By N.R. Kleinfield
New York Times News Service
Otis Pike, a longtime congressman from New York who spearheaded an inquiry in the 1970s into accusations that the intelligence establishment had abused its power, died Monday in Vero Beach, Fla. He was 92.
His daughter, Lois Pike Eyre, said he had entered a hospice a week ago.
Over 18 years in the House of Representatives as a Democrat from a heavily Republican district on Long Island, Pike styled himself an uninhibited, independent thinker, lashing out, for example, against military profligacy.
In 1975, he became chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, which began examining suspicions that the Central Intelligence Agency had had its hand in coups in Chile and other countries and was spying on American citizens. The inquiry paralleled one in the Senate; they were the first in which Congress looked into allegations of abuse by the CIA.
Pike maintained that the security agencies were inept bureaucracies that left the country vulnerable. “If an attack were to be launched on America in the very near future,” he said in late 1975, “it is my belief that America would not know that the attack was about to be launched.”
The Pike committee hearings were tempestuous and resulted in a lengthy report demanding greater congressional oversight of intelligence operations. However, the full House voted to keep the so-called Pike Report secret.
Greater attention was paid to the findings of the Senate committee, which was led by Frank Church, D-Idaho. Some of its recommended reforms were carried out.
Otis Grey Pike was born on Aug. 31, 1921, in Riverhead, N.Y., on the eastern edge of Long Island. His parents died when he was still a small boy, and he was raised by relatives. He enrolled at Princeton University, then interrupted his studies to join the Marines. During World War II he was a fighter pilot in the Pacific, flying 120 missions. He completed his degree after his discharge.
Politics captured his imagination when he was 14, he said, after he had learned from his sister about a family who owned a large farm but had nothing for Sunday dinner but boiled potatoes. After graduating from Columbia University Law School in 1948, he practiced law in his hometown and became a justice of the peace.
His first campaign for a House seat, in 1958, failed, but he was elected two years later, despite being a Democrat in a Republican district. He once quipped, “I’ve always said I’m surrounded on three sides by water and on the fourth by Republicans.”
He attracted attention in 1967 when he complained that the Defense Department was paying absurd amounts of money for spare parts like nuts and washers obtainable at a small fraction of the cost through mail-order catalogs. Displaying one part at a news conference, he said, “This is called precision shafting.” The Pentagon ultimately revamped its buying protocol.
In 1969, Pike conducted a House subcommittee investigation into the seizure of the intelligence ship Pueblo by North Koreans, concluding that “serious deficiencies” existed in the U.S. military command structure.
In all, Pike served for nine terms before choosing not to run for re-election in 1978.
After leaving Congress, he wrote a column for Newhouse Newspapers for 20 years.
Pike’s first wife, Doris Orth, died in 1996, and a son, Robert, died in 2010. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his second wife, Barbe Bonjour Pike; a son, Douglas; and two grandchildren.
One of his memorable achievements was when he thwarted a bill with a single comical speech on the House floor. The bill would have awarded $14 million in flight pay to admirals and generals who spent their time not in cockpits but sitting at desks.
Standing up on the House floor to criticize the legislation, Pike spoke with his arms spread and swaying like the wings of a plane, as if he were flying. He brought up the worrisome perils of an admiral spinning in his chair and soaring out a window of the Pentagon into air-traffic patterns. The speech drew laughter and applause. The bill was defeated.