For years the CIA shielded from public view every single one of the briefings that it produces daily for the president’s eyes only, arguing that even letting go one 50-year old briefing could harm national security.
Only in recent years did the CIA revise its traditional stance, releasing in September all of the daily, classified newsletters it had produced for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. And on Wednesday, the releases continued
, with the posting on the Web of the 28,000 pages prepared for Richard Nixon and his successor, Gerald Ford.
While a considerable amount remains edited out for national security reasons there are some historical gems, which not only hint at how well our intelligence community did in the Cold War but give us decades later a sense of the awesome responsibilities that come with being president.
Whoever occupies the White House in January will receive a similar product, tailored to his or her interests and designed not only to keep the White House informed but to lower the probability that the president will be surprised. And in this era of international terrorism, the cost of surprise is potentially as high as it was in the worst moments of the Cold War.
The President’s Daily Brief, as these daily classified newspapers came to be called — Obama apparently reads his on an iPad — emerged out of Kennedy’s anger at how the CIA had bamboozled him into authorizing an attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro that came to be known as the Bay of Pigs fiasco.
Since June 1961, the CIA has prepared for 10 presidents a special digest of information on subjects it believes the chief executive wants and needs to know about. It includes data collected across all intelligence platforms — from spies to spy satellites to Alan Turingesque code breaking. As far as the intelligence community is concerned it is its Tesla or Breitling.