National Security Directive

Quite a few five-alarm e-mails have arrived in my in box regarding a National Security Directive signed without much notice by President Bush on May 9. The sirens were screaming power grab, dictatorship on the way! Given our much abused sense of trust in our leaders the signing looked like it could be pretty bad news. Josh Marshall had some of his investigators look into the matter, and found there is less than there might be. Not even the ACLU is worried.

The consensus amongst experts seems to be that the directive, aimed at establishing “continuity of government” after a major disaster, is not new nor does the policy seem to expand executive power.

In fact, Mike German, the policy counsel to the ACLU’s Washington office told me (Laura McGann) that an executive continuity plan actually might “not be that bad of an idea.”

Executive power expert, NYU law professor David Golove, also sent me an email saying the directive didn’t appear to be a power grab.

National Security Presidential Directive 51 or Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20 is posted here. Have a look.

Presidential directives outlining how the executive branch will remain intact in the event of an emergency have been around since the Cold War. The directive posted this month is the first to be made public, to the best of German’s recollection. (A description of Clinton’s continuity directive is available here.) German called the release a positive sign, but said he urges the release of all previous directives so we can get a real sense of what has changed.


Does this lay the issue to rest? Not completely. Even if this NSD is not any different than the one Clinton signed (see complete article) the signers certainly are very dangerously different. However, it does seem some deep breathing is in order for those who believe the trap has been sprung and the barbed wire is rolling down the streets.

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