Executive Director, National Security Action
Industry: Foreign policy
Key previous position: Special assistant to President Obama
Education: Boston U; Yale Law
Notable fact: Taught human rights in China
National Security Action doesn’t have a flashy advertising campaign, nor does the organization stamp its logo on all of its research and polling. Executive Director Jeffrey Prescott never intended to “build a brand” around the group. Rather, he sees it as the “connective tissue” between academia, think tanks, national security officials, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill who focus on foreign policy and defense.
“The key is the ability to shape the conversation, the dialogue, and the conversation,” Prescott said.
National Security Action was formed in 2017 by a group of Obama-era administration officials worried about the direction of U.S. foreign policy under President Trump. Prescott served as special assistant to President Obama for national security affairs, and as senior director for the Middle East on the National Security Council. He started his career as a staff attorney at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, now Human Rights First, where he helped defend lawyers and activists around the world.
“Never thought I’d have to use that set of skills back home, but that is the kind of emergency moment we are in with Trump, and it has to be all-hands-on-deck,” Prescott said.
Prescott says he believes his group can help others working in the national security sphere.
“[We] … thought the existing infrastructure of think tanks and academic institutions that help work on foreign policy ideas wouldn’t quite be sufficient to meet the moment.”
In September, National Security Action helped coordinate a letter from more than 300 former national security officials condemning Trump’s phone call to Ukraine. The group regularly polls the electorate about U.S. foreign policy, finding that voters are concerned about Trump’s “erratic” decision-making and about plummeting foreign approval of the United States under his presidency.
The group used those polls, and other national security research, to help Democrats on Capitol Hill craft their messaging in the 2018 midterm elections. It’s now gearing up for 2020.
Next year, the group will “reflect on the big challenges,” said Prescott, “both in terms of digging out of where Trump has taken us … and also thinking about new ideas we want to put on the agenda if we’re successful in retaking the White House and Congress.”