About Frederick A. O. Schwarz, Jr.

Frederick A.O. “Fritz” Schwarz, Jr. is Chief Counsel of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School and Senior Counsel at Cravath, Swaine and Moore. From 1975-76, Schwarz served as the Chief Counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Government Activities with Respect to Intelligence Activities, better known as the “Church Committee,” after its Chairman, Senator Frank Church. He is the co-author of Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror (The New Press, 2007), is currently writing a new book, Democracy in the Dark: The Seduction of Government Secrecy, scheduled for publication in Spring 2015.

Mike German, Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, interviewed Schwarz on August 19, 2014. Read an edited transcript of the full interview here.

Part 1: Formation of the Church Committee

Frederick A.O. “Fritz” Schwarz, Jr. discusses the establishment of the Church Committee and its first comprehensive examination of U.S. intelligence activities. He describes the political environment and committee processes that enabled its investigation to be successful.

Part 2: Lessons in Secrecy

Frederick A.O. “Fritz” Schwarz, Jr. argues that the government keeps too much information secret, often for the wrong reasons, and often to the detriment of sound national security policy. He uses examples the Bush administration’s failure to heed intelligence warnings prior to the 9/11 attacks, and the Kennedy administration’s Cuban missile crisis.

Part 3: Torture and the Seduction of Presidents

Frederick A.O. “Fritz” Schwarz, Jr. discusses the Bush administration’s decision to adopt abusive interrogation practices without proper consideration of the consequences. He adds that the Senate Intelligence Committee also failed in its oversight role of these practices. He provides other examples of presidents seemingly seduced by secrecy, including President Obama.

Part 4: Internalizing Risks of Secrecy

Frederick A.O. “Fritz” Schwarz, Jr. suggests the shelf-life of government secrets has become much shorter, making the intelligence agencies’ failure to anticipate the negative consequences of exposure more problematic.

Part 5: Measuring Success and Failure

Frederick A.O. “Fritz” Schwarz, Jr. discusses the difficulty of evaluating covert activities, using the example of the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mosaddegh as an example. He argues that ignoring this history continues to impact U.S.-Iranian relations.

Part 6: Relaxed Congressional Oversight

Frederick A.O. “Fritz” Schwarz, Jr. suggests Congress relaxed its oversight of intelligence activities in response to 9/11, partly in response to public opinion and partly as a result of secrecy policies imposed by the executive. He discusses the factors that lead to weaker congressional oversight of intelligence, including the lack of censure of intelligence officials who lie to Congress.

Part 7: Whistleblowers

Frederick A.O. “Fritz” Schwarz, Jr. explains the importance of whistleblowers throughout history, and how whistleblowing has evolved with time and technology. He compares Ben Franklin, Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.

Part 8: Power of the Press

Frederick A.O. “Fritz” Schwarz, Jr. discusses the power of the press in challenging government secrecy, and the economic factors that are imperiling investigative journalism today.

Part 9: Call for a New Church Committee

Frederick A.O. “Fritz” Schwarz, Jr. discusses his advocacy for a new comprehensive investigation of intelligence activities.