3. Memorandum From David Aaron and Rick Inderfurth to President-Elect Carter and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs-Designate (Brzezinski)1


  • Transition Report: NSC Organization, Procedures, Personnel

This memorandum summarizes our findings and recommendations concerning the organizational aspects of the NSC system. There are a number of decisions and actions which are necessary to establish, between now and the end of January, a new NSC system. The recommendations discussed below—relating to decisions on the structure, procedure and personnel of the NSC—are based on:

—A review of the current operation of the NSC. (A transition book2 describing the current organization, staff and daily activities of the NSC has been prepared by the NSC staff at our direction.)

—An analysis of the substantive issues to be handled by the NSC system. (A memo and transition book3 are under preparation.)

—The objectives of the NSC system in the new Administration.


The recommendations set forth below concerning the new NSC system are aimed at the following objectives:

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First, to create policy choices, to open up the bureaucracy so that alternatives are not smothered and issues are not fuzzed over, and that all relevant facts and data are brought to bear on decisions.

Second, to ensure that the policy adopted is pursued in a coordinated and effective manner by rebuilding consensus in the government—particularly after a painful choice.

Third, to place as much responsibility as possible upon the “line” agencies consistent with the first and second objectives and without permitting such agencies to preempt the authority of the President.

Findings and Recommendations

1. The NSC System

The key question is whether the present structure of the NSC system should be radically altered. Changes in Administrations have usually produced major changes in the NSC system. Eisenhower’s elaborate formal structure was replaced by Kennedy’s explosion of conflicting and overlapping ad hoc bodies. That, in turn, was overtaken by Johnson’s informal and highly personalized “Tuesday Lunch.” The structure of Nixon’s centralized and systematic NSC system was retained by Ford but the realities of power are that the Secretary of State dominates the system (but not the Department of State).

Regardless of the different ways the NSC system has been used, it has always had certain enduring features and functions:

A National Security Assistant to help the President manage the national security bureaucracy and support the President’s own diplomatic efforts.

A National Security Council—whether formal or informal, a Presidential level body where the most senior officials in State, Defense, the Military and other agencies could meet, debate, and help the President decide.

NSC committees and subcommittees to sort out policy options and issues, manage crises and handle clandestine activities.

An NSC staff to monitor the implementation of Presidential policy by the bureaucracy, serve as an honest broker between agencies and provide an independent and “disinterested” source of analysis, advice and staff work. It is also the President’s staff for his own diplomacy.

The current NSC system is generally structured along these functional lines.

In addition to assessing present and past systems, we have examined such alternative concepts as the “Ex Cab” proposed by Allison and Szanton.4 We find it structurally unsound—the leaderless collegial [Page 11] committee of peers staffing the “Ex Cab” would likely fragment or deadlock. It is also substantively unsound—the consolidation of White House and NSC staffs would politicize the latter to the point of undermining its objectivity.

The key issue concerning the NSC system as a whole is whether it should be limited to national security issues as traditionally defined—defense and foreign policy—or whether it should be structured to explicitly address international economic and other interdependence issues, particularly those involving domestic policy. The NSC was originally created to provide for “the integration of domestic, foreign and military policies.” No President or NSC has ever accomplished this—particularly in regard to domestic policy.

Economics has been called the Achilles heel of the current NSC system. No senior interdepartmental group for economics was organized. In 1971 a Council on International Economic Policy (CIEP) was created but proved inadequate to the task. Today an Economic Policy Board (EPB) exists and the current Assistant for National Security Affairs, Brent Scowcroft, occasionally participates in its meetings. A senior NSC staff member for economic affairs attends all meetings of the EPB as the NSC representative. However, it is dominated by Treasury (Bill Simon in particular) and has been subjected to “end runs” because the attendance is stacked against serious consideration of the security aspects of economic issues such as the UK monetary crisis.

Economics is but one issue that cuts across foreign and domestic policy. There are others—nuclear policy, science, education, labor. All have, at one time or another, national security implications as well as domestic importance. All have received inadequate attention within the NSC framework. No Administration since World War II has given adequate attention to the interconnections between foreign and domestic policy.


The NSC system should be retained. It does not require replacement or radical surgery. However, its component elements require modification, streamlining and strengthening as outlined below.

International economic security issues, such as the UK financial crisis, OPEC and North-South negotiations, should be considered within the National Security Council framework.

—For this purpose, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Director of OMB and the Chairman of the CEA should attend NSC meetings to assist the President in integrating foreign and domestic policy.

