Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 13, 2014

NSS becomes NSC (again) and why it matters to HS and homeland security

Filed under: Homeland Defense,Organizational Issues,State and Local HLS — by Philip J. Palin on February 13, 2014

From the White House website, February 10, 2014:


– – – – – – –


By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in order to reflect my decision to change the name of the National Security Staff to the National Security Council staff, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Name Change. All references to the National Security Staff or Homeland Security Council Staff in any Executive Order or Presidential directive shall be understood to refer to the staff of the National Security Council…

And it continues briefly bureaucratic.  See it all here if you wish.


Monday’s Executive Order undoes the never-really-accepted early administration decision to call the newly combined NSC staff and HSC (Homeland Security Council) staff the National Security Staff.

This NSS fig leaf was mostly an awkward reminder of a brief dalliance with a sort of security separate from the defense-foreign policy-intelligence community condominium.  Rather as if someone from the Upper East Side had married into a family with a double-wide.

Finally we can put that foolishness aside.  Rather than silly fig-leafs, the virility and fertility of the National Security state can be proudly displayed.  The executive order merely confirming continuing practice and the strong preference of staffers.


As someone who abides in that homeland security double-wide all I can really say is that the national security types are smart, capable, and know how to play the policy and power game better than me.  They are tougher than I am and much better networked.  They won this battle — well, for them barely a skirmish — hands-down.  If they had the time or inclination to notice, I would offer my hand in congratulation.

This may strike some as passive-aggressive.  I hope instead it reflects a balance of realism and pride that persists even in losing an important contest.

I still believe what I told the House Homeland Security Committee back in April 2009.  Here’s an excerpt of my testimony:

For more than fifty years, the National Security Council has ably served the Commander-in-Chief. Every element of the NSC’s organizational DNA reflects the responsibilities and power of the Commander-in-Chief. In foreign and defense policy –and the intelligence agencies supporting foreign and defense policy – the President’s authority is preeminent. The NSC has been a creature of that preeminence. Even with the legal, budgetary, and direct command-and-control authority of the President, the NSC can have difficulty doing what is needed to coordinate defense, foreign affairs, and intelligence policy. But after fifty years there is an authoritative NSC institutional ethos that well serves the President and the nation.

This same ethos will often be counter-productive in solving Homeland Security problems… For the purposes of domestic counter-terrorism and prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery the authority of the Commander-in-Chief is not what matters. Most of the Governors will not respond positively to a command and control approach.  Neither will the Adjutants General, nor County Sheriffs, nor most Mayors, nor police chiefs, nor emergency managers, and then there is the private sector that actually owns most of our critical infrastructure. These are partners who must be cultivated.

Some have argued that more of a command-and-control culture is needed to motivate sufficient attention to domestic counterterrorism. It is true that many local jurisdictions across the United States do not give sufficient priority to counterterrorism. But we cannot command them to do otherwise. We cannot even pay them enough to do otherwise. If we are serious about preventing latter day Beslans or Mumbais – or worse, we must do the hard work of communicating, cooperating, building relationships, developing trust, and engaging together in meaningful local and regional risk analysis. Only when state and local authorities are ready – of their own volition – to invest time, energy, and their own dollars into consistent counterterrorism work will we be closer to real defense-in-depth regarding the terrorist threat.

Local authorities are – not unreasonably – actively engaged with disasters that threaten with some regularity: floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, earthquakes… each place and each region is different. They are not inclined to give sufficient attention to threats that are outside the pattern. They tend to undervalue a whole continuum of catastrophic possibilities: intentional, accidental, and natural. Given limited financial and human resources this tendency is understandable. Given recent financial extremities the tendency has been exacerbated.

The Federal government can and should play a role in helping ensure reasonable local attention to catastrophic possibilities – including terrorism. The federal government can play this role through consulting, educating, training, making grants, and through a variety of other mechanisms. When the federal government engages state and local authorities –and private sector — as peers and fellow professionals, the response will usually be productive. Ordering or even paying state and local professionals to do something they don’t believe in tends to produce very creative avoidance behavior.

These practical issues reflect in a wonderful way our constitutional system. We are dramatically reminded that the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, not the nation. We are forced to recall that we are – even now – a federal union of sovereign states… and a robust society of free peoples who do not salute any master.

Re-reading this testimony five years later I am a bit embarrassed by the prose, but the experience of these years have further reinforced my judgment regarding the substance.

The contentious issue at hand is not a matter of intention or capability, but culture. I love the Upper East Side. I spend all the time I can at the Met, Guggenheim, elsewhere near-by. And at my home in the mountains our nearest neighbor does, indeed, live in a double-wide. Each of these worlds is real. Each is vitally important to our common future. Each tends to disdain each and in the process our shared strength is diminished.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

February 13, 2014 @ 1:19 am

A terrific post! And reflects recent discussion on HLS Watch.

