Carter's Internship CSIS | Working Remotely
Week 9/10: Finding the Little Things in an Online Internship
Week of July 26 and August 3
This week's blog post is also going to be a little bit different. Like many college students—and other people in the AGS summer fellows program—I've spent the summer trying to figure out how to make the most of an online internship. I've been sad to miss out on the free food that I was promised in the think tank world, but other than that it's gone more smoothly than expected.
I've been extremely thankful for my CSIS bosses and co-workers, who've definitely felt bad for me over the virtual internship and have struck a balance between regular-enough check-ins that it doesn't feel too much like I'm just working on my own, and enough flexibility that I don't have to worry about balancing strict 9-to-5 hours with a pandemic.
There's certainly less of an "intern culture" than we might have otherwise had—by virtue of not being in the same building—but both CSIS and other interns have made an effort to set up some events for interns to meet and feel like part of a group. Adding on to "people going out of their way to make virtual internships less odd," the already-awkward "chat over coffee" networking experience is even more awkward over Zoom, but people are more willing than ever to make a few minutes to do it anyway. That's been especially helpful to me, given that I've been on a fairly small team for the summer.
My big takeaway from the experience is that while it's clearly been non-ideal to be working online (first in D.C. then in Durham), I'm thankful for the people who've gone out of their way to make it as useful of an experience as possible. On that topic, I'm also excited to say that I'll be continuing to do work for CSIS in the fall while returning to Duke for classes! I'll still have a final-wrap up blog post for the summer but I'm excited to see my project through to its conclusion—which turned out to be more work than could be fit into a summer internship.
Week 8: The Broad Strokes of NSC History
Week of July 19
Unlike past weeks, this post is going to be a little bit more academic—I'm going to try to put pen to paper on very briefly describing the progress of the NSC from Truman through Nixon.
The National Security Council under Truman was virtually unrecognizable to anyone familiar with the modern system. At a broad level, there was no position congruous with the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs—instead, the Executive Secretary—self-described as an "administrative assistant—led the NSC staff as a coordinator, keeping files and briefing the President daily. In keeping with the role of the Executive Secretary as a neutral bureaucrat, the NSC itself was largely subordinate to both the Defense Department (once it was created it Summer 1949) and in particular to the State Department. It had few planning or coordination functions of its own, and largely managed agenda items referred to it from State.
The broad outline of the modern NSC was arguably created under Eisenhower, who immediately beefed up the formal structure of the system. He added planning functions (the Planning Board) and coordination functions (the Operations Coordinating Board) to the NSC system. Important, by March 1953, he had approved a recommendation from Robert Cutler to make Cutler the first APNSA. The Executive Secretary—a statutory position—remained as a staff secretary, but was superceded in control of the system by the APNSA. Eisenhower also strengthened the formal output of the NSC staff, including adding a financial appendix to all NSC papers.
If Eisenhower was the pinnacle of formal structure (albeit often ignored in practice), Kennedy and Johnson were at the other end of the spectrum. The Planning Board and OCB were immediately abolished, and neither of their functions were replicated until Johnson created the Senior Interdepartmental Group to oversee interdepartmental coordination in 1966. Both Kennedy and Johnson also preferred to meet outside of the formal National Security Council—Kennedy with the Executive Committee (EXCOMM) of the NSC and Johnson with his Tuesday Luncheon Group. The distinction between these subgroups and the full Council are, to my mind, somewhat overblown; both included the core of the NSC system, the Secretaries of State and Defense. That being said, neither was particularly invested in the NSC staff as the locus of national security policy-making—in the words of Cambridge historian Andrew Preston, Kennedy wanted to both have the State Department administer the NSC, and act as his own Secretary of State.
Of all the NSC systems, the Nixon system (followed by Eisenhower) has the largest gulf between formal structure and actual execution. Henry Kissinger came into office promising to restore the formality of the Eisenhower years, rejecting the centralizing of power in the backroom deals of the Kennedy/Johnson administration. Nixon laid out these plans in National Security Decision Memorandum 2, issued immediately post-inauguration: "The National Security Council shall be the principal forum for consideration of policy issues requiring Presidential determination." Nixon & Kissinger restored formal planning and coordination functions to the Council, with specialized coordination groups for handling defense policy and arms control. On the face of it, they followed through on their promise to return to the Eisenhower system. In some ways it worked—the NSC did indeed return to greater prominence than in the 1960s. In others it did not—in practice, Kissinger exercised such control over the NSC as APNSA, chairing the six top-level interdepartmental groups—that the formal system has less impact that the personal relationships, both between Nixon & Kissinger and from Kissinger down to his staff.
