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The position of the General Counsel of the Department of Defense was established by the Reorganization Plan No. 6 of 1953 and by Defense Directive 5145.1, August 24, 1953. The position was derived from one of the original three Special Assistants to the Secretary (1947) and the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Legal and Legislative Affairs) (1949).

Congress accepted Reorganization Plan No. 6, and it became effective on June 30, 1953. Reorganization Plan No. 6 established the General Counsel of the Department of Defense as substantially equivalent in rank to the Assistant Secretaries of Defense. The authority of the General Counsel as the Department's Chief Legal Officer is codified in 10 U.S.C. §140.

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