Presidential Directives on National Security from Truman to Clinton

From the Marshall Plan to the Iran-Contra Affair, foreign policy continues to be intricate, multifaceted and controversial. Entire presidential campaigns are built around national security Presidential scorecards are tallied on the effect of an administration's foreign policy.

Focus of the Collection

Presidential Directives on National Security From Truman to Clinton provides a unique collection of documents pertaining to all aspects of U.S. national security policy---foreign, defense, intelligence, and international economic policy--and structure. The collection consists of over 2,100 documents totaling 30,855 pages, and covers all administrations from Truman to Clinton.

Truman and Eisenhower

The documents from the Truman and Eisenhower administrations are National Security Council (NSC) policy papers, which generally combined a study of a particular subject with policy recommendations. These papers were often accepted in their original form to become the basis for policy, or were sent back by the NSC for revision.

Kennedy and Johnson

A less formal system was introduced in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, which instituted the National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) series of documents. NSAMs included instructions to government departments or requests for studies, and the subject matter covered a range of topics from the Cuban missile crisis to the construction of an embassy in Dublin.

Nixon and Ford

The Nixon and Ford administrations established two parallel and interacting series of documents. Study directives (National Security Decision Memoranda, NSDM) commissioned either the NSC or government agencies to perform studies to serve as aids to decision making. Decision directives (National Security Decision Study Memoranda, NSSM) announced policy decisions, but might also ask for studies and reports.

Carter to Clinton

The system put in place during the Nixon administration has served as the model for all subsequent presidencies.

Comprehensive Coverage

The predominant source of documents in the collection is the National Security Council--the issuing agency for the Truman-Eisenhower policy papers, as well as the Kennedy NSAMs and decision and study directives of subsequent administrations. Sources for o ther studies and implementing documents include a wide range of government agencies, such as the Departments of State, Defense, and Justice; the Central Intelligence Agency; and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Pending Freedom of Information Act Requests

In addition to obtaining copies of Truman and Eisenhower papers from the National Archives and the relevant presidential libraries, the Archive has requested through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) all Kennedy and Johnson NSAMs, as well as all decision and study memoranda issued by subsequent administrations. It has also requested every study conducted in response to those memoranda. All documents that could be identified as implementing documents have also been requested.

Research Value

The Presidential Directives on National Security collection represents an indispensable resource for every researcher and scholar in the fields of government, the presidency, national security decision making, and post-war U.S. foreign, defense and economic policies.

The documents included constitute the most complete available record of presidential statements of policy on the critical issues facing the United States. This collection contains every presidential directive on national security from Truman to Clinton that has been declassified, as well as the widest possible range of studies contributing to these highest-level declarations.

Adding to the historical importance of these materials is the fact that they were intended to be internal documents for use only by the federal agencies and officials to whom they were addressed, and not for dissemination to the public or even Congress. Presidents have utilized the classified directives, many of which are top secret, as a primary means of defining and executing national security policy--and have vigorously rejected Congressional demands to review them. These top-level documents reflect actual presidential intentions, as opposed to public statements of purpose, which frequently leave out sensitive details and, on occasion, directly conflict with the stated goals of the administration.

Wide Scope of the Collection

Particular sets of issues such as U.S.-Soviet relations, U.S. non-proliferation policy, civil defense, U.S. Policy towards Asia, and nuclear issues can be studied within a particular administration or across all ten administrations. This makes it possible for a researcher to follow the evolution of a policy in detail. Alternatively, the entire range of national security decision-making, and international economic policies can be studied for a single administration, providing a sense of the president's priorities as well as the course he chose to follow on each issue.

Characteristics of the Document Set

The following charts provide information on the nature of the document set, listing the number of documents by presidential administration and document series:

Administration Number of Documents
Nixon/Ford 337
Carter 83
Bush 24
Clinton 4

Documents Series Number of Directives
and Related Documents:
National Security Council (NSC) 629
National Security Action Memoranda (NSAM) 548
National Security Decision Memoranda (NSDM) 150
National Security Study Memoranda (NSSM) 187
Presidential Directive (PD) 33
Presidential Review Memoranda (PRM) 50
National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 502
National Security Study Directive (NSSD) 31
National Security Directive (NSD) 19
National Security Council Report (NSCR) 5
Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) 2
Presidential Review Directive (PRD) 2



Presidential Directives on National Security From Truman to Clinton


Reproduces on microfiche 2,158 documents totaling 19,000 pages.


The microfiche are divided into two segments: documents from the Truman and Eisenhower administrations and documents from the Kennedy through Clinton administrations. For ease of use, the unique identification numbers assigned to documents are printed in eye-legible type at the top right hand corner and precede each document on the microfiche.


Documents are reproduced on silver halide positive-reading microfiche at a nominal reduction of 24x in envelopes. They are archivally permanent and conform to AIIM, BSI and ANSI standards.

A printed guide and index totaling 828 pages accompanies the microfiche collection. The Guide contains an essay on National Security Policy and Presidential Directives; events chronology; glossaries of names, organizations, technical terms, acronyms and abbreviations; a bibliography; and a catalog of documents. The set contains two indexes: the Creator and Recipient Index, and the Keyword Index. Both are arranged alphabetically and both provide in-depth, document-level access to subjects, individuals, and organizations.

Project Director:

Dr. Jeffrey Richelson, Consultant and Project Director. Dr. Richelson is noted for his scholarship in the field of U.S. and foreign intelligence. Dr. Richelson has authored numerous books, articles, and reviews about the organization, structure and activities of the intelligence community. His books include: The U.S. Intelligence Community , Foreign Intelligence Organizations, American Espionage and the Soviet Target, and America 's Secret Eyes in Space.

Orders and Inquiries

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