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Presidential daily briefing (PDB) is a state of the art secretive document, which is produced daily for the president of the United States of America. It is the most classified document in the United States as it has intelligence information that is aimed at protecting the country from imminent terrorism attacks and promoting the welfare of its citizens and citizens of other countries as well. Presidential briefings date back to the year 1952 after the Second World War.
President Harry Truman’s administration formed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which came up with the idea that the president needed to be briefed on a daily basis on classified intelligence matters that would help him in governing the country well. The first presidential intelligence briefing, which is known as President’s Intelligence Check List, occurred in the year 1961 courtesy of a CIA officer known as Richard Lehman.
The name was later changed to presidential daily briefing in the year 1964 (Blanton 2008, p.28). Since then, the president receives a PDB on a daily basis, which informs him of new improvements warranting his response and in−depth analysis of sensitive international state of affairs. Apart from the president, other high-ranking government officials have authorized access to the PDB.
They include the vice president, the White House chief of staff, the national security adviser, the director of central intelligence and other intelligence agencies, the secretaries of the state, treasury and defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the deputy secretaries of state and defense finally the deputy national security adviser.
Production of the presidential daily briefing
In the preparation of the PDB, there is no formal coordination between the intelligence communities though some of the contributions are given some considerations. Due to the classified information contained in the PDB, only few people with unquestionable integrity from CIA are involved in its preparation with the chief analyst and director at CIA being the publishers.
The team mainly comprises the best-trained minds of the USA intelligence community to come up with the best intelligence information. The PDB is printed on a daily basis, apart from Sunday, “at the CIA headquarters printing plant in Virginia” (Blanton 2008, p.28). After the document is prepared, briefers, who are mainly experienced High-ranking analysts from the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence, deliver the PDB to the respective recipient.
Two presidential briefers deliver the PDB for the president; however, before the president is briefed, “the president’s briefer has to meet with the director of central intelligence when s/he arrives at the white house” (Helgerson 2008, p.64). After that, the briefer briefs the president in the presence of the director of central intelligence. Issues that need further clarification are then brought back to the CIA headquarters by the briefer.
For example, during one of the briefings, President Bush was concerned about a terrorist attack to the country and he asked the CIA briefer to come back with its assessment of Bin Laden’s intentions in the following morning briefing (Helgerson 2008, p.69). Other briefers assigned to different government officials also go ahead to deliver by hand the PDB, but in this case, the director of central intelligence is not present.
As some of the officials may be travelling, a secure way of transmitting the document to them is used to thwart any attempts by hackers who may have unapproved access to the document. A copy of the PDB has to be returned to the briefer as all the copies are to be returned to the CIA headquarters for safekeeping.
Public access to the presidential daily briefing
Despite the fact that about 60 per cent of the articles enclosed in the president’s daily brief do not appear in the press at all, the members of the public have access to some classified information in the document. The other 40 per cent is easily accessible to the public as it can be found in news. Some of the presidents like Bill Clinton even questioned the importance of the classified information in the PDB as he had already read it from other sources.
This aspect raises questions on the authenticity of the information that is gathered by the so-called experienced US intelligence officer to be presented to the head of state. The PDB may not be so secretive and this aspect can be proved by the August 6, 2001 President’s Daily Briefing Memo (Helgerson 2008, p.61). Before it was declassified two years later, most of the information it contained had been made public.
Apart from this PDB, other documents from the government of President Johnson have been declassified and made available to the public without jeopardizing the national security of the country and this aspect further raises the question of the sensitivity of the PDB. Further declassification of PDBs by the national archives would have shown that the public already knew the information contained in the documents (Melton and Wallace 2009, p.88).
The clarity of the items contained in the PDB is also another issue as in the case of the imminent threat to the United States by the terrorist group, which was led by Osama Bin Laden. The national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, together with other top official officers complained that the PDB, which was supposed to contain intelligence information on the terrorist attacks, was not reliable as it contained scanty information.
The result of this unreliability was the shocking attack on September 11 2001 that led to the irreversible loss of lives and property worth billions of US dollars. This catastrophic event could have been easily avoided if the intelligence officers had carried out in-depth investigations on the issue.
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Notably, the presence of intelligence units like the CIA in the United States should not be taken granted, as they are very useful in providing intelligence that informs the president on international developments and security of the country. The CIA officers responsible for drafting the PDB should be chosen based on their performance and wealth of experience as intelligence is an exceptional mission on top of being very valuable in the proper running of a country.
The PDB newspaper should be very relevant and interesting so that the recipients do not ignore reading it and this way, the CIA can use the feedback from the recipient to do a better job and avoid reproducing information that is already available in the news. An informed president will aid the country in averting crises like the September 11, 2001 surprise attacks.
In addition, all the agencies involved with issues on intelligence, viz. defense department, military department, and state department should not withhold information on intelligence, as this move will help the CIA in preparing a detailed and comprehensive PDB newspaper for the benefit of the nation.
Blanton, Thomas. 2004. Who’s Afraid of the PDB? Slate Magazine, 22 March.
Helgerson, John. 2008. Getting to Know the President: CIA Briefings of Presidential
Candidates 1952-1992. New York, NY: Center for the Study of Intelligence.
Melton, Keith, and Robert Wallace. 2009. The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception. New York, NY: HarperCollins.