All the President's Secrets

The History of the President's Daily Briefing

The President's Intelligence Checklist, a precursor to the President's Daily Brief, as used during U.S. President John F. Kennedy's administration. The Central Intelligence Agency

Each modern U.S. president has begun his day with the President’s Daily Brief (PDB), containing the most sensitive intelligence reporting and analysis in the world. The Central Intelligence Agency’s spies, the National Security Agency’s listening posts, and the nation’s reconnaissance satellites gather secrets for it, while Washington’s enemies send undercover agents to try to unearth its classified content.

For the past 50 years, intelligence officers have made their way to the White House five or six days a week to hand-deliver the PDB to the president—or, in some administrations, to the national security adviser, who then gets it to the president. Assessments from analysts at the CIA (and, since 2005, the wider intelligence community) prepare the president for foreign visits and overseas trips, anticipate national security threats, and identify global opportunities. What insiders simply call “the book” represents the highest fulfillment of the intelligence mission: to provide accurate, timely, and objective information from classified and unclassified sources alike to help the president defend the homeland and protect U.S. interests abroad.

Yet the story of its origins has gone largely untold. 


From its birth in late 1964 during President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, the PDB has seen its format, highly classified content, and mode of delivery tailored for each sitting commander in chief. Because the PDB has been the most tightly guarded daily publication on the face of the earth, only glimpses of its history exist. But despite its secrecy, much is still known. For instance, no chief executive in the United States’ first 150 years received any objective analysis of international events from an independent intelligence service. Secretaries of state and other advisers may have offered assessments of various foreign developments, but reports tailored to the specific needs and style of each occupant of the White House simply didn’t exist until the middle of the twentieth century.

Early presidents did not avoid foreign intelligence altogether. The first U.S. president, George Washington, brought to the nation’

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