National Security Division (NSD): History, Role & Purpose

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley has a JD degree and is an attorney. She has extensive experience as a prosecutor and legal writer, and she has taught and written various law courses.

The National Security Division (NSD) is part of the U.S. Department of Justice and functions to combat threats to national security such as terrorism. Explore the history, role, and purpose of the NSD and learn about the Patriot Act and NSD cases. Updated: 10/20/2021

National Security Division

In 2011, Farooque Ahmed was sentenced to 23 years in prison for plotting to bomb several Washington, D.C., Metrorail stations. Ahmed planned the bombings with people he believed to be members of al-Qaeda. The investigation was led by the FBI, but the prosecution was led by the NSD.

So, what's the NSD?

The United States Department of Justice oversees many different agencies. One of these is the National Security Division, or NSD. The NSD handles all national security functions for the Department of Justice. For the most part, this means the NSD works to combat terrorism and other threats to national security.

The NSD brings all of the Justice Department's national security and intelligence roles under one roof. The functions were previously spread between several different agencies, but the NSD is designed to better coordinate and unify the efforts of prosecutors, law enforcement agencies and intelligence officers. It does so through the use of several sections, including:

  • Counterterrorism, which is responsible for combating international and domestic terrorism
  • Counterespionage, which investigates and prosecutes cases involving national security, foreign relations, espionage or sabotage
  • Operations, which works to provide the FBI and other intelligence agencies the legal tools they need in order to conduct their operations in accordance with the law
  • Oversight, which ensures that intelligence operations and intelligence agencies follow the Constitution and other laws, and respect individual privacy and civil liberties

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  • 0:03 National Security Division
  • 2:14 The PATRIOT Act
  • 4:08 NSD Cases
  • 5:56 Lesson Summary
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The Patriot Act

The NSD is one of the newest federal agencies. It was created in 2006 by the USA PATRIOT Reauthorization and Improvement Act, which is a reauthorization, or renewal, of the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act.

The 2001 USA PATRIOT Act is commonly referred to as just the PATRIOT Act. It was passed by Congress as a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. The Act is meant to give law enforcement the means necessary to detect and prevent terrorism, which became a primary focus after the 9/11 attacks. Many people felt the government was caught off-guard and lacked the proper tools to prevent future attacks.

Specifically, the creation of the NSD is meant to address research and reports completed after the 9/11 attacks. Some studies showed that the government's intelligence capabilities were lacking in regard to Weapons of Mass Destruction, or WMD. A WMD is a nuclear, radiological, biological, chemical or other weapon that can kill or bring significant harm to a large number of people or cause great damage to a structure. For example, the airplanes used in the 9/11 attacks were WMDs, even though airplanes aren't typically used as weapons. The reports claimed that we weren't properly equipped to detect and fend off future attacks using WMDs.

NSD Cases

However, now we have the NSD. The NSD is credited with many successful contributions in the fight against terrorism. They've derailed terrorist activity all over the nation, including lesser-suspected areas like Boise, Idaho and Salt Lake City, Utah.

However, the NSD has also been involved in controversy. Many people believe the NSD violates civil liberties in their investigations.

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