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An NSC directive on the organization of the new NSC system should be prepared and issued January 20. (A copy of NSDM 2, which established the Nixon NSC system, is found at Tab 1.)5

2. The NSC Committee Structure

A decision must be made on the future structure of the committee system which supports the National Security Council. Should the present structure be retained, modified or replaced? Should ad hoc committees be established to deal with interagency issues which are of immediate concern to the new President? Who should chair the committees and what departments/agencies should serve on them? Should Cabinet members sit on NSC committees? What are to be the responsibilities of each of the NSC committees?

There are seven standing committees of the Ford NSC. A “wiring diagram” is found at Tab 2.

The Washington Special Actions Committee manages crises. It met most recently during the Korean “tree-chopping” crisis.6 It is an institutionalized version of Kennedy’s ExCom, which met during the Cuban missile crisis. It is chaired by the Secretary of State.

The Operations Advisory Group deals with clandestine intelligence activities. OAG was formerly known as the 40 Committee. As a result of Executive Order 11905,7 issued by President Ford in February 1976, the membership of this committee was upgraded to include the Secretaries of State and Defense and the Attorney General and Director of OMB as observers. Review and approval procedures for sensitive intelligence activities, including CIA covert operations, are tighter today than ever before. The Committee is chaired by the Assistant for National Security Affairs.

—Executive Order 11905 also created the Committee on Foreign Intelligence. The Committee is responsible for preparing a consolidated intelligence community budget. The CFI was established to give the Director of Central Intelligence more clout over the intelligence community. It has gotten off to a shaky, but reasonable, start. Efforts to change its mandate at this point would likely lead to a reverse of what has been a step forward.

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—The Verification Panel develops arms control proposals and options (SALT, MBFR, CTB). The Panel was a Kissinger creation and is still chaired by him. The Panel was created to control the conflict between State, Defense and ACDA on arms control issues and to give Kissinger direct control.

—The Defense Review Panel was known as the Defense Programs Review Committee when it was established in 1969. Its purpose is to keep the annual Defense budget in line with foreign policy objectives. Kissinger, as Assistant for National Security Affairs, initially chaired it, but he was unwilling to take on the Pentagon and the Committee met infrequently. Last year, however, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld became chairman and it has become an active committee. In recent months, it has undertaken a review of our overall military posture (NSSM 246)8 and considered such matters as naval shipbuilding, tactical air deployments in Europe, and SALT contingency planning. One interested party, ACDA, is not represented.

—The Senior Review Group is primarily responsible for developing foreign policy options. It reviews the work of lower level Interdepartmental Groups (IG’s) to be certain that issues, options and agency views are presented. It gives final approval to most NSSM’s before they go to the full NSC. The SRG is currently chaired by the Assistant for National Security Affairs.

—The Under Secretaries Committee was based on the questionable assumption that there is a useful dichotomy between making policy and implementing it. As such, the USC was designed to be the chief implementing body for Presidential directives. Its importance has never been very great. In fact, a senior NSC official recently described it as a “cats and dogs” committee which hasn’t amounted to “a whole hell of a lot.”

Three comments should be made about the Ford NSC system.

First, it responds to many of the enduring functions of the NSC system. A committee manages crises (WSAG); a committee deals with clandestine intelligence activities (OAG); a committee develops arms control proposals and options (the Verification Panel); and several committees handle other interagency issues (the SRG, DRP, and USC). No committee, however, addresses economic issues. And a number of other current issues such as non-proliferation and counterintelligence are not adequately addressed in the current structure.

Second, all but two of the seven NSC committees are chaired by department or agency representatives. When Kissinger was the Assistant for [Page 14] National Security Affairs, he chaired all of them. Thus, the system is more de-centralized now. This has had the effect of putting more authority back into the departments. The allocation of chairmanships reflects Kissinger’s power rather than logic. A more rational scheme would require reallocation.

Third, NSC committees with Cabinet level membership can dramatize interest in a particular subject, but as a practical matter do not work well. With their crowded schedules, it makes it difficult to call meetings. When they do get together, their incentive is not to agree but to take the matter to the President. And to the extent they can agree, they either are limiting the President’s options or they could have left it to their deputies. Cabinet members can serve effectively as Chairmen, but Cabinet level officers should meet as a group with the President. The function of NSC committees is to prepare for such meetings.


