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FAS Public Interest Report
The Journal of the Federation of American Scientists
January/February 2001
Volume 54, Number 1
FAS Home | Download PDF | PIR Archive
Front Page
Low-Yield Earth-Penetrating Nuclear Weapons
A Faith-Based Science Policy?
FAS Welcomes Sherman to Staff
R&D A Priority For FAS Newest Project
Defense Export "Reforms" Revisited
FAS Obtains First Bush Presidential Directive

FAS Obtains First Bush Presidential Directive

By Steven Aftergood

In a small victory over bureaucratic secrecy, the FAS Project on Government Secrecy obtained a copy of the Bush Administration's first presidential directive, which the Administration had refused to officially release.

Such Presidential directives are used to establish and implement national security policy. Although they frequently authorize the commitment of government resources, they tend to escape any kind of oversight or accountability. They are often classified and more often than not are withheld from public disclosure. Even Congress is not routinely notified of their existence or contents.

According to a 1992 General Accounting Office study, the previous Bush Administration did not declassify any of its presidential directives in its first three years. (Several have been declassified since then.)

This habitual secrecy had been partially overcome in the Clinton Administration. Although most Clinton directives, then known as "Presidential Decision Directives," remain classified, President Clinton did authorize release of his first two directives in 1993 with no fuss at all.

But in a reversion to past practice, "the White House did not publicly release the directive, even though it is an unclassified document," the New York Times reported on February 16.

Nevertheless, FAS managed to obtain a copy of the document, designated National Security Presidential Directive 1 and entitled "Organization of the National Security Council System," from a public-spirited source.

The directive is hardly a state secret. But it is an important policy document, since it defines the structure of the national security decisionmaking process, which can sometimes be a major factor in shaping policy outcomes.

One hopes that the Bush Administration will still adopt a responsible policy concerning public access to official information. Until then, the text of National Security Presidential Directive 1 is available on the FAS web site at