Monday, August 05, 2013

CIA Briefings of Presidents

This is an online publication on the CIA briefings of the presidents.  The goal was to inform the incoming president of what they needed to know plus start the relationship between the CIA and the president:
It was President Harry Truman, in whose administration the Central Intelligence Agency was created, who instituted the custom of providing candidates for the Presidency with confidential briefings on foreign developments. In 1952 he authorized the CIA to brief Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and Governor Adlai Stevenson so that the successful candidate would be as well informed as possible on the world situation when he took office. The briefings would also position the CIA to develop a close working relationship with the new president and his advisers. These two objectives have guided the Agency's efforts during presidential transition periods ever since.
Thus it was, after Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton won the 1992 election, that the Central Intelligence Agency moved quickly to establish a presence in Little Rock to provide intelligence support to the new President-elect. As CIA's Deputy Director for Intelligence, I was sent to meet with the Governor and his staff to describe the materials the Agency proposed to make available and to elicit the Governor's agreement to receive regular briefings from the CIA. Events unfolded in such a way that I became the head of a team that spent most of the period from November 1992 through January 1993 in Little Rock providing daily intelligence updates to the President-elect.

In keeping with President Truman's long-ago initiative, the Agency wanted to help the new President-elect prepare for his foreign policy responsibilities and acquaint him and his staff with CIA's capabilities for collecting, analyzing, and delivering intelligence that would be vital to them when they took office. As we made arrangements for briefing Governor Clinton, we attempted to learn as much as possible from the Agency's experience in previous transition periods. What we discovered was that the CIA had provided pre-inaugural intelligence support to all eight presidents elected since the Agency was founded, but had no systematic records of those efforts. There was no body of organized information to indicate what had worked before and what had not. Such records and memories as we did have, however, made clear that we needed to make decisions quickly on how to proceed in a number of areas that would have an important bearing on whether we met our two primary goals.

In late June 1976, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter distinguished himself in the eyes of CIA officials by becoming the first presidential hopeful to request intelligence briefings even before receiving his party's nomination. Carter's request, which was directed to President Gerald Ford, prompted discussions involving the President, CIA Director George Bush, and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft about who should provide such intelligence briefings and when they should be made available to the candidate. Bush recommended to Ford that as a first step he, Bush, should meet with Carter to discuss the ground rules and arrange for follow-on briefings, which would be delivered by intelligence professionals. The ever-cautious Scowcroft recommended instead that all briefings should be given by the DCI, accompanied and supported by the appropriate National Intelligence Officers, who were the Intelligence Community's senior substantive experts.

These deliberations resulted in a decision by Ford that Bush should meet with Carter to discuss the parameters and arrangements for the provision of intelligence support. Such a session could be arranged before the nomination. Following the nomination, Carter would be provided in-depth intelligence briefings by the National Intelligence Officers. The President insisted that the DCI chair the sessions even though he would not necessarily be obliged to give the briefings himself.

Pursuant to the President's instructions, Bush contacted Carter to arrange a meeting. The two met on 5 July in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where Carter was attending a meeting of Democratic governors. In the course of the meeting, the Director informed Carter that the President had asked him to preside over the briefings that would follow. Bush introduced to Carter one senior Agency officer, Deputy to the DCI for National Intelligence Richard Lehman, noting that he would be the action officer in charge of preparing the briefings that would follow in Plains, Georgia. They would begin after the Democratic Convention the next week. Carter, in turn, indicated that he would welcome detailed discussions of selected subjects such as Soviet strategic programs. He designated his "issues man," Stuart Eizenstat, to be his contact and proposed to receive briefings every week to 10 days.

Although the initial meeting was to have been limited to a discussion of the arrangements for future briefings, Lehman noted in his Memorandum for the Record that "The conversation ranged over virtually the entire field of intelligence."[97] Carter was briefed on a number of current developments abroad and was shown a variety of intelligence materials and publications, including satellite photographs. Lehman reported that the Governor asked a great many questions "ranging from the future of Rhodesia to morale in the Agency."

In thinking back to that pre-nomination meeting with the DCI in Pennsylvania, Carter recalled in 1993 that "I was very honored to have President (then DCI) Bush come to brief me. President Ford offered every assistance. I hardly knew him and had never been in the Oval Office."[98]

In soliciting the CIA briefings, Carter was already displaying the interest in detail that was to be a mark of his presidency. The day following his meeting with Bush in Pennsylvania, Carter told newsmen that he would receive "a six-hour briefing" shortly after the Democratic nomination. On several subsequent occasions during the campaign, the Governor expressed the hope that by being fully informed he could avoid committing himself to positions that might later embarrass him as a candidate or as President. Asked in 1993 about his motives in arranging what became a series of immensely time-consuming sessions, Carter affirmed that "I wanted the long briefings in Plains. I wanted particularly not to make any inadvertent mistake that would complicate things for President Ford on SALT or later for me." Just prior to the presidential debates, Carter remembers "I wanted to know what was going on."

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