Politics and Public Opinion, The Presidency

Former CIA director on the importance of in-person intelligence briefings

Barack Obama in the Oval Office

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Slate magazine claims to have shot down what it calls the “GOP myth” that “Obama makes the country more dangerous by ‘skipping’ more than half of his in-person daily intelligence briefings and reading them instead.” Their evidence? A brief comment from former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra, who is running for U.S. Senate in Michigan:

In an interview with the conservative Newsmax TV, Hoekstra was asked for his informed thoughts on the story, but he didn’t take the bait. “This is really not about process. I believe that this president hopefully is getting the briefings and whether he shows up for the briefing or is reading the briefing materials, you know that’s not really the issue here … It’s not about the process — what did the president read and when,” Hoekstra said.

Since the folks at Slate are so enamored of the Newsmax website, it is interesting that they failed to mention another Newsmax story which ran the day before entitled “Former CIA Director: President’s Intelligence Briefings Are Valuable.” In it, Michael Hayden explains why showing up for the briefing is, in fact, important:

Without commenting on Obama, former CIA Director Michael Hayden describes to Newsmax how valuable the briefings were to President Bush. Typically, the briefings lasted half an hour.

“The briefings of Bush were incredibly interactive,” Hayden says. “There was rich give and take, so that not only did the president get the advantage of knowing the analysts’ innermost thoughts, but they [the analysts] also were able to leave the room understanding what the president believed he needed in order to make the kind of decisions he had to make.”

In addition to giving Bush the PDB, which typically ran 15 pages, the director of National Intelligence (DNI) gave Bush two longer, magazine-length pieces each week. Additional briefings were held on each of these. On Thursdays, Hayden briefed Bush for a half hour on sensitive collection programs and covert action.

Routinely, the analyst who delivered the daily briefing let the DNI and CIA know what additional tasks or intelligence Bush wanted based on the briefing he had just received, Hayden says.

“The system was set up so that when they came back, the entire system would respond,” Hayden says.

As noted in my book “The CIA at War: Inside the Secret Campaign Against Terror,” Bush surprised his CIA briefer at his first daily CIA briefing at the White House on February 15, 2001. The next day, Bush would be making his first foreign trip as president, to see Mexican President Vicente Fox. At the end of the briefing, Bush brought up the trip.

“Are you coming with me?” the president asked.

No other president had wanted to be briefed by the CIA when he was out of town. But from that point on, the briefer or an alternate traveled with Bush on every trip. They saw him six and often seven days a week, whether at Bush’s ranch in Crawford, his parents’ home in Kennebunkport, at Camp David, or in the White House.

Bush almost never missed a briefing, according to CIA officials and briefers interviewed for the book. In contrast, according to Government Accountability Institute figures quoted in a Washington Post column by former Bush speechwriter Marc A. Thiessen, during 2011 and the first half of 2012, Obama’s attendance record fell to just over 38 percent.

After Bush was elected, his father, George H. W. Bush, a former director of Central Intelligence (DCI), told his son that he found the most important item of a president’s day is the intelligence briefing. Meeting face-to-face with the DCI was also important, the former president said. Nothing else can replicate the personal interaction and discussion.

When Bush chose Andrew H. Card, Jr. as his chief of staff, he quoted his father’s advice and said: “Make sure that happens. I want to see the CIA director and talk with him.”

“With President Bush, I really saw the value of the personal interaction that we had on an almost daily basis,” Hayden says.

Apparently, President Obama does not see the value of that personal interaction on an almost daily basis.

2 thoughts on “Former CIA director on the importance of in-person intelligence briefings

  1. barry is a simpleton. All he needs to “learn” from others is what his Puppeteers TELL HIM. He has “connections” to HIGH muslim contacts. Besides, it’s hard to concentrate on your golf swing if you’re bothered by those pesky meetings!

  2. I am quite prepared to believe that it was only because he was able to tell the briefers what he was looking for that it was possible to come up with all the bogus intelligence that was used to justify the completely unnecessary war in Iraq.

    If that’s the kind of sharp, fully-informed decision making that an interactive face-to-face briefing (as opposed to reading the briefing and phoning or emailing if there are questions) produces, I hope Obama skips even more of them.

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