United States National Security Council

United States National Security Council
Agency overview
Formed September 18, 1947 (1947-09-18)
Agency executives
Parent agency Executive Office of the President of the United States
Website NSC Website
President Barack Obama at an NSC Meeting in the Situation Room. Participants include Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, NSC Advisor Gen. James "Jim" Jones, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dennis Blair, Deputy National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, White House Counsel Greg Craig, CIA Director Leon Panetta, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel

The White House National Security Council (NSC) is the principal forum used by the President of the United States for consideration of national security and foreign policy matters with senior national security advisors and Cabinet officials and is part of the Executive Office of the President of the United States. Since its inception under Harry S. Truman, the function of the Council has been to advise and assist the president on national security and foreign policies. The Council also serves as the president's principal arm for coordinating these policies among various government agencies. The Council has counterparts in the national security councils of many other nations.


The National Security Council was created in 1947 by the National Security Act. It was created because policymakers felt that the diplomacy of the State Department was no longer adequate to contain the USSR in light of the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States.[1] The intent was to ensure coordination and concurrence among the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and other instruments of national security policy such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), also created in the National Security Act.

On May 26, 2009, President Barack Obama merged the White House staff supporting the Homeland Security Council (HSC) and the National Security Council into one National Security Staff (NSS). The HSC and NSC each continue to exist by statute as bodies supporting the President.[2]

The decision process inside the structure has become less and less formal but influence of the Council has become stronger and stronger. Detailed history of the National Security Council under each Presidential administration since its inception can be found at:


The National Security Council is chaired by the President. Its members are the Vice President (statutory), the Secretary of State (statutory), the Secretary of Defense (statutory), the Secretary of Energy (statutory), the National Security Advisor (non-statutory), and the Secretary of the Treasury (non-statutory).

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the statutory military advisor to the Council, the Director of National Intelligence is the statutory intelligence advisor, and the Director of National Drug Control Policy is the statutory drug control policy advisor. The Chief of Staff to the President, Counsel to the President, and the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy are also regularly invited to attend NSC meetings. The Attorney General, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget and The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency are invited to attend meetings pertaining to their responsibilities. The heads of other executive departments and agencies, as well as other senior officials, are invited to attend meetings of the NSC when appropriate.

Structure of the United States National Security Council[3]
Chair President of the United States
Statutory Attendees[4] Vice President of the United States
Secretary of State
Secretary of Defense
Secretary of Energy
Military Advisor Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Intelligence Advisor Director of National Intelligence
Drug Policy Advisor Director of National Drug Control Policy
Regular Attendees National Security Advisor
White House Chief of Staff
Deputy National Security Advisor
Attorney General
Additional Participants Secretary of the Treasury
Secretary of Homeland Security
White House Counsel
Assistant to the President for Economic Policy
Ambassador to the United Nations
Director of Office of Management and Budget
Homeland Security Advisor



The National Security Council was established by the National Security Act of 1947 (PL 235 – 61 Stat. 496; U.S.C. 402), amended by the National Security Act Amendments of 1949 (63 Stat. 579; 50 U.S.C. 401 et seq.). Later in 1949, as part of the Reorganization Plan, the Council was placed in the Executive Office of the President.

The High Value Detainee Interrogation Group also reports to the NSC.[7]

Kill authorizations

Main article: Disposition Matrix

A secret National Security Council panel pursues the killing of an individual, including American citizens, who has been called a suspected terrorist.[8] In this case, no public record of this decision or any operation to kill the suspect will be made available.[8] The panel's actions are justified by "two principal legal theories": They "were permitted by Congress when it authorized the use of military forces against militants in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001; and they are permitted under international law if a country is defending itself."[8]

National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who has helped codify targeted killing criteria by creating the Disposition Matrix database, has described the Obama Administration targeted killing policy by stating that "in order to ensure that our counterterrorism operations involving the use of lethal force are legal, ethical, and wise, President Obama has demanded that we hold ourselves to the highest possible standards and processes".[9]

Reuters has reported that Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, was on such a kill list and was killed accordingly.[8]

On February 4, 2013, NBC published a leaked Department of Justice memo providing a summary of the rationale used to justify targeted killing of US citizens who are senior operational leaders of Al-Qa'ida or associated forces.[10]

See also


  1. Encyclopedia of American foreign policy, 2nd ed. Vol. 2, New York: Scribner, 2002, National Security Council, 22 April 2009
  2. In Security Shuffle, White House Merges Staffs
  3. Policy Directive 1 (PDD-1), White House, Feb 13, 2009
  4. "National Security Council". The White House. www.whitehouse.gov. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  5. "White House Announces New Executive Secretary / Chief of Staff for the National Security Council Staff". The White House: President Barack Obama. 29 July 2014. Retrieved 11 September 2015.
  6. Rogin, Josh (March 19, 2013). "Liz Sherwood-Randall promoted to new White House position". The Cable, Foreign Policy Magazine. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
  7. "Elite High Value Interrogation Unit Is Taking Its First Painful Steps", by Ed Barnes, Fox News Channel, May 12, 2010
  8. 1 2 3 4 "Secret panel can put Americans on "kill list'". Reuters. 5 October 2011.
  9. John O. Brennan's April 2012 Wilson Center Speech: The Efficacy and Ethics of U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy (Transcript and Video).
  10. DOJ Whitepaper

Additional sources

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