The Trump’s NSC Memo: Machiavellianism or Incompetence?

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

Robert J. Hanlon


On Saturday 28 January 2017, President Donald Trump issued a National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM-2) reorganizing the National Security Council. Much has been said and written about this Memo. But the US media missed a really good question: Why on earth was this Memo published and released to the public? Follow us on  Twitter: @Intel_Today

On Saturday (28/01/2017), President Trump publicly issued his first three National Security Directives.

NSPM-1 is entitled “Rebuilding the U.S. Armed Forces.”It requires a “readiness review”, and calls for a new Nuclear Posture Review and a Ballistic Missile Defense Review.

NSPM-2 is devoted to the “Organization of the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council.”It modifies the NSC structure.

RELATED POST: WHITE HOUSE: CIA back to the National Security Council

NSPM-3 calls for a “Plan to Defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”

The Trump White House released all of these directives and ordered publication of each of them in the Federal Register. This is simply unprecedented. National Security Directives are not required to be published and none has ever been published in the Federal Register.

Technically OK but unprecedented

It is technically true that “any presidential determination or directive can be published in the Federal Register, regardless of how it is styled,” as a 2000 opinion from the Justice of Department Office of Legal Counsel stated.

But for the past several decades, national security directives “were not required to be published in the Federal Register, were usually security classified at the highest level of protection, and were available to the public [only] after a great many years had elapsed, usually at the official library of the President who had approved them,” the Congressional Research Service said in a 2008 report.

Why then did  the Trump White House release all of these directives and ordered publication of each of them in the Federal Register?


Machiavellianism is “the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct”.

Perhaps, the public dissemination of the new Trump National Security Directives is a kind of performance to show the world who is the “Boss”.

However, it may have been  intended to send a message to foes around the world. And, at home, it may have been an attempt to lure his detractors into a political trap. Or whatever strategic plan along these lines…

Or Incompetence?

You may have noticed that these three “Presidential National Security Directives” were designated “National Security Presidential Memoranda” (NSPMs).

A “Presidential Memorandum” is not related to National Security and is often published in the Federal Register.

An earlier version of NSPM-1 obtained by the Washington Post was captioned as a “Presidential Memorandum”.

It would therefore appear that someone has drafted the first Trump “Presidential Directives” using a template for an ordinary “Presidential Memorandum” rather than the template for a national security directive.

In fact, the three NSPMs are also included in the “presidential memoranda” section of the White House website. And each of them is confusingly labeled on the index page as a “presidential memorandum,” not an NSPM!


All three NSPMs end with a sentence like this one:

“The Secretary is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.”

Please, notice the word: “memorandum”.


You will draw your own conclusions. But the nervousness of Sean Spicer during the press conference speaks volumes…

S. Spicer: President Trump will add the CIA back into the NSC.


Trump Broadcasts His National Security Directives — Secrecy News

This entry was posted in NSC, Trump and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s