This is a very bare bones description, but it's helpful to me to try to lay out some of the broad strokes as I try to fill in the gaps in the details. Please let me know if you spot any big factual errors—and hopefully I'll have more to share with y'all on the website soon.
Week 7: Don't Research Topics Your Boss Wrote a Dissertation On
Week of July 12
Since the last time that I wrote, I’ve been juggling my internship with the reality that the Fall semester will be getting underway in less than a month (and Duke is still making announcements about how exactly it will work). Despite that, it looks like I’ll end up staying on at CSIS until I wrap up this research project on the NSC, which is very exciting as someone who hates leaving projects unfinished.
The past two weeks have focused on both building the website—which is still under construction—and learning about the Nixon administration.
Among the things that I’ve learned: researching any topic that your boss wrote a dissertation on stressful. Despite that, it’s been a fascinating couple of weeks.
While it’s been a slow process at times, it’s been satisfying to see my research come together—both the spreadsheets and visuals that have come out of the project make me feel as though I’ve spent the summer becoming somewhat of an expert on the history of the NSC, which is exciting given that I barely knew what it was a year ago. All the credit goes to the American Grand Strategy seminar for jumpstarting my interest in it—goes to show what one interesting class can lead to in terms of professional opportunities.
Speaking of professional opportunities, over the past couple of weeks I’ve had the chance to get in touch with Duke alumni within the think tank world, and particularly at CSIS. While it’s a bit of an odd summer for introductions over coffee (and I miss the D.C. coffee shops), it’s really hammered home how many Duke alumni have had fascinating career paths in national security and foreign policy.
Week 5: From Memos to Visuals
Week of June 28, 2020 and Week of July 5
The big news of the past couple weeks is that I (well, really CSIS) am the proud new owner of NSChistory.com, which is currently under construction but will be coming soon. My 12,000 word spreadsheet will soon be significantly more accessible, and I'll be able to share it here as soon as I figure out how to use WordPress!
In other news, it might be a sign of having spent too much time researching the NSC, but the small details and tidbits that pop up are still entertaining to me. This project is interesting—and somewhat unique among projects I've worked on—in that it's fairly narrowly focused (the NSC rarely has more than 100 or 200 staff), but looks at it over 70+ years. Some of the exciting parts of that are actually substantive—looking at when Presidents abolish or bring back certain policy areas or functions, but looking at the NSC over time also brings up regular instances where memos or reports are blatantly ignored by either superiors or successors, which is particularly common in the mid-century NSC world.
For instance, take the advice that Henry Kissinger's predecessor gave him as Kissinger was coming into office: "The President's National Security Advisor should be prepared to put aside all personal feelings and ambitions and to ignore criticism in the press." Something tells me that Kissinger may not quite have taken that to heart.
Apart from my internship, I've been working on a research project cataloging privacy initiatives (consumer data, surveillance and everything in between) started under the Obama Administration and their current status. Similar to the NSC project, that's involved a lot of digging through various .govs to look for memos. Hopefully that's a skill that looks good on a resume!
Week 4: From Memos to Visuals
Week of June 21, 2020
As you know if you've followed my blogs, most of my summer has been spent researching the organizational history of the National Security Council. Some of it has been easy—the State Department is fairly reliable about cataloging documents—and some hasn't. I've built a timeline/compendium of 50+ memos, reports, Executive Orders and laws that trace the history of the NSC from Harry Truman to the end of Lyndon B. Johnson's administration.
The next week will be filling in gaps during that time period—but more exciting will be moving into the phase of the project where I turn it all into diagrams that then go up on the CSIS website. That should hopefully make this blog more exciting—more people might appreciate a nice visual than endless discussion about memos from 1956.
In other news, I'm also making progress on two other projects alongside my internship: I'm still working on my honors thesis, which focuses on U.S.-Turkey-NATO tensions over nuclear weapons, and I'm also researching federal policies on data privacy under the Obama and Trump administrations.
Week 3: Moving and a Virtual Internship
Week of June 15, 2020
This blog post is a little bit delayed, but with good reason! I've spent much of the last two weeks balancing moving from the D.C. area back to Durham, all while balancing the demands of a virtual internship. While that's taken up much of my time, I've also been thoroughly enjoying my internship as well. At the beginning of the project, I was promised that by the end I would be something of an expert on the history of the National Security Council—and I didn't quite believe it. Well, I've now gotten to the point where I might.
I've spent much of the last week reading hundreds of memos, reports and other documents contained in the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), the State Department's formal historical record of foreign policy decision-making—and an acronym that's very definitively pronounced Fr-oos, rather than Fr-us, I've been told. Some of what I've found has been substantive—if you want to know the exact composition of the NSC Staff in 1968 I can tell you that—and some has just been interesting—for instance that McGeorge Bundy was a fantastic memo-writer, and some others were not.
