The small group of top government officials who read the President's Daily Brief, a summary of the most timely and critical intelligence...
WASHINGTON — The small group of top government officials who read the President’s Daily Brief, a summary of the most timely and critical intelligence on threats to the United States, have told a presidential commission on intelligence that they find the highly classified document of little value, according to the commission’s co-chairmen.
The officials told the commission that they had read the brief, known as the PDB, mainly for “defensive” purposes, Charles Robb, a former Virginia senator and governor, and Laurence Silberman, a senior federal judge, said in an interview Friday.
“They knew that was going to drive the president’s schedule on a given day, and they had to be prepared for that reason,” Robb said. “I cannot recall any particular current or former official saying that they believed the PDB was in and of itself that valuable to them. It was more of a defensive reading of the document.”
The comments suggest that the grave shortcomings of the daily briefs before the Iraq war, detailed as part of the commission’s sweeping, 601-page indictment of the nation’s intelligence agencies, have not been remedied despite efforts in recent months by the CIA to improve them.
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Asked about how the briefs had changed and whether they still were “more alarmist and less nuanced” than the underlying information warranted, as the commission concluded, the White House refused to comment.
Questions about the commission’s critique and how the process had changed, directed to Stephen Hadley, the national-
security adviser, went unanswered.
His spokesman, Frederick Jones, said the White House did not want to discuss a “privileged presidential document.”
Since taking over from Condoleezza Rice, Hadley has said to his staff that he is disappointed in how prewar intelligence was handled and that he wants improvements.
But the White House’s refusal to describe the changes to the daily brief left some experts inside and outside the administration wondering whether the system is different from the one the commission criticized so roundly.
The quality of the brief may be particularly crucial in this administration because President Bush is extremely interested in what the spy agencies tell him, according to close aides and intelligence officials. He has been described by aides as asking frequent questions, sometimes calling in CIA officers for direct briefings. A senior intelligence official sits on the staff of the National Security Council to act as an intermediary, and to demand more information.
But none of that questioning pierced through the huge errors in the Iraq intelligence, the commission concluded. It said the briefs “left an impression of many corroborating reports where in fact there were very few sources.” Some administration officials say Bush now demands to see some of the backup sourcing, but they could not say how often he hears dissenting views, and Hadley’s office would not comment on that issue.
Bush receives an oral briefing each morning from 8 to 8:45 on foreign intelligence and domestic security. The CIA briefer usually is accompanied by the agency’s director, currently Porter Goss.
Contrary to his image in some circles as a man with little appetite for detailed study, Bush asked early in his presidency that the brief be expanded and delivered in a loose-leaf notebook to include more than just the 10 to 15 pages of finished intelligence analyses on current topics.
The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, as it is formally called, reviewed about two years of the President’s Daily Briefs in the period before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
It found the reports were “disastrously one-sided,” giving the president a “daily drumbeat” of sensational headlines.