Courage Prize Recipient, 2014

Frederick A.O. “Fritz” Schwarz, Jr., Chief Counsel of the Brennan Center and former Chief Counsel of the Church Committee, is the recipient of the 2014 Ridenhour Courage Prize.

Formally known as the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, the Church Committee was formed in 1975 in the wake of the Watergate scandal to investigate illegal intelligence gathering by federal agencies including the CIA, the FBI and the NSA. Chaired by Frank Church (D-ID), Schwarz acted as its chief counsel. The committee revealed shocking activities such as the CIA hiring the Mafia to help in its attempts to assassinate Cuba’s Fidel Castro, and, for 30 years, that the NSA received copies of most telegrams leaving the United States. Furthermore, in an eerily analogue premonition of what Snowden would later reveal, these federal agencies also intercepted, opened, and photographed mail without warrant or notification, deceiving the United States Postal Service and the American public.

Schwarz writes in The Nation:

As a result of the Church Committee, two institutions were created to check the enormous powers of our secret government: intelligence committees in both houses of Congress, and the court established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Over time, each has become a less reliable check.

In reflecting upon its decision to award Fritz Schwarz the Ridenhour Courage Prize, the awards committee said, “Spanning more than four decades, Fritz Schwarz’s remarkable career exemplifies the true spirit of the prize. In the mid-1970s as the Chief Counsel of the Church Committee, Fritz engaged in the most wide-ranging, effective and famous investigation of the intelligence community that our nation has ever seen. Those hearings were instrumental in placing checks upon the power of the intelligence community. In light of the challenges from today’s surveillance state, and in recognition of his life-long commitment to strengthening democracy and rule of law, we can think of no one more deserving of the 2014 Ridenhour Courage Award than Fritz Schwarz.”

Upon hearing that he had been awarded the prize Schwarz said, “I am honored to receive the Ridenhour Courage Prize and hope that my experience with government surveillance will serve as an example of how Congress and the American people can continue to stand up against mass surveillance.”