I've also made my way through every National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM), pronounced Niss-um (as you can tell, pronouncing acronyms is an important part of my internship), which has been fascinating and something that I never saw coming in my academic career. A fun tidbit from all of this reading: Lyndon B. Johnson would show up to every meeting with a diet Dr. Pepper—and late. I'll try to pass along more of these as I find them.
Over the past two weeks, the formal part of my internship ramped up. That included orientation, getting paired with a mentor and more regular check-ins with the rest of my team. All in all, the formal orientation makes me somewhat sad that I'm missing out on the opportunity to work in-person at CSIS—and not just because of the free food that I'm told is plentiful in the think tank world. While I do avoid having to adhere to the usual business formal dress code, it also means that there's slightly less intern camaraderie than I would otherwise get to enjoy, particularly because I'm the only intern on my project.
I'll be back with another blog post tomorrow on the last week, and then back on a normal schedule now that I'm settled in.
Week 2: The Kennedy Administration is Really Hard to Diagram
June 9, 2020
I'm a little bit late with this blog post. Like everyone else, I've spent the last week juggling my internship work—in my case at CSIS—with everything else going on. I've been privileged enough to have a very understanding supervisor and an easy home situation, which have given me the chance to juggle my internship with everything else going on. That's involved some in-person protests around D.C. as well as conversations with people within AGS, at Duke and elsewhere. I'll try to keep the focus here on my internship, but I won't pretend that this week was an entirely normal week.
On my NSC project—which will still be the focus of my summer—I spent the week moving on from the Eisenhower administration to the Kennedy years. And oh boy, the organizational whiplash. Every diagram, spreadsheet or mental map that I made for the Eisenhower administration was a poor fit for Kennedy, who immediately scrapped most of the (admittedly extensive) bureaucracy and structure that he inherited.
The Kennedy administration is also generally hard to explain with a diagram. Many national decisions were made with Bobby Kennedy—but not really in his official position as Attorney General—and Dean Acheson—who didn't have any official position in the Kennedy administration—among others. Neither was acting within their strict role in Kennedy's NSC, but both are important to understanding how Kennedy made national security decisions. It's quite a contrast with the Eisenhower administration, with its (relatively) strictly defined roles and power structures.
Next week will wrap up Kennedy and (hopefully) Johnson. After that, I'll be working on coming up with diagrams for those administrations' NSC structures, which I'll hopefully be able to share here. I'm honestly looking forward to getting out of the early Cold War, with its never-ending name changes to agencies and departments, but it's an interesting dive into public records and obscure State Department histories.
The week ahead will be a little bit different though. First, I'm doing official onboarding at CSIS, so I'll actually be working on some projects that don't involve the NSC. I'm not quite sure what those will be, but I'll keep y'all updated. Second, I'm moving back to Durham next week, so my work-related content might be a little bit light.
Week 1: Looking for the January 1956 Edition of The Atlantic
May 27, 2020
Like everyone else, I'm thrilled to be a part of this summer's Summer Fellows. For people who don't know me, I'm a rising senior from just outside D.C. (Arlington) and a Political Science / Public Policy double major. This summer, I'm interning (remotely) with the CSIS Project on History and Strategy. At CSIS, I'm working directly with Dr. Seth Center, who also came to Duke last semester to teach a class about the NSC and work with AGS, so it works out nicely with the Summer Fellows program!
While I'll probably do other things along the way, I'll be spending most of my time on one project: creating in-depth diagrams of every National Security Council system from Truman to the present day, along with a library of documents to go along with them.
That's how I ended up looking for copies of The Atlantic (the same magazine that still exists today) from early 1956. Dillon Anderson, then President Eisenhower's National Security Advisor, decided to publicly write an overview of the NSC in part to help out future historians. My experience so far has been a lot along those lines—reading (unclassified) overviews of the NSC, hoping that others have been digitized in the last 75 years and pulling it all together.
As with everyone else, my virtual internship has also included plenty of Zoom calls. My Friday mornings start off with a check-in with my supervisor, and the week also included an online event on Applied History and the Coronavirus hosted by CSIS. So far I'm really leaning into the history part of "History and Strategy," which is definitely going to be a learning experience for me, but I'm really looking forward to it.
Along with my CSIS internship, I'm also balancing a senior honors thesis on Turkey's nuclear weapons program and some research on U.S cyber policy, so this summer is quite a lesson in time management—along with everything else going on. With all of that going on, I'm excited to share this summer with y'all, especially once I have some fun diagrams and more concrete products to show off!