The President's Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America's Presidents from Kennedy to Obama
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Every president has had a unique and complicated relationship with the intelligence community. While some have been coolly distant, even adversarial, others have found their intelligence agencies to be among the most valuable instruments of policy and power.
Since John F. Kennedy’s presidency, this relationship has been distilled into a personalized daily report: a short summary of what the intelligence apparatus considers the most crucial information for the president to know that day about global threats and opportunities. This top–secret document is known as the President’s Daily Brief, or, within national security circles, simply “the Book.” Presidents have spent anywhere from a few moments (Richard Nixon) to a healthy part of their day (George W. Bush) consumed by its contents; some (Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush) consider it far and away the most important document they saw on a regular basis while commander in chief.
The details of most PDBs are highly classified, and will remain so for many years. But the process by which the intelligence community develops and presents the Book is a fascinating look into the operation of power at the highest levels. David Priess, a former intelligence officer and daily briefer, has interviewed every living president and vice president as well as more than one hundred others intimately involved with the production and delivery of the president's book of secrets. He offers an unprecedented window into the decision making of every president from Kennedy to Obama, with many character–rich stories revealed here for the first time.
USSR’s buildup dramatically exceeded that estimate provided in the Checklist: some forty thousand Soviet troops had arrived in Cuba by October. The CIA continued writing in the Checklist about developments related to the mysterious arrival of Soviet forces. On August 23, an item simply titled “Cuba” began: a. Most of our information from within Cuba on the influx of Soviet equipment and technicians has come from Cuban sources. We now have several reports from the British Embassy whose people
two Pakistani military officers as governors. Some of the material appears overly tentative and full of caveats: “Sporadic enemy activity marked the Vietnamese Communist holiday of 19 August. The attacks fell far short of what had been forecast in intelligence reports during the past few weeks. Allied spoiling operations may account for part of the shortfall, but the original Communist objectives probably were overinflated in many cases.” The next day’s book, which featured analysis on Soviet
Bush early in his tenure to warn him that the Pentagon and State Department had begun encroaching on CIA prerogatives. “And when I did,” McMahon recalls, “he picked up the phone and got a hold of Don Rumsfeld, who was then secretary of defense. When Rumsfeld came on, Bush had a few words of small talk 102 – the president’s book of secrets but then acknowledged that some of his people were trying to grab DCI responsibilities. And he asked if Rumsfeld could take care of it, or should both of them
Intelligence Agency saying, ‘Come on, tell us about the PDB.’ And I’d say, ‘About what?’ It was just horrible. It was an open secret, but you kept it.” One CIA graduate fellow from the 1980s recalls hearing that the three words “President’s Daily Brief,” when used together, were classified. Even decades later, an article in the Agency’s in-house newsletter asserted that the fact of the existence of the PDB remained classified until the early 1990s—a claim echoed to this day by CIA historians, who
Relief” met stiff resistance from the most implacable of enemies, institutional culture. “We tried—more often than I care to remember—to get some humorous items into the book,” Peters says. “But satisfying several layers of bureaucracy that a story is funny, in good taste, and not demeaning to the overall product is no easy task.” Another supplement, a onepage addition to the PDB on Fridays or Saturdays that officers called the “Club of Kings,” gave Bush intelligence about foreign leaders’