President of the United States (Executive Command and Control of Intelligence Agencies)

President of the United States (Executive Command and Control of Intelligence Agencies)


As commander in chief, the President of the United States oversees not only all U.S. military forces, but U.S. national security as a whole. In this capacity, the President exercises executive command and control of intelligence agencies, and issues executive orders and presidential directives that shape national security policy. The nation's 14 largest intelligence agencies belong to the Intelligence Community, whose leader, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), reports directly to the President. Executive oversight of intelligence also emanates through the National Security Council (NSC) and the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB). The President in turn presents intelligence budgets to the U.S. Congress, which exercises checks and balances on executive power.

Architect of National Security

The modern age of national security began in 1947, with the passage of the National Security Act, which reorganized the Department of Defense (DOD) and established the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and NSC. Prior to that time, the President had always exercised control over the armed forces as commander in chief, but now he also supervised a nascent security and intelligence apparatus destined to grow considerably over the years.

The modern President articulates much of his role as director of national security policy through executive orders and, more recently, presidential directives. Executive orders, which originated under the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt and grew considerably in number after World War II, are theoretically subject to congressional override, but in practice amount to executive edicts. Important executive orders from the 1970s and onward have addressed issues such as the organization of the Intelligence Community and the handling of classified documents.

Whereas executive orders are open to the public, presidential directives are classified, and knowledge of their content only emerges, if at all, after the fact. These directives have guided security and intelligence policy since the administration of President John F. Kennedy, and each administration has sought to place its own stamp on them by giving them specific titles as a class. For example, they were known as national security directives under George H. W. Bush, presidential decision directives under William J. Clinton, and national security presidential directives under George W. Bush.

In 1986, Congress called on presidents to issue an annual National Security Strategy (NSS), a document outlining the blueprint for national security. Prior to the 2002 NSS of George W. Bush, these usually did little more than simply restate policies then in effect. The Bush NSS, on the other hand, outlined an explicit framework for U.S. actions to be taken in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The Advisors

In directing intelligence policy, the President relies on Cabinet-level advisors whose departments have a role in national security. Most notable among these are the secretaries of State, Defense, Homeland Security, Energy, and the Treasury, as well as the Attorney General. Other Cabinet officials, including the secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Transportation, also support some national-security functions, and may be called upon for advice relating to their specific areas.

The role of the Vice-President as advisor varies as a function of his relationship with the President. Kennedy, for instance, worked little with Lyndon B. Johnson, whose inclusion on the winning 1960 ticket had resulted from a marriage of convenience designed to attract conservative Southern Democrats. On the other hand, George W. Bush has relied heavily on Vice-President Dick Cheney, who served in the administration of his father.

The NSC. The Vice President is, along with the secretaries of State and Defense, a statutory member of the NSC, as is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the DCI. The chairman of the NSC is the President himself. Intended to serve as the principal advisory board on matters of national security and foreign policy, the NSC has in practice functioned to a level of importance determined by the chief executive.

In general, Democratic presidents have tended to take an ad hoc approach to the NSC, while Republicans, starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower, have relied more heavily on the NSC, or at least on the National Security Advisor, who played an important role in the administrations of Richard M. Nixon, George W. Bush, and others. The role of the National Security Advisor, officially titled the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, is not mentioned in the National Security Act, and emerged only during the Kennedy administration.

In addition to the four statutory members, the two statutory advisors on military and intelligence affairs, and the National Security Advisor, the Secretary of the Treasury is a regular attendee at NSC meetings. The Chief of Staff to the President, Counsel to the President, and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy are invited to attend any NSC meeting, while the Attorney General and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) are invited to attend those meetings that pertain to their responsibilities. The directors of other executive departments and agencies, as well as other senior officials, are called to attend when appropriate. Under the George W. Bush administration, the Director (later Secretary) of Homeland Security has been a regular participant in NSC meetings.

PFIAB. Established by President Eisenhower in 1956, PFIAB is an independent advisory board within the Executive Office of the President. It consists of 16 uncompensated members, selected by the President from outside the ranks of government. PFIAB reviews the activities and performance of all agencies involved in intelligence activities, and advises the President on its assessments of their performance. It also provides the President with input on the objectives, conduct, and coordination of activities by members of the Intelligence Community.

Under the aegis of the PFIAB is the three-member Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB), established by President Gerald Ford in 1976. The IOB is responsible for oversight regarding the legality and propriety of intelligence activities, particularly—according to its charter—those "intelligence activities that the IOB believes may be unlawful or contrary to executive order or presidential directive." Originally an independent body, the IOB became a standing committee of the PFIAB in 1997.

The Intelligence Community, Budgeting, and Congress

In addition to leading the CIA, DCI serves as the President's principal advisor on intelligence matters. He also leads the Intelligence Community, which, along with CIA, includes 13 other agencies within the departments of Defense, State, Energy, Justice, the Treasury, and Homeland Security. Among the members of the Intelligence Community are the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, and Defense Intelligence Agency.

DCI reports to the President both directly and (depending on the operational structure of the administration in question) through the National Security Advisor. As head of the Intelligence Community, DCI presents the President with the annual Intelligence Community budget, known as the National Foreign Intelligence Program (NFIP).

In preparing the budget for intelligence and national security activities in the coming fiscal year, the President also relies on the Secretary of Defense. The latter presents the President with two budgets: the Joint Military Intelligence Program (JMIP) for military intelligence, and Tactical Intelligence and Related Areas (TIARA) for specific tactical intelligence requirements of the military services.

Using the NFIP, JMIP, and TIARA budgets, the President proceeds to establish an overall DOD intelligence budget with the help of the National Security Advisor and the OMB. He then presents these requests to Congress, which, once it approves the request, passes the annual intelligence authorization act. The latter originated in the late 1970s, as a result of congressional distrust toward the executive branch in the fallout from the Watergate scandal.

Intelligence authorization acts, in addition to numerous mechanisms for direct congressional oversight of intelligence, gives Congress influence over intelligence activities. In the case of the intelligence authorization process, Congress may refuse budgeting for certain requested activities, with the result being a tug-of-war between the White House and Capitol Hill. On the other hand, the President himself may veto intelligence authorization acts, which also include other, non-budgetary, provisions.



Andrew, Christopher M. For the President's Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush. New York: HarperCollins, 1995.

Gore, Albert. The Intelligence Community: Accompanying Report of the National Performance Review, Office of the Vice President. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993.

Helgerson, John L. Getting to Know the President: CIA Briefings of Presidential Candidates, 1952–1992. Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency, 1996.

Mann, Thomas E. A Question of Balance: The President, Congress. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1990.

Thompson, Kenneth W. The President, the Bureaucracy, and World Regions in Arms Control. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1998.


Executive Orders and Presidential Directives
Intelligence Authorization Acts, United States Congress
Intelligence Community
Intelligence, United States Congressional Oversight
National Security Strategy, United States
NIC (National Intelligence Council)
NSC (National Security Council)
PFIAB (President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board)
Politics: The Briefings of United States Presidential Candidates
United States, Intelligence and Security

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