National security directives are presidential directives issued for the National Security Council (NSC). Starting with Harry Truman, every president since the founding of the National Security Council in 1947 has issued national security directives in one form or another, which have involved foreign, military and domestic policies. National security directives are generally highly classified and are available to the public only after "a great many years" have elapsed. Unlike executive orders, national security directives are usually directed only to the National Security Council and the most senior executive branch officials, and embody foreign and military policy-making guidance rather than specific instructions.
Presidents have issued such directives under various names.
|Initials||Full Title||Time Frame||Presidential Administration(s)|
|NSCID||National Security Council Intelligence Directive||1947–1977||Truman–Ford|
|NSAM||National Security Action Memorandum||1961–1969||Kennedy and Johnson|
|NSSM||National Security Study Memorandum||1969–1977||Nixon and Ford|
|NSDM||National Security Decision Memorandum||1969–1977||Nixon and Ford|
|PRM||Presidential Review Memorandum||1977–1981||Carter|
|NSSD||National Security Study Directive||1981–1989||Reagan|
|NSDD||National Security Decision Directive||1981–1989||Reagan|
|NSR||National Security Review||1989–1993||G. H. W. Bush|
|NSD||National Security Directive||1989–1993||G. H. W. Bush|
|PRD||Presidential Review Directive||1993–2001||Clinton|
|PDD||Presidential Decision Directive||1993–2001||Clinton|
|NSPD||National Security Presidential Directive||2001–2009||G. W. Bush|
|PSD||Presidential Study Directive||2009–2017||Obama|
|PPD||Presidential Policy Directive||2009–2017||Obama|
|NSPM||National Security Presidential Memorandum||2017–2021||Trump|
|NSSM||National Security Study Memorandum||2021-present||Biden|
|NSM||National Security Memorandum||2021-present||Biden|
National security directives were quite different in the early period of the Cold War. A 1988 General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation into national security directives left out the directives from the Truman and Eisenhower years because "they were not structured in a way to allow categorization." The study nevertheless made note of two types of directives. The first was "policy papers" which could contain policy recommendations, in which case the president might decide to approve the policy by writing his signature. A famous example of such a policy paper is NSC 68. GAO also noted another type of directive called "NSC Actions", which were "numbered records of decisions that were reached at NSC meetings.
The Kennedy administration which took office in 1961 reorganized the NSC and began issuing National Security Action Memoranda (NSAMs). Many NSAMs were signed in Kennedy's name by National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, although Kennedy sometimes signed them personally. Lyndon B. Johnson continued issuing NSAMs where Kennedy left off, although issuing only 99 directives as compared to Kennedy's 273.
A 1986 National Security Decision Directive gave the State Department authority and responsibility to coordinate responses to international terrorism across government agencies including the CIA, DoD, and FBI. This was intended to reduce interagency conflicts which were observed in the response to the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship. The State Department's Bureau of Counterterrorism continues this coordinating function.
After September 11, 2001, George W. Bush issued Homeland Security Presidential Directives (HSPDs), with the consent of the Homeland Security Council. These directives were sometimes issued concurrently as national security directives.
Regarding the secrecy of presidential directives, Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy stated in February 2008 that:
Of the 54 National Security Presidential Directives issued by the (George W.) Bush Administration to date, the titles of only about half have been publicly identified. There is descriptive material or actual text in the public domain for only about a third. In other words, there are dozens of undisclosed Presidential directives that define U.S. national security policy and task government agencies, but whose substance is unknown either to the public or, as a rule, to Congress.
However, in an unprecedented development, the Trump administration ordered their national security directives to be published in the Federal Register.