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Otis Pike: Congressman who used his wit and persistence to shine a light on covert overseas operations by the CIA

Pike was a critic of the 'outlandish spending' during the Vietnam War

Otis Pike was a New York congressman and persistent critic of Pentagon overspending who led one of the first congressional investigations of abuses by US intelligence agencies. Elected to the House of Representatives in 1960, he was regarded as a maverick during his 18 years in Congress.

A Democrat elected from a Republican-leaning district on Long Island, he was sceptical of Vietnam War escalation, a patrician lawyer with a wicked sense of humour, which he used to ridicule wasteful spending.

Criticising what he considered outlandish spending during the Vietnam War, he cited small metal rods with a retail cost of 50 cents. The Pentagon, which bought them for $25.55, described them as “precision shafting.” Pike declared in the House, “For once, the American taxpayer got precisely what he paid for.”

In 1973 he single-handedly grounded a $14m programme that awarded extra pay for flight duty to generals and admirals who had never piloted anything more aerodynamic than a desk at the Pentagon. But his most conspicuous moment came in 1975 after revelations of the CIA’s involvement in clandestine operations that may have included killings and coups overseas and spying on US citizens.

In July 1975 he became chairman of a committee that reviewed the activities of the CIA and other intelligence agencies. During the often testy hearings, Time called Pike “the model of a properly pugnacious public servant – sharp-tongued and not easily intimidated.” He challenged the CIA Director William Colby to accept greater oversight of the CIA’s budget. Pike was alarmed by CIA excesses, including involvement in efforts to overthrow leaders in Chile and other countries. After Secretary of State Henry Kissinger withheld documents and limited the number of State Department officials who could testify, the Pike Committee voted to hold him in contempt of Congress.

The Pike Committee called for congressional oversight over operations, a prohibition of CIA-sponsored killings and transparency in the intelligence budget. “It took this investigation”, Pike said, “to convince me I had always been told lies [and] to make me realise that I was tired of being told lies.” Eventually Pike’s investigation was overshadowed by the Senate’s Church Committee, some of whose recommendations were adopted.

Otis Grey Pike, politician: born Riverhead, New York 31 August 1921; twice married (three children); died Vero Beach, Florida 20 January 2014.

© The Washington Post