The NSC committee system reflects the allocation of power and responsibility in any Administration. That is difficult to forecast now. Our recommendations are therefore somewhat tentative but reflect our best judgment at this stage.

The present NSC committee structure should be reorganized. Department officials should chair the majority of NSC committees in order to vest more authority in the departments.

• The functions of the Senior Review Group and the Under Secretaries Committee should be consolidated into a single committee. It should be renamed the Principals Committee—and be chaired by the Secretary of State.

• The Secretary of Defense would chair a renamed Defense Issues Panel which would include ACDA.

• The DCI would continue to chair the Committee on Foreign Intelligence. State should be placed on the CFI.

• The Assistant to the President should chair the committee that deals with crises (not the Secretary of State) and it should be renamed the Special Coordination Committee. He should continue to chair the committee that advises on clandestine activities, renamed the Intelligence Activities Advisory Committee.

A Committee on International Economic Security should be created to deal with economic issues in which U.S. foreign policy and security interests predominate. It should be chaired by the NSC Assistant with working groups chaired by the appropriate representatives from the departments—Treasury, State, Commerce—depending on the subject matter.

—Arms Control Issues should be handled either by a renamed Verification Panel (e.g. Arms Control Committee) chaired by the Assist[Page 15]ant to the President or by ad hoc groups that would have varying chairmanship. For example:

Ad hoc Committee on Strategic Arms Control—chaired by Assistant to President

Ad hoc Committee on MBFR —chaired by State

Ad hoc Committee on CTB —chaired by ACDA

Other Ad Hoc NSC Committees or working groups should be established to deal with interagency issues of immediate concern to the new President.

• An Ad Hoc Committee on Non-Proliferation should be created to coordinate the work of State, Defense, ERDA and other interested agencies.

• An Ad Hoc Counterintelligence Committee should be established to deal with electronic surveillance legislation, investigations of the KCIA, concerns about the security of U.S. telecommunications, and statutory charters for the FBI, the CIA and other intelligence activities.

Inactive NSC working groups should be abolished. A current listing of inactive working groups is found at Tab 3.

(A new wiring diagram for NSC committees is at Tab 4.)

NSC Procedures

3. NSSM’s/NSDM’s

A decision must be made to either continue something along the lines of the NSSM/NSDM process or to establish some other means for identifying policy options and informing the departments and agencies of Presidential decisions. The NSSM/NSDM series was established by NSDM 1, issued January 20, 1969.9 A copy is found at Tab 5.

In the interagency policy making process the NSSM/NSDM system puts the President and his NSC Assistant in control of both the “question” and the “answer.” NSSM’s are designed to generate policy options for the President and to provide a formal system for reviewing them. The process allows the departments and agencies to air their views and recommendations prior to a Presidential decision. Kissinger used NSSM’s to define the issue, to set the pace for the bureaucracy and, occasionally, to keep it tied up while he dealt with other matters. There have been over 200 NSSM’s issued since January 1969.

NSDM’s are currently used to promulgate Presidential decisions. Over 300 have been issued. Almost all Presidents have relied on some form of NSDM to announce policy decisions. Presidents Kennedy and [Page 16] Johnson, for example, issued National Security Action Memoranda (NSAM’s). The President-elect will probably want to rename this series so as to give it a separate identity.

The NSSM issue is more complicated. The question of who issues requests for interagency studies such as NSSM’s is a crucial one. A NSSM is an order for a study for the President. As such, it defines the problem, sets the terms of reference, assigns work to particular groups to prepare the response, sets a due date for completion and indicates which of the NSC committees will review the study.

Currently NSSM’s are prepared by the NSC staff and issued by the Assistant for National Security Affairs or the President. An alternative would be for the Chairman of the relevant NSC committee (State, Defense or NSC) to issue study requests. This would give the Chairman more authority, but at the same time could lead to conflict among the Chairmen as to which group would study what. Moreover, the agenda of each group that would result might not adequately reflect the President’s concerns and priorities.

The further alternative of conducting all interagency studies outside the NSC framework is unworkable.


A system of NSC studies and directives should be continued. NSC directives should be issued shortly after January 20 stating the disposition of all outstanding NSSM’s and NSDM’s, either that they will continue, be reviewed, or abolished. (A similar NSDM was issued February 3, 1969, on all NSAM’s inherited from the Kennedy-Johnson years.10 See Tab 6.)

The Assistant for National Security Affairs and his NSC staff should continue to have the responsibility to prepare NSC studies.

