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Fact Checked

What is the National Security Council?

Jessica Hobby
Jessica Hobby

The National Security Council (NSC) is an agency of the United States concerned about matters involving national security. It was established by the National Security Act of 1947 and added to the executive branch of the government in 1949. The National Security Act requires the president, the vice president, the secretary of state and the secretary of defense to be on the NSC, but the president chooses the national security advisor and may choose to include anyone he finds suitable. For example, President Barack Obama’s NSC in 2010 included the statutory members required by law plus the secretary of the treasury, assistant to the president for national security affairs and director of national intelligence.

The NSC is a dynamic agency that has changed significantly over time due to the preferences of each president. In addition to supervising the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Council discusses and implements domestic policy, foreign policy and military policy. More often than not, these three areas overlap and intermingle because of the large role the United States plays in the international community.

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Woman with hand on her hip

Policy advisement in law enforcement issues has typically been a common issue for the National Security Council. The NSC coordinates with the Department of Homeland Security, the Office of Drug Control and other agencies in regards to issues that involve both domestic and foreign policy, such as terrorism and narcotics trafficking. Specifically, these types of policies are aimed at laws within the United States. For example, the Patriot Act, which was signed into law in 2001 under President George W. Bush and extended during Obama’s presidency, gives government agencies the right to electronically survey Americans suspected of illegal activities that threaten national security.

Historically, the National Security Council has focused on foreign policy issues. The members discuss and advise the president on a variety of items related to foreign affairs, such as diplomacy, international cooperation and international economy. The NSC has also taken part in crisis management since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis in President John F. Kennedy’s administration.

When foreign policy issues are being debated within the National Security Council, military policy almost always plays into each issue. In addition to keeping abreast of military threats from other nations, the NSC discusses the use of force for implementing desired foreign policy objectives. Reviewing military intelligence aids the NSC in deciding whether to use preventive, pre-emptive or offensive military action, or not to utilize the United States Armed Forces in any fashion.

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Discussion Comments


I worry about things like the NSC. I don't honestly feel very confident that they help the country stay legitimately safer, and meanwhile groups like law enforcement, politicians and lawmakers, and even judicial systems are not always just and can get away with a lot if the right person looks away.

I still think the US has a fairer system than many countries, I'm just not very confident that groups like this really help us to stay safe.


I find it interesting that the National Security Council supervises the Central Intelligence Agency. Maybe I watch too much television, but I kind of thought that the CIA did whatever they wanted.

The reality makes sense though. Everyone needs some kind of supervision, so I think it's good the CIA has to answer to an agency like this.


There are so many agencies and law enforcement branches dedicated to keeping this country safe, I can't even keep track of them all. In fact, until just now I don't think I really had a very clear idea of what the National Security Council actually did. I sort of thought they were the same as the US Department of Homeland Security!

However, it sounds like the National Security Council does a lot more advising and policy-making than actual law enforcement.

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