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A Look Back … The National Security Council Helps Shape the CIA

On September 26, 1947, the National Security Council (NSC) met for the first time. The NSC was one of several creations of the National Security Act of 1947, which also established the Central Intelligence Agency and placed the armed forces under the Secretary of Defense. The Act gave the NSC congressional mandate to coordinate U.S. foreign and defense policy. The Act also gave CIA legal authorities that its forerunner, the Central Intelligence Group had lacked because it was created by executive order.

President Harry S. Truman chaired the NSC, along with six other members, including:

  • Secretary of State
  • Secretary of Defense
  • Secretary of the Army
  • Secretary of the Navy
  • Secretary of the Air Force
  • Chairman of the National Security Resources Board.

Although chairman, President Truman did not attend NSC meetings regularly until the Korean War broke out in 1950 and did not use the NSC as his principal international security advisory body. However, the NSC served an important function in delineating the responsibilities of the intelligence community in a series of directives that clarified CIA’s duties and authorized it to undertake certain activities not spelled out in its founding legislation.


Establishing the DCI’s Role

In December 1947 the NSC issued National Security Council Intelligence Directive 1 (NSCID 1), which set forth the Director of Central Intelligence’s (DCI) status in relation to the other civilian and military intelligence chiefs. The Directive stated that the intelligence chiefs of the Departments of State and the Army, Navy, and Air Force, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Atomic Energy Commission served as the DCI’s board of advisors, not his board of directors.

Later that December the NSC issued National Security Council Directive 4 (NSCID 4), “Coordination of Foreign Intelligence Measures,” whose secret annex, NSC-4A, gave CIA its first explicit covert action authority.


Dulles Shapes the Agency

The NSC continued to serve an important role in the Agency’s early development. Under the guidance of the NSC, then-future DCI Allen Dulles spearheaded the Dulles, Jackson, and Correa Report, which recommended several significant reforms of US intelligence and the fledgling CIA.

The report stated that the Agency was not adequately serving its intended purpose, particularly in the production of intelligence estimates and coordinating community intelligence. The report also criticized the leadership of DCI Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter — the same director whom NSCID-1 had officially empowered over the other intelligence chiefs — and recommended that CIA’s intelligence collection and covert action function come under a single division. Hillenkoetter’s successor, Walter Bedell Smith implemented these reforms.


Changing Roles in National Security

Each presidential administration has tailored its use of the NSC to suit the chief executive’s preferences for obtaining national security advice. Like Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson de-emphasized the NSC in favor of ad hoc groups and select advisors. In contrast, President George H. W. Bush leaned heavily on the NSC and established the system of Principals and Deputies Committees that is still in effect.

Today, the NSC under President Barack Obama consists of:

  • Vice President
  • Secretary of State
  • Secretary of the Treasury
  • Secretary of Defense
  • Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

Additional members of the NSC include the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the statutory military advisor and the Director of National Intelligence as intelligence advisor.


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Posted: Oct 14, 2010 12:59 PM
Last Updated: Apr 30, 2013 12:41 PM