NSC Staff

4. Organization

Decisions must be made on the structure, size and responsibilities of the NSC staff.

The present NSC staff consists of 125 people, of whom 47 are detailed from various agencies (e.g., State, Defense and CIA). This is about twice as large as the pre-Nixon figure. A “wiring diagram” of the current NSC staff is found at Tab 7. The major components of the staff include:

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The Operations Staff consists of 5 geographic offices and 2 functional offices. Eighteen professionals are assigned to the Operations Staff.

• The European and Oceans Affairs office is responsible for the thirty countries of Europe and law of the sea and oceans policy issues. It has a professional staff of 3.

• The Middle East and South Asian Affairs office has 3 professional staff members. One is assigned specifically to arms sales transfers and general military issues. He is on detail from Defense.

• Four staff members are assigned to the East Asian Affairs office. One deals exclusively with Chinese affairs, including Taiwan.

• Two professional staff members make up the Latin American Affairs office.

The African and UN Affairs office has two professionals. The staff is responsible for actions on population and family planning, narcotics and the International Labor Organization.

• The Scientific Affairs office carries on the functions previously performed by the Office of Science and Technology (OST). The staff reviews the budget of NASA, ERDA, Transportation, Defense, ACDA, and the National Science Foundation. It is also responsible for a number of scientific and technical panels which have looked into such issues as the protection of U.S. telecommunications and non-proliferation. It has a professional staff of 2.

• The International Economic Affairs office has 3 professional staff members. It is responsible for a wide range of issues including international monetary policy, trade, relations with developing countries, energy and commodities. It participates in a number of interagency groups including the Economics Policy Board, the Agriculture Policy Committee, the Task Force on Questionable Foreign Payments, the East-West Foreign Trade Board, the Energy Resources Council, and the Under Secretaries Committee on North-South Issues.

—The Program Analysis Staff is a Kissinger innovation. Seven professionals are assigned to it. It has been invaluable in supporting the President with analysis of political-military issues such as arms control, SALT, MBFR, CTB, major defense weapons systems decisions and the Defense budget review of the White House. It is staffed primarily by those with experience in systems analysis.

—The Planning Staff is another Kissinger innovation. Four professionals are currently working on such issues as national contingency planning (e.g. Yugoslavia after Tito), security assistance and terrorism. By all accounts, this staff has been a waste of time. A senior NSC staff official has called it a “farce.”

—The Intelligence Coordination Staff is a recent creation. It services both the Operations Advisory Group (formerly the 40 Committee) and [Page 18] the newly created Committee on Foreign Intelligence. Three professionals serve on the staff. It has recently completed a review of clandestine activities.

—Support to the NSC is provided by the Office of the Staff Secretary, the Information Management Staff, the Administrative Office, and the Freedom of Information Staff. Over half of the NSC staff—professional and non-professional—is assigned to these offices. The FOIA Staff is the most recent creation and in all likelihood it may have to grow to keep up with demand.


The NSC Operations Staff should be reduced, perhaps by as much as half. Replacements should be found for the head of each of the regional staffs, with the exception of East Asian affairs. This should be done prior to January 20.

—The Latin American, African, UN and South Asian staffs should be consolidated into a Developing Nations Staff.

The NSC Planning Staff should be abolished.

—The Program Analysis Staff should assume the functions of the Planning Staff. It should be renamed the Policy Analysis Staff. Consideration should be given to making the Scientific Affairs Staff part of the new Policy Analysis Staff. The Director and Deputy Director of the Program Analysis Staff should be replaced before January 20.

The International Economic Affairs Staff should be strengthened and possibly enlarged. You may want a Deputy Assistant for International Economic Security Affairs.

—The Administrative Office should be folded into the Office of the Staff Secretary, reorganized and reduced in size.

(A new wiring diagram for the NSC staff is at Tab 8).

5. Personnel

In addition to decisions on the structure, size and responsibilities of the NSC staff, decisions must be made on current personnel. Getting the key people on board as of January 20 is your number one priority. To do this you must identify the slots you want vacant as soon as possible. A personnel report is attached at Tab 9 which sets forth our recommendations in greater detail and provides a status report on recruitment efforts.

