ire on the House floor: “Mr. Speaker, it must have shocked every Member of this House to learn that what purports to be an official House document should appear in an antiestablishment New York tabloid called the Village Voice.” Indeed, amid the Voice’s dense columns of type can be found such gems as this caption under the photo of a soldier and his dog: “A G.I. on Nixon alert October, 1973: Poor intelligence led ‘to the brink of war.’ ” Under the headline “Risks” we get this assertion from the Committee members: “The American taxpayer clearly does not receive full value for his intelligence dollar.”

Well, plus ça change, no? In our present moment, the intelligence community is a hero of democracy for pointing out that Russia has been engaged in a years-long attack on the U.S. electoral system. Still, it is always instructive to look back on the less-than-democratic undertakings of our spy agencies and recall why we’ve all been spooked by the spooks at various times. In fact, contributor Aaron Latham noted in his introduction to the Voice exposé, “It may surprise some to discover that the largest single category of covert activity concerned tampering with free elections around the world.”

As Public Enemy’s great anthem “Fight the Power” reminds us, sometimes it’s helpful to keep our conflicted heroes in perspective:

Elvis was a hero to most
But he never meant shit to me you see
Straight up racist that sucker was
Simple and plain
Motherfuck him and John Wayne

Below is the entire supplement from the February 16, 1976, issue, in beautiful “Voice-O-Vision.”™