Your testimony stands the test of time nicely!

I think we now can clearly see the coming demise of the HLS paradigm by some future administration and some future Congress. Why?

Basically the the NSS [National Security State] and its minions does not understand (1) the nuances of federalism; nor (2) that the President is NOT the Commander-In-Chief of all citizens and residents of the USA and non-federal executive branch organizations.

The NSS desires order and stability not the chaos of a federal system and democracy. And there is a fundamental elitism and entitlement to those who run the NSS. We know best despite the ever more rapid acceleration in the demise of American hard and soft power in the American Century that began in 1945.

David Halberstam brilliantly chronicled how and why the “Best and the Brightest” misled the nation during the Viet Nam war.

Does this nation intend that former Governors are the only source of its leadership when few under the NSS or FP before their ascension to the NSS?

Has a single productive HLS concept helpful to long term domestic resilience of American life come out of the newly combined NSC and HSC staff?

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 13, 2014 @ 1:30 am

Clearly there needs to be a single permanent standing joint committee on NATIONAL SECURITY eliminating the Armed Services Committees and the Homeland Security Committees.

And there should be a permanent standing Joint Committee on FEDERALISM!

Both these recommended new permanent standing committees would comment and participate on developing new or revised legislation that impacts their areas of concern.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 13, 2014 @ 1:41 am

Extract from Wikipedia:

The Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, commonly referred to as the National Security Advisor (abbreviated NSA, or sometimes APNSA or ANSA to avoid confusion with the abbreviation of the National Security Agency), is a senior official in the Executive Office of the President who serves as the chief advisor, stationed in the White House, to the President of the United States on national security issues. This person also participates in the meetings of the National Security Council. The National Security Advisor’s office is located in the West Wing of the White House. He or she is supported by the National Security Council staff that produces research, briefings, and intelligence for the APNSA to review and present either to the National Security Council or directly to the President.

The current Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs is Susan Rice, who assumed the role on July 1, 2013.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 13, 2014 @ 1:46 am

Extract from wikipedia:

Susan Elizabeth Rice (born November 17, 1964) is the United States National Security Advisor. Rice is a former U.S. diplomat, former Brookings Institution fellow, and former United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Rice served on the staff of the National Security Council, and as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during President Bill Clinton’s second term. Rice was confirmed as UN ambassador by the U.S. Senate by unanimous consent on January 22, 2009.

Rice’s name was mentioned as a possible replacement for retiring Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in 2013 after President Barack Obama’s November 2012 re-election, but on December 13, following ongoing controversy related to the 2012 Benghazi attack on the U.S consulate, she announced that she was willingly withdrawing her name from consideration saying that if nominated “the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive, and costly”.

Rice succeeded Tom Donilon as National Security Advisor on July 1, 2013.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 13, 2014 @ 1:55 am

The largest ongoing umbrella NATIONAL SECURITY policy discourse has been labeled R2P [Responsibilty to Protect]!

This is code for the debate over whether the US, even outside the UN, has a moral or legal obligation to protect citizens or residents within the borders of any given nation-state from the organized forces of that nation-state or other internal or external political factions.

IMO each Presidential candidate should articulate his/her position or lack thereof on R2P!

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 13, 2014 @ 2:04 am

To those who doubt the NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL staff can bring creative thinking to the domestic arena I point to the following document:

Emergency Mobilization Preparedness, National Security Decision Directive 47, July 22, 1982

This IMO was the first and almost only Presidential level document speaking to an all-hazards approach and an attempt to be able to smoothly mobilize all of the Nation’s resources, both military and civil, to a large-scale catastrophic incident or event.

It is most readily available at:


Comment by William R. Cumming

February 13, 2014 @ 2:07 am

Whether correctly or not, Ms. Rice, the National Security Adviser, has been close associated with potential adoption of the R2P doctrine.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 13, 2014 @ 2:28 am

Some might find of interest a brief historical footnote on my permanent website at http://www.vacationlanegrp.com

Cumming, W. R. 2005.The NSC’s 1988 Staff Effort to Create a National Security Emergency Plan for Large Scale Domestic Events. (Word document – 4 pages).

Comment by Arnold Bogis

February 13, 2014 @ 3:13 am

I’m just not sure that the divide you reference actually exists.

In other words, the homeland security community you seem to reference exists, operates, and evolves outside of the federal system. Traditional national security players do not. Those who identify as “homeland” want to play in that world.

Let them.

At the end of the day, perhaps we should just let those hard working staffers earn the title they wish to put on their resumes and LinkedIn profiles.

