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The National Security Act of 1947
Traditionally, the armed forces have been responsible for national security and homeland defense. The National Security Act of 1947 reorganized the leadership of the military following World War II, formalizing a Department of Defense (DOD) with a Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) that reports directly to the Commander-in-Chief. According to the website of the U.S. Secretary of State:
The 1947 law also caused far-reaching changes in the military establishment. The War Department and Navy Department merged into a single Department of Defense under the Secretary of Defense, who also directed the newly created Department of the Air Force. However, each of the three branches maintained their own service secretaries. In 1949 the act was amended to give the Secretary of Defense more power over the individual services and their secretaries.
The National Security Act of 1947 also created the National Security Council (NSC)—whose members include the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State—to coordinate policy-making among the State and Defense departments and other agencies. From the website of the Secretary of State:
The National Security Act of 1947 mandated a major reorganization of the foreign policy and military establishments of the U.S. Government. The act created many of the institutions that Presidents found useful when formulating and implementing foreign policy, including the National Security Council (NSC). The Council itself included the President, Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and other members (such as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency), who met at the White House to discuss both long-term problems and more immediate national security crises. A small NSC staff was hired to coordinate foreign policy materials from other agencies for the President. Beginning in 1953 the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs directed this staff. Each President has accorded the NSC with different degrees of importance and has given the NSC staff varying levels of autonomy and influence over other agencies such as the Departments of State and Defense. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, for example, used the NSC meetings to make key foreign policy decisions, while John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson preferred to work more informally through trusted associates. Under President Richard M. Nixon, the NSC staff, then headed by Henry A. Kissinger, was transformed from a coordinating body into an organization that actively engaged in negotiations with foreign leaders and implementing the President's decisions. The NSC meetings themselves, however, were infrequent and merely confirmed decisions already agreed upon by Nixon and Kissinger.
Under this legislation, the Joint Chiefs of Stafft consists of the senior officer from each branch of the armed forces. The Act also replaced the old Office of Strategic Services with a new Central Intelligence Agency to collect information from abroad about possible threats to the United States. Again, from the website for the US Secretary of State:
The act also established the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which grew out of World War II era Office of Strategic Services and small post-war intelligence organizations. The CIA served as the primary civilian intelligence-gathering organization in the government. Later, the Defense Intelligence Agency became the main military intelligence body.
As we now know, the National Security Council was not doing a great job coordinating all the aspects of homeland security. For example, border security was handled in a fragmented way by a number of agencies. Intelligence was not being effectively shared. As a result, terrorists were able to attack us within our borders. Interestingly enough, when President Bush announced his intent to create the Department of Homeland Security, he compared his reorganization to Truman's 1947 National Security Act:
Truman recognized that our nation's fragmented defenses had to be reorganized to win the Cold War," he said. "He proposed uniting our military forces under a single Department of Defense and creating the National Security Council to bring together defense, intelligence, and diplomacy.
President Bush concluded that we now need "similar dramatic reforms to secure our people at home."
A great case for reading and discussion is Nation Magazine v. United States Department of Defense. The case involves national security under the 1917 Espionage Act and first amendment issues with respect to limitations on the freedom of the press during the first Gulf War.
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