Recent statements on the campaign trail have focused attention on the intelligence briefings and raised questions about how much information the spies will share with the candidates.

Share story

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have each described the other as unfit to be trusted with classified information.

But as is customary for the official nominees of both parties, the two candidates will get their first intelligence briefing as early as next week.

U.S. intelligence officials soon will contact the two campaigns to schedule a briefing for each on global flashpoints, the status of U.S. military campaigns overseas and the latest maneuverings by foreign governments, both friend and foe.

This quadrennial rite of passage for presidential candidates usually takes place while few people pay attention. Not now. Recent statements on the campaign trail, and barbed accusations by both candidates about their opponent’s ability to handle classified information, have focused attention on the intelligence briefings and raised questions about how much — or how little — the spies will share with the candidates.

The subject came up again Wednesday after Trump’s comments at a news conference, where he said he hoped the Russians had hacked Clinton’s computer server and then encouraged them to publish whatever they had stolen. This drew outrage from current and former government officials, both Republicans and Democrats, who said a presidential candidate had for the first time invited a foreign power to carry out espionage on U.S. soil. Some former senior intelligence officials said Trump’s comments bordered on treason.

For his part, Trump said that Clinton’s decision to set up a private email server during the time she was secretary of state means she cannot be trusted to receive classified briefings.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence coordinates the briefings that the candidates will receive, and they will be conducted by intelligence briefers who will meet each candidate on the campaign trail, either at a nearby FBI field office or other secure government facility.

Current and former government officials said the briefings contain broad overviews of how U.S. spy agencies see the state of the world, similar to the briefing that James Clapper Jr., director of national intelligence, gives to Congress each year. The briefings will contain top-secret information, but the candidates are given no information about ongoing covert-action programs or the identities of intelligence sources.

At the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday, Clapper said the three most significant topics for the candidate briefings would be the threat of cyberattacks, the Islamic State group and Russia.

He has said that career intelligence officers would conduct the briefings, and that neither he nor any other political appointee would attend the meetings.

“As a legal matter, the president can tell the nominees as much or as little as he believes is necessary or prudent,” said Susan Hennessey of the Brookings Institution, adding that President Obama has indicated he will allow intelligence officials to make the determination about what information Trump and Clinton will receive.

“With all forms of sharing classified information, there is a strong tendency to err on the side of caution,” she said.

Soon after the election, the president-elect will receive a more detailed set of intelligence briefings intended to prepare him or her before taking office in January.