KEEPERS OF THE KEYS by John Prados

KEEPERS OF THE KEYS

A History of the National Security Council from Truman to Bush

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A weighty and absorbing history of the metastatic growth of the National Security Council from a small advisory board into a vastly powerful bureaucratic colossus. Prados (Presidents' Secret Wars, 1986, etc.) chronicles persuasively how the Council, originally conceived by Truman as a ``channel for collective advice and information'' for the Executive Branch, and for coordination of intelligence activities, rapidly became the prime mover of American foreign, intelligence, and military policy, and ultimately ``acquired an institutional existence and importance few observers have yet accorded it.'' He contends that the Council, and the position of national security advisor, peaked in influence and effectiveness during the Eisenhower years, effectively coordinating policy among competing bureaucratic forces within the Executive Branch. Under Kennedy and his successors, however, the Council shifted subtly from a purely advisory role to a largely operational one. Reviewing the achievements of each of the 20 national security advisors, Prados shows that, especially in the Johnson and Nixon years, the national security advisor assisted in implementing rather than reviewing policy, ultimately resulting in the extralegal excesses of John Poindexter, Robert McFarlane, and Oliver North. The irony is that the position of national security advisor has no official existence (the Council was created by the National Security Act of 1947, and was supposed to be headed by an executive secretary), and that the Council's mission remains as nebulous in law as it is unclear in practice. Prados raises a number of interesting questions about the continued relevance and viability of the Council, and recommends reforming it by legislatively clarifying its role. A reflective, well-written, and much-needed history of a powerful and obscure institution, and a lesson on the self- perpetuating nature of bureaucracies. (Thirty-nine b&w photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: May 21st, 1991
ISBN: 0-688-07397-2
Page count: 916pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1991




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