Otis G. Pike died today at 92 years-old, having represented New York’s 1st district for 18 of those years, from 1961-1979. Here’s what you need to know about this “maverick” politician:
1. He Led The First Modern Inquiry into the CIA
On December 22, 1974, the New York Times published a lengthy expose by Seymour Hersh which revealed covert CIA operations including as assassination and attempts to orchestrate overseas coups. While the legislature had long taken a laissez-faire attitude towards its role as overseer of the intelligence agencies, the unpopularity of the Vietnam War and the taint of Watergate created a political climate conducive to congressional inquiry.
In 1975, Pike chaired the House Select Committee on Intelligence, the House counterpart to the committee led by Idaho Senator Frank Church. Both panels were charged with investigating secret dealings and possible abuses perpetrated by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. It was the first investigation of its kind since 1947.
Pike told The New Republic in 1976 interview: “It took this investigation to convince me that I had always been told lies [and] to make me realize that I was tired of being told lies.”
Among the secrets Pike helped uncover were the CIA’s role in ousting democratically elected leaders in South America. The Pike Committee drafted a 338 page report, calling for greater oversight of intelligence operations, a prohibition on CIA assasinations, and greater transparency of the intelligence budget. However, the full House of Representatives voted to keep the report secret. Shortly thereafter, the report was leaked and published in the Village Voice. But without an official release, the Pike Comittee’s work was ultimately overshadowed by the Church committee in historical memory.
2. He Was Orphaned When He Was Six Years Old
Post’s obituary details Pike’s early life. Bron on Aug. 31, 1921, in Riverhead, N.Y., he was orphaned at 6 and raised by his two older sisters and an aunt.
One of his older sisters was a social worker during the Depression, and stories of her experiences influenced Pike’s outlook. In a 1967 interview with the New Yorker, Pike recalled a story his sister had told him about a struggling farm family in their town:
“All they had for Sunday dinner was boiled potatoes. I was surprised that in a great country like America such a thing could happen. All my family had always been Republicans, but that kind of thing, and what Franklin Roosevelt tried to do about it, turned me into a Democrat.”
3. He Was a Critic of Military Spending
An outspoken critic of Pentagon overspending during the Vietnam War, Pike singled out a brand of small metal rods which sold at retail for 50 cents each, but which the Pentagon had been buying at $25.55 apiece. The rods were described by the Pentagon as “precision shafting,” about which Pike quipped: ““For once, the American taxpayer got precisely what he paid for.”
4. He Married His Second Wife in 2002
Pike married Barbe Bonjour in 2002. He married his first wife Doris Orth in 1946. The couple had three children together, over the course of a 50 year marriage that lasted until Orth passed away in 1996. Their son Robert Pike died in 2010.
5. He Was a Syndicated Columnist for Newhouse Newspapers
Pike decided not to seek re-election in 1978, telling the Washington Post that Congress had ceased to be fun, the place having become dominated by “two kinds of people-millionaires and Boy Scouts.
From 1979 to 1999, Pike served as a syndicated columnist for Newhouse Newspapers.
He died in Vero Beach, Florida, after an extended kidney ailment.