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National Security Act

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National Security Act



In the aftermath of World War II, the National Security Act provided a major reorganization of the U.S. defense and intelligence agencies. As amended, the Act provides “a comprehensive program for the future security of the United States” through the integration of the policies and procedures of U.S. military, intelligence, and national security agencies, and the coordination of national security policy. 50 U.S.C. § 401 (23pp | 250kb | PDF).

General Provisions

As amended, the National Security Act created or modified much of the U.S. intelligence, defense, and national security communities. The Intelligence Reform And Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA)  (236pp | 1.3mb | PDF) substantially revised the Act.  The National Security Act and its subsequent amendments:

  • reorganized the Intelligence Community,
  • reorganized the Department of Defense,
  • established the National Security Council,
  • established the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA),
  • established the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) who serves as the head of the Intelligence Community (IC), overseeing and directing the implementation of the National Intelligence Program and acting as the principal advisor to the President, the National Security Council, and the Homeland Security Council for intelligence matters related to the national security,
  • established the National Counterterrorism Center to serve as a multiagency center analyzing and integrating all intelligence pertaining to terrorism, including threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad (implementing a key “9/11 Commission” recommendation),
  • mandated the development of procedures for the disclosure of foreign intelligence information acquired in criminal investigations and for notice of criminal investigations of foreign intelligence sources,
  • mandated the development of procedures for access to classified information, and
  • provided for presidential and congressional oversight of intelligence activities.


The Act has been extensively amended and added to over the past 60 years. Amendments and additions relevant to the ISE include those provided by the USA PATRIOT Act, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA), and the National Security Intelligence Reform Act of 2004.

Privacy and Other Civil Liberties Implications

The National Security Act, as amended by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA), requires the creation of a Civil Liberties Protection Officer within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. 50 U.S.C. § 403-3d. The Civil Liberties Protections Officer (CLPO) reports directly to the DNI and is responsible for:

  • ensuring that privacy and civil liberties protections are incorporated into the ODNI’s policies and procedures,
  • ensuring that personal information is handled in accordance with the Privacy Act, and
  • conducting privacy impact assessments. 50 U.S.C. § 403-3d(b).

Title VII of the National Security Act requires the CIA, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Security Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency to:

  • exempt operational files from provisions of the Freedom of Information Act that would otherwise require publication or disclosure, but also requires those agencies to
  • permit search and review of operational files for information concerning “United States citizens or aliens lawfully admitted for permanent residence who have requested information on themselves” under the Freedom of Information Act or the Privacy Act. 50 U.S.C. Chapter 15, Subchapter V (4pp | 20kb | PDF).