Commonly misunderstood, we neglect it at our peril. The architects of the National Security Act of 1947 would be greatly surprised by today’s neglect of strategic intelligence in the Intelligence Community.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the National Security Act of 1947. So many of our most prominent government institutions were created by this act–the National Security Council (NSC), the Armed Forces as a joint establishment, the US Air Force, and, of course, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). As a “living” document, the act has outlasted the Cold War, for which it was devised, and much more.
By the 1980s the act’s architects had passed away. Their thoroughness was such, however, that amendments have not radically altered what they essentially put in place. One relatively recent change, the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, in addition to its impact on the interrelationships of the service arms, notably also mandated the creation of an annual National Security Strategy, a document produced by the president and reported annually to the Congress.
The original architects, with World War II in recent memory, knew very well the importance of giving commanders enough authority, and they likewise knew the importance of strategy. By 1947 George Kennan had wired his now famous Long Telegram. In March 1947, President Harry Truman announced what we now call the Truman Doctrine, and so initiated America’s national (grand) strategy of Communist Containment. Today, decades later, a national strategy is not only advisable for the republic but legally required. One can almost hear the original architects asking themselves, Why didn’t we think of that?