The President's Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America's Presidents from Kennedy to Obama

The President's Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America's Presidents from Kennedy to Obama

David Priess

Language: English

Pages: 402

ISBN: 2:00331000

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


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.

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intelligence analysis, he felt increasingly uncomfortable trying to discern quickly which reports to bring to the president’s attention. The issue came to a head in spring 1961. Kennedy found himself blindsided by events that had been reported in the regular intelligence publications but had not made it through Clifton’s screening. Kennedy told his brother Bobby, the attorney general, who in turn came down hard on Clifton for failing to get key information to the president. Clifton knew something

44 – the president’s book of secrets looked at any finished intelligence for the better part of a week. Johnson had tuned out. Clifton decided something had to change. So in January he tasked the CIA to supplement the Checklist with a simple, less frequent booklet that would include “the shortest possible review of highlights of the intelligence-gathering effort for the 5-day period from Sunday to Thursday.” OCI officers stepped up with the new Current Intelligence Review, which allowed Clifton

veteran analysts left very different impressions. Peters, once Bob Gates’s branch chief in the CIA’s Office of Current Intelligence, developed a reputation for asking PDB authors hard, direct questions about their assessments. “You’re the analyst, and you care about this—but nobody else does,” an economic expert of the era recalls Peters saying to him about a draft PDB article. “He would make you exceedingly uncomfortable if you weren’t up to those questions,” says a former officer who covered

set the date for launching the ground war.” Agency analysts fed battle-damage assessments, including information from high-resolution satellite imagery, into the PDB—but The Spymaster President – 183 their numbers for destroyed Iraqi equipment differed from in-­theater appraisals by US Central Command (CENTCOM) analysts, who initially emphasized reports from the attacking pilots themselves. This made great sense for CENTCOM, which needed to rapidly plan ­follow-­on missions before satellite

Russian language. His penchant for precise, clear writing, which would prove to be crucial in the years to come, added to his appeal. Lehman had not been considering an intelligence career—he was simply looking for a job—but the Agency’s Directorate of Intelligence, where analysts informed their judgments about foreign threats with a wide array of classified intelligence reporting, looked like a fine place to start his civilian work. Lehman’s first boss told him bluntly, “Whatever you do, just

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