A book on prospective NSC staff personnel is available.11

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Presidential Boards

A decision is necessary on three Presidential advisory boards—the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), the Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB), and the General Advisory Committee (GAC). Membership is by Presidential appointment. Executive orders govern their activities, except for the GAC which was set up by the 1961 Arms Control and Disarmament Act.12

6. The President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board

PFIAB was created in 1956 in part to preempt a move in Congress at the time, led by Mike Mansfield, to establish a Joint Intelligence Committee. The board ceased functioning when Eisenhower left office in 1961, but was reactivated by Kennedy following the Bay of Pigs. It has functioned, uninterrupted, ever since. The board is responsible for reviewing and assessing U.S. foreign intelligence activities. It reports to the President periodically on its findings. The board is quality-oriented. It has never served a “watchdog” function. PFIAB currently has 17 members and is chaired by Leo Cherne. See Tab 10 for a list of the current members of PFIAB. It has a staff of two and meets two days every other month. All the members will submit their resignations as of January 20.

There are serious questions as to the usefulness of PFIAB. Presidents have found the board (and still do) a convenient place to appoint distinguished private citizens. On occasion, the board has served a useful purpose. For example, PFIAB made a significant contribution to the development of our overhead reconnaissance program.


At a minimum, the membership of PFIAB should be changed and its size reduced. Little would be lost if the board was abolished. If, at a later time, the new President needed outside intelligence advice, the board could be reactivated as President Kennedy did after the Bay of Pigs.

7. The Intelligence Oversight Board

IOB was established by Executive Order 11905, issued by President Ford in February 1976. The board has three members—Leo Cherne, Robert Murphy and Stephen Ailes—and a staff of two. All three members also serve on PFIAB. The Oversight Board is to serve the “watchdog” role PFIAB never played. It reviews reports from Intelligence Community Inspectors General and General Counsels and reports, [Page 20] periodically, to the Attorney General and the President on any activities which appear to be illegal or improper.

The idea of creating an Executive Intelligence Oversight Board was a good one. President Ford’s appointments were not. To fulfill its responsibilities, the board must be active. It hasn’t been. This is a reflection of the part-time nature of the board, its mandate, and its membership.


The IOB should be retained and its responsibilities broadened. (This would be done through a revision of Executive Order 11905.) Its membership should be replaced. Consideration should be given to enlarging its staff.

8. General Advisory Committee

The GAC was established in 1961 (by the Arms Control and Disarmament Act) to “advise the President, the Secretary of State, and the Disarmament Director respecting matters affecting arms control, disarmament, and world peace.”

GAC is comprised of 15 members, all of whom are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. A list of GAC members is at Tab 11. The Committee holds two-day meetings, usually four or five times a year. GAC generally meets with the Secretary of State twice a year. Staff support is provided by the ACDA.

Comments on the usefulness of the GAC are similar to those on PFIAB. It has, on occasion, made helpful recommendations on arms control and disarmament issues. On the other hand, one ACDA official commented that half the members of the committee fell asleep at the last meeting.

Pursuant to Section 14 of the 1972 Foreign Advisory Committee Act,13 GAC will expire January 5, 1977, unless renewed for a two-year period prior to that time. Indications are that President Ford will renew the Board. All members of the Board, therefore, will submit their resignations January 20.


—If a decision is made after January 20 to continue the GAC—and PFIAB—consideration should be given to establishing a consolidated National Security Advisory Board, with ten to fifteen members. Working groups on national security issues (e.g. arms control, intelligence) could be established at the President’s request.

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Further Steps

We would propose to meet with you to discuss these recommendations and subsequently to undertake the appropriate actions with your guidance.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Box 15, [NSC: 1/77–10/80]. Confidential. Brzezinski made notations in the margins of this memorandum, many of which are indecipherable.
  2. Not found.
  3. Neither found.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 2.
  5. For NSDM 2, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. II, Organization and Management of U.S. Foreign Policy, 1969–1972, Document 11. None of the tabs were found attached.
  6. On August 18, 1976, two U.S. Army officers were killed by North Korean troops in the Korean demilitarized zone while attempting to trim a tree.
  7. Executive Order 11905, February 18, 1976, reorganized the U.S. foreign intelligence community. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXVIII, Part 2, Organization and Management of U.S. Foreign Policy; Public Diplomacy, 1973–1976, Document 70.
  8. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXV, National Security Policy, 1973–1976, Document 102.
  9. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. II, Organization and Management of U.S. Foreign Policy, 1969–1972, Document 10.
  10. Reference to NSDM 5. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–209, National Security Decision Memoranda, NSDM 5)
  11. Not found.
  12. P.L. 87–297.
  13. P.L. 92–463.