Explaining the NSC, from a former staffer

I asked permission from my friend, Dr. Hal Bidlack, ( USAF Lt. Col – Ret.), to share this, from a post he made on Facebook on January 30, 2017.nsc

From his bio:  He has a diverse background in academia, politics, policy development, research, and military. Dr. Bidlack has  extensive experience in national security and environmental policy formation gained through service as the Director of Global Environmental Affairs at the National Security Council at the White House, conducting high-level research and authoring position papers and speeches for the President, Vice President, and other national leaders.

His military service includes roles as an operational leader and as an educator at the prestigious US Air Force Academy.  He has particular interest in national security policy, and where that impacts environmental policy concerns.

Bidlack’s Political Science 101 on:

National Security Council Membership — Regarding President Trump’s recent actions on membership:

I continue with my resolve not to post anything *too* partisan on FB, but I do feel compelled from time to time, to post a bit about governance from my perspective as a retired career military officer, and as a former associate professor of political science at the USAF Academy. I taught the Constitution for 17 years there, and, particularly appropriate for this missive, I served twice during summer academic breaks from USAFA, as Director of Global Environmental Affairs at the National Security Council, at the White House. So, I do think that I know what I am talking about, at least in regard to this stuff.

So, the kerfuffle seems to be regarding two things: Mr. Bannon being “appointed” to the NSC, and the exclusion of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Director of National Intelligence from NSC meetings.

Much of what I am hearing is factually incorrect. Please allow me to correct the record a bit?

The National Security Council was created, by statute, in 1947, by the National Security Act of 1947 (see how that fits?). This act fundamentally reorganized the defense establishment of the government, to include creating the Air Force (from the Army Air Corps), the CIA, the NSC, and other stuff.

By LAW, there are ONLY four “members” of the NSC: the President, Vice President, Sec of State and Sec of Defense. By LAW, there are two statutory advisors: the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (military advisor) and the Director of Central Intelligence (Intel advisor). Note that the Intel guy is NOT automatically the CIA director, but rather the Director of Central Intelligence — while in history this has usually been the CIA guy, the spot is statutorily created for the top intelligence official in the government – now the Director of National Intell.

So that’s it, by law — six people — four that are the total “membership” of the NSC, and two who are the by-law advisors to the NSC.

What most people *call* the NSC is actually the staff of roughly 230 people who work in the White House on national security matters. That’s where I worked during the summers of 1997 and 1998.

This staff is headed by the person who holds the title “National Security Advisor to the President.” So, what most people call the NSC is actually just the staff.

So, what is the implication of Mr. Trump’s action? Legally, very little. He has asked Mr. Bannon to attend meetings of the NSC (which usually means the staffers, NOT the principals, as they are called). And Mr. Trump has apparently told the two statutory advisors they need not come to any meetings unless asked. None of these actions has any impact on the legal MEMBERSHIP of the NSC.

But, what are the real implications? I will say, again as a former (briefly) NSC staffer — this is stunningly stupid. Having Mr. Bannon sit in on meetings is something to debate politically. It seems very wrong to me, given my military background, but POTUS gets to do what he wants in this are.

The FAR MORE worrisome aspect of this is Mr. Trump’s decision to deny himself (and his senior staff) the wise counsel of the two statutory advisors. Tossing the senior military officer of the United States, and the senior intell person, out of the room when you are discussing critical national security issues is both shortsighted and dangerous. In my personal opinion, this demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the national security process. This lack of understanding has the potential to lead to dangerous outcomes.

So, that’s the real deal on who is, and who is not, a “member” of the National Security Council. We now return you to your regular news feed.

Lt Col Hal Bidlack, Ph.D.
USAF – Retired




Categories: General Stuff!, History, Work and Jobs

Tags: , , ,

1 reply

  1. Not being a big user of Facebook, I very much appreciate having this explanatory post more readily available to anyone interested in this topic, (which should be all US citizens).

    Many thanks to Hal for writing this and to Geek Goddess for getting it posted here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I would very much enjoy seeing other posts on topics such as this. How about it Hal? A mini course in civics based on your 17 years of teaching the constitution.

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