National Security Decision Directive 114, signed by Ronald Reagan
National Security Decision Directive 114, signed by Ronald Reagan

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,[1] which have involved foreign, military and domestic policies.[2] National security directives are generally highly classified[3] and are available to the public only after "a great many years" have elapsed.[4] 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.[5]

Names for national security directives by administration

Presidents have issued such directives under various names.

Initials Full Title Time Frame Presidential Administration(s)
NSCID National Security Council Intelligence Directive 1947–1977 TrumanFord
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
PD Presidential Directive 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

Truman and Eisenhower administrations

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."[7] 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.[8] 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.[8]

Kennedy and Johnson administrations

The Kennedy administration which took office in 1961 reorganized the NSC and began issuing National Security Action Memoranda (NSAMs).[9] Many NSAMs were signed in Kennedy's name by National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, although Kennedy sometimes signed them personally.[10] Lyndon B. Johnson continued issuing NSAMs where Kennedy left off, although issuing only 99 directives as compared to Kennedy's 273.[11]

Reagan administration

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.[12] The State Department's Bureau of Counterterrorism continues this coordinating function.

Homeland Security Presidential Directive

Main article: Presidential directive § Homeland Security Presidential Directive

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.[13]


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.[14]

However, in an unprecedented development, the Trump administration ordered their national security directives to be published in the Federal Register.[15][16]

See also


  1. ^ Dwyer 2002, Abstract.
  2. ^ General Accounting Office 1988, Background.
  3. ^ General Accounting Office 1992, p. 3; Dwyer 2002, p. 411; Relyea 2008, p. 9.
  4. ^ Relyea 2008, p. 9.
  5. ^ General Accounting Office 1992, p. 1.
  6. ^ "Presidential Directives and Executive Orders". Federation of American Scientists.
  7. ^ General Accounting Office 1988, p. 1.
  8. ^ a b General Accounting Office 1988, p. 2.
  9. ^ Dwyer 2002, p. 412.
  10. ^ Prados, John (2006). Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA. Ivan R. Dee. p. 8. ISBN 9781615780112.
  11. ^ General Accounting Office 1988, p. 4.
  12. ^ Johnson, Larry C. 2005. Terrorism: Why the Numbers Matter.
  13. ^ Relyea 2008, pp. 6–7.
  14. ^ Aftergood, Steven (2008-02-07). "The next president should open up the Bush Administration's record". Neiman Watchdog; Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Retrieved 2008-02-12.
  15. ^ Aftergood, Steven (30 January 2017). "Trump Broadcasts His National Security Directives". Secrecy News, Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  16. ^ Aftergood, Steven (5 July 2017). "Still No Classified Trump Presidential Directives". Secrecy News, Federation of American Scientists. Washington, D.C. Retrieved 5 October 2017.


National security directives at presidential libraries