Created by the National Security Act of 1947, now heavily amended, the NSC has statutory and ex officio memberships. Oddly the AG of the US is not a statutory member although former Senator Fritz Hollings brought the Senate within one vote of adding the AG to the Statutory membership. The result is that prior to the Obama Administration only two AG’s attended all the meetings of the Principals of the NSC, Robert Kennedy and Edward Meese, both attending as permanent Ex Officio members. There now is typically an NSC General Counsel but often in the past key decisions were made by the NSC without any legal review.
An intense discussion of revisions to the NSC and its role and the National Security State created by the 1947 Act took place prior to the Obama Administration. A useful CRS update appears at:
The National Security Council: An Organizational Assessment, updated April 21, 2008:
Also something called the Project for National Security Reform was expensively conducted on a bipartisan basis in 2008 resulting in a report with final recommendations. Almost none of the recommendations have been adopted with the exception that the staffs of the WH Homeland Secuirty Office and the NSC staff have been merged into something called the NSS-National Security Staff.
One of the lawyers for the PNSR that I know personally and think highly of Gordon Lederman is not counsel to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. That committee has been largely operated on a bipartisan basis with Senator Susan Collins and Joesph Lieberman. Since I am predicting control of the Senate being Republican after the 2012 election, I think that bipartisanship may well continue, as well may Gordon as Counsel. He is brilliant, motivated and expert. They need is counsel. In general however despite some yeoman hard work the Senate Committee has not be influential IMO on a number of key issues. What is hopeful to me is that they seem to agree with me that DHS priorities are (1) WMD prevention and control; (2) cyber security as part of Critical Infrastructure Protection; and the collection, analysis, and dessimination of domestic INTEL!
I am reading a wonderful book published in 2007 entitled “SAVAGE PEACE” by Ann Hagendorn about events in the US in the year following the signing of the Armistice in November 1918 ending hostilities in WWI. It is the best recent analysis I have seen of the events when the US Government conducted or allowed to be conducted domestic spy operations by its bureaus and private citizens. Civil Liberties and Privacy issues call for difficult line-drawing for a democracy (Our Republic) but as the oldest and richest democracy in the World we are being watched by others. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the NSC under its Advisors to the President have concerned themselves with critical domestic issues and it has concentrated on semi-operational involvement in foreign affairs and relations. It is this kind of involvement that has led to problems for NSC in the past and were I though thoroughly repudiated when Brent Scowcroft was NSC Advisor. Well the beat goes on.