The President’s Compliance with the “Timely Notification” Requirement of Section 501(b) of the National Security Act

Headnotes: 

Under the Constitution, the President has plenary authority to represent the United States and to pursue its interests outside the borders of the country, subject only to limits contained in the Constitution itself and to such statutory limitations as the Constitution permits Congress to impose by exercising one of its enumerated powers.

The conduct of secret negotiations and intelligence operations lies at the very heart of the President’s executive power. Statutory requirements that the President report to Congress about his activities in the realm of foreign policy must be construed consistently with his constitutional authority. A statute requiring the President to give Congress notice of covert operations “in a timely fashion” if he withholds prior notification should be construed to permit the President sufficient discretion to choose a reasonable moment for notifying Congress, including withholding notification at least until the secret diplomatic or covert undertaking has progressed to a point when disclosure will not threaten its success.

Updated July 9, 2014