They put in the time. They put in the work. Unfortunately, at the end of the day it may have all been for naught. And for good reason…

Comment by Philip J. Palin

February 13, 2014 @ 5:58 am

Bill and Arnold (others):

In Presidential Study Directive 1, the President said:

“I believe that Homeland Security is indistinguishable from National Security — conceptually and functionally, they should be thought of together rather than separately. Instead of separating these issues, we must create an integrated, effective, and efficient approach to enhance the national security of the United States.”

Conceptually I can agree (with footnotes). Functionally I’m less agreeable. There are issues of federalism and practicality that complicate full functional coordination (or even collaboration). Some of these are referenced in my testimony. Bill has identified others.

But it is the cultural differences that cause me the most concern. Arnold’s point that homeland security (no caps) is mostly non-federal and should simply be allowed to flourish in its native range is valid… more than 90 percent of the time.

But there are challenges where the federal-state/local-private interface will be crucial to national security, the survival of many, and more.

The predominance of the NSC ethos over the last five years has, at least, missed plenty of opportunities to close the gap. I expect (but would be hard-pressed to prove)the NSC ethos has contributed to deepening the gap.

To sharpen my definition of the NSC ethos, I suggest it is:

1. Threat-oriented (very much to the neglect of vulnerability analysis)
2. Animated by the Constitutional authority of the Commander-in-Chief that emerged from WWII and the Cold War. Command-and-Control is a positive value.
3. Predisposed to secrecy and gathering secrets.
4. Preoccupied with the “Interagency”, that especially rarefied world of principals and deputies and related that is a complex sub-culture all its own (Procopius where art thou?).
5. More familiar with Paris than Peoria, more likely to have spent quality time in Lahore, Kabul or Shanghai than most of what I heard referenced yesterday as “fly-over land”.
6. Characterized by beliefs and behaviors that are largely efficacious when applied within the preceding frames.

In trying to sharpen my definition I do not mean to be attacking any of this. This is a helpful ethos, in its domain. It is an ethos to be nourished and honored, when it is applied to its targeted problem-set.

It is not an ethos well-suited for dealing effectively with the homeland security domain, which remains without an effective narrative partly because it has been roughly wedged into a preexisting narrative of national security.

To achieve the vision set out in PSD-1 would have required a significant adjustment in the NSC ethos. This was actually conceived as being achieved through the National Security Professional Development Program. Whether the conception was Quixotic or not, it was certainly never sufficiently funded or activated.

So instead, the NSC ethos has, mostly, absorbed and thereby suppressed progress in addressing the intergovernmental and private-public challenges of potentially catastrophic events.

Comment by John Comiskey

February 13, 2014 @ 6:34 am

Phil’s point about the federal government “ordering or even paying state and local professionals to do something they don’t believe in tends to produce very creative avoidance behavior” resonates with one of Bellavita’s defensible definitions of HLS, JURISDICTIONAL HAZARDS.See: http://www.hsaj.org/?article=4.2.1

The JURISDICTIONAL HAZARDS definition of HLS holds that HLS means something different in each jurisdiction. One application of the JURISDICTIONAL HAZARDS definition might be:

Border States like Texas are naturally more interested in border and immigration issues.

Big cities like NYC are less interested in those issues and sometimes provide aid and documentation to undocumented persons. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/11/nyregion/de-blasio-state-of-the-city-speech.html?hpw&rref=nyregion&_r=0

Bill’s point of a standing joint committee on federalism merits attention.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 13, 2014 @ 10:44 am

As always thanks Arnold, Phil, and John for thughtful comments.

It happens that I have some expertise in the world of personnel security clearances and document classification.

And as always interested in FIRST PRINCIPlES of HLS and NS [national security]!

One first principle derives from my series of lectures to FEMA appointees and civil servants. It also was incorporated into my series of lectures to fly away teams in OFAs and instruction to other agencies on their EMERGENCY AUTHORITIES, or lack thereof. And finally of course I briefed high ranking DoJ and DoD officialdom onFEMA and the President’s role as Chief Executive! Yes John Woo and others Constitutionally the Office of the Presidency is not unitary. A FIRST PRINCIPLE BY THE WAY!

One key first Principle I now share here!


There NO exceptions. The doctrine of COMITY in the criminal justice system may come close but it does not violate the principle. It usually involves who shall prosecute a PERP!

You might be surprised to learn that while I always invited open disagreement in my lectures there was almost none and not on this issue.

In lecturing DoD officials and serving officers in the Armed Forces the subject of MARTIAL LAW crept in as an adjunct to the first principle announced above.

Mary Lawton, Esq., an official in the DOJ/OLC and a principal drafter of the CIPA [Classified Information
Procedures Act] and the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] after some discussion with me and others, and provision of DoD materials on MARTIAL LAW realized there were huge issues and Constitutional violations buried in the DoD training materials. Various JAG officials had approved these materials but they never had even been reviewed DoJ!

