203. National Security Decision Memorandum 401


The Secretary of State

The Secretary of Defense

The Director of Central Intelligence


  • Responsibility for the Conduct, Supervision and Coordination of Covert Action Operations

I have determined that it is essential to the defense and security of the United States and its efforts for world peace that the overt foreign activities of the U.S. Government continue to be supplemented by covert action operations.

By covert action operations I mean those activities which, although designed to further official U.S. programs and policies abroad, are so planned and executed that the hand of the U.S. Government is not apparent to unauthorized persons.

The covert actions of the U.S. Government abroad shall be subject to coordination and control by the Director of Central Intelligence. All such covert action operations, unless otherwise specifically assigned by the President, shall be carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency. The Director of Central Intelligence shall be responsible for assuring that covert action operations are planned and conducted in a manner consistent with U.S. foreign and military policies, and for consulting with and obtaining appropriate coordination from any other interested agencies or officers on a need-to-know basis. The Director of Central Intelligence shall obtain policy approval for all major and/or politically sensitive covert action programs through The 40 Committee.2

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The 40 Committee as presently constituted consists of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs as Chairman, the Attorney General, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and the Director of Central Intelligence.

The Director of Central Intelligence will be responsible for insuring an annual review by The 40 Committee of all covert action programs previously approved.

Also subject to The 40 Committee’s policy review and specific operational mission approval are the following programs originating in the Department of Defense: the monthly Joint Reconnaissance Center Schedule, missions of the National Reconnaissance Organization and the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified].3 Furthermore, any proposals for covert activities or operations from agencies not represented on The 40 Committee shall be subject to that committee’s approval unless otherwise directed by the President.

Covert action operations shall include any type of activity necessary to carry out approved purposes except that they will not include armed conflict by regular military forces, or cover and deception for active military operations by the armed forces of the United States.

This directive supersedes and rescinds NSC 5412/2.

Richard Nixon
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–213, National Security Decision Memoranda, NSDM 40. Top Secret. Copies were sent to Mitchell and Kissinger. In forwarding NSDM 40 to the President for his signature, Kissinger noted that “in view of recent mention of the 303 Committee in the public media, the directive changes the committee name to coincide with the number assigned to the NSDM itself, which is 40.” (Undated memorandum; National Security Council, 303/40 Committee Records, The 40 Committee)
  2. Upon reviewing a draft of NSDM 40, which stated that the DCI shall obtain the 40 Committee’s policy approval for “all major covert action programs,” Wymberley Coerr of INR proposed in a December 16 memorandum to U. Alexis Johnson that the words “politically sensitive” be substituted for the word “major” since “there has never been an agreed inter-Agency position on what constitutes a major covert action program” and “there is no necessary relationship between the dollar costs and potential political costs.” (Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, 40 Committee)
  3. In a February 5 memorandum to CIA’s four deputy directors in which he summarized the sense of a discussion they had had, L. K. White stated: “Formerly, matters emanating from or affecting the Clandestine Service dominated the proceedings of the 303 and its predecessor organs. While it is clear that the scrutiny of sensitive covert activities remains the principal charter of the 303 mechanism, it is also evident that the review of reconnaissance and certain other technical activities now has become a major preoccupation of the Committee. Our internal staffing arrangements need to be governed accordingly.” (Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry Files, Job 80– R01284A, Box 3, Folder 22, C–17–303 Committee)