Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Forty years ago, Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr. played a crucial role in exposing decades of appalling secret conduct by US intelligence agencies. Today, he is publishing Democracy in the Dark: The Seduction of Government Secrecy, a timely and provocative book exploring the origins of the national security state and the urgent challenge of reining it in.

As the chief counsel to the Church Committee I, Schwarz helped bring to light shocking abuses that occurred under administrations of both parties. Led by Idaho Senator Frank Church (D), the committee’s 1976 investigation uncovered, for example, the FBI’s monstrous attempt to drive Martin Luther King Jr. to suicide and the CIA’s enlistment of the mafia to assassinate Fidel Castro. Foreshadowing future scandals, it also revealed that the National Security Agency spent three decades spying on telegrams sent by US citizens.

In response to the findings, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and established permanent select committees to oversee intelligence operations. Indeed, it was the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that produced the bombshell report on the CIA’s torture program released in December—though not the unredacted report the nation deserves to see. In the post-September 11 era, however, these intended safeguards against excessive secrecy have undeniably and disastrously failed. As I have written before, it’s long past time to form a modern Church Committee to investigate fully secret US intelligence activities in the twenty-first century.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.