Mary drafted a monograph on MILITARY SUPPORT TO CIVIL AUTHORITIES, and after review, it was issued in 1980. It also discussed MARTIAL LAW! It correctly concluded that MARTIAL LAW could only become effective on decision by the President in a limited geographic area after a formal recommendation by the AG to the President and his/her approval.

This document caused a revolution in DoD and the military JAGs. The document, now approaching 4o years on has never been updated. It needs to be and even before my retirement in 1999 I had recommended to each GC of FEMA they formally request such an update, and the importance of the document, no such request was made.

Now DoD in its regulations and guidance has crept back into the arena with full-fledged backing of the power of local area commanders to prevent disruptions of military operations. N.B. there is a separate monograph on MILITARY SUPPORT FOR RIOTS AND DISORDERS! Any alarm bells ringing States and local government officials?

All DoD guidance impacting States and their local governments should be reviewed by State AG associations. Few have the staff or funding to do this however.

And finally Arnold, Phil, and John ask yourself how and when do State and Local officialdom get a security clearance? Who decides it and under what conditions? And who pays for the background investigation and conducts the adjudication? AND WHO DECIDES NEED TO KNOW?

Note that upon election to Congress each member is given a security clearance at the Secret level out a background investigation. Why not Governors? Both groups have some problematic members!

Well hoping this background helps in understanding the two cultures [or is it more?]!

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 13, 2014 @ 1:48 pm

If memory serves there still is a statutory Homeland Security Council, originally created by Presidential Executive Order, and then mandated by Congress in statute [Homeland Security Act of 2002?] but without staff under President Obama.

I think we can safely conclude at this point that preservation of Constitutional nuances that help preserve our democracy [Republic] from the militarists not an Obama strong point.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

February 13, 2014 @ 5:43 pm


I do not disagree with your larger point, but I would argue that NYC is also very concerned about border and immigration issues. But providing aid and some form of documentation addresses what it perceives as the related issues that impact directly on daily life, safety, and security in a city such as New York. The lens through which it looks at the same issue differs from that of Texas or Arizona, hence different policy outcomes. But that is not to say the City of New York is less interested.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

February 13, 2014 @ 6:44 pm


I agree with your overall argument, and very much appreciate your description of NSC staff culture. However, I think this battle was lost long before you testified or the staffs were merged.

It was likely lost at the moment of conception as a federal entity. I would like to think that if the Department of Homeland Security was never created, the issues you identify would not have emerged. The original conception was an office within the White House. Tom Ridge was originally a staffer (though much of his staff came out of national security). But when Lieberman and other Democrats began moving legislation for a new department, the White House didn’t want to be seen as behind the ball on security post-9/11. So a few men gathered in the basement of the White House and drew up the plans for what would become DHS (not a personal conspiracy theory — see Richard Falkenrath in what I remember as an International Security journal article).

In an alternate universe where it remained just an office within the White House, could it have evolved more along the lines of the the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) rather than the NSC? For Presidents who wish to hear their advice, the Science Adviser (currently John Holdren)provides science input and background for the whole range of issues that come to the President. Not just those concerned with national security. Maybe that could have been the future of a homeland security office, rather than a department.

Unfortunately, that probably wouldn’t have happened. At least not in that environment. Post-9/11, homeland security was focused on terrorism. Even if it remained an office rather than a department, it was born in a counter-terrorism environment, not an all-hazards one. In the years prior to Katrina it likely would have become co-opted, if not consumed, but the national security staff.

Perhaps I’m simply too negative?

Btw, reading the Politico.com article on the name change, I’m chalking this up to Susan Rice wanting to manage her staff and bowing to their desires/concern that their service will not be seen as prestigious as previous staff and perhaps post-Administration employment not as lucrative. And yes, despite my derision I’d jump at one of those positions…

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 13, 2014 @ 7:54 pm

If I could enlighten Susan Rice and her minions on FEDERALISM I would have her read the article below and have her staff also be provided copies:

Clovis, Samuel. “Federalism, Homeland Security and National Preparedness: A Case Study in the Development of Public Policy.” Homeland Security Affairs 2, issue 3 (October 2006)

And by the way Professor Clovis is running for the US Senate in Iowa this year as a Republican!

Comment by JD

February 14, 2014 @ 2:25 pm

PSD-1 killed the nascent homeland endeavor in the White House Staff, and this just is the official death certificate. On the upside, perhaps less White House micromanagement of the executive agencies involved in HS/EM? Good post and comments.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 19, 2014 @ 9:38 am

In my opinion the President should have consulted or notified Congress before taking this action or intended to take this action. Why?

He has totally confused his roles as Commander In Chief and Chief Executive.

My guess is Sam Clovis would agree!

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