Just verified intelligence? A look at the presidents’ briefings


WASHINGTON (AP) – The White House says President Donald Trump never received intelligence that Russia had offered a reward to US soldiers in Afghanistan because there was no corroborating evidence.

But former intelligence officials say presidents are routinely briefed on intelligence, even when it is not definitively confirmed. Intelligence that may be on shaky ground today can foreshadow tomorrow’s calamity.

Some questions and answers about how presidents are informed about intelligence, what kind of information they receive and how this applies to the situation with Russia:

HOW DO PRESIDENTS RECEIVE NATIONAL SECURITY INFORMATION?

Both orally and through a written document known as the President’s Daily Report.

The PDB, as it is known, is a compilation of national security and intelligence assessments by government analysts. It is material that the intelligence community believes the president should know.

The document has been provided to presidents in some form since the Cold War. Some commanders-in-chief are said to have been voracious consumers of their briefings; Trump, by contrast, is known for demanding only the smallest details.

Today, the PDB is coordinated by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and includes contributions from the CIA and other members of the intelligence community that effectively present stories for inclusion, said Rodney Faraon, a former CIA analyst who worked from 1999. to 2001 in The Information Team for the White House.

“It is no different than what you would see in a newsroom,” he said.

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WHAT KIND OF INFORMATION IS PRESENTED TO A PRESIDENT AND HOW DO THE AGENCIES KNOW IF IT IS CREDIBLE?

Depending on the day and a president’s private interests, the AP may include the latest internal information about a country a president is preparing to visit, intelligence on possible threats to national security, or other secrets related to current events.

“There is no mathematical formula” to decide what to report to the president, said David Priess, a former CIA intelligence editor and author of “The President’s Book.”

“The analysts’ job is to decide: ‘Does the president need to know this today?’ You are writing for the president.

Nor is there a mathematical formula to assess the credibility of intelligence. Sometimes the information is considered reliable because it comes from a trusted source, because it matches a separate piece of intelligence or conforms to a pattern, or because it is derived from surveillance or intercepted recordings.

“A lot of it boils down to the source of the information: Did the source have first-hand access?” said former CIA officer Cindy Otis. Or, conversely, “Is it a person with fourth-hand access who heard it from a guy who heard it from a guy, and so on?”

“You are not going to put trash in front of the president,” he added.

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DO PRESIDENTS RECEIVE INTELLIGENCE ONLY WHEN CONFIRMED?

Absolutely not. If that were the case, the PDB would be brief, since intelligence deals more often with uncertainty than fact, but also boring, restricted to observations that are obvious and probably already known to the president, Priess said.

“Because it is intelligence, that means it deals with the unknown, things that are uncertain, but things that are of great importance to the national security of the United States and that deserve the attention of the President,” he said. “Nothing there says that it has to be fully verified or secure because intelligence is rarely secure.”

Modern history is laden with examples of briefings for presidents that contained warnings or informed assumptions, but not certifiable facts.

A month before the September 11, 2001 attacks, President George W. Bush was warned in a PDB that Osama bin Laden was determined to attack the United States. Intelligence, including the talk collected by anti-terrorist analysts, was seen as urgent and credible enough to get the president’s attention, though it lacked details about the date, location, and method.

Almost a decade later, advisers to President Barack Obama alerted him to his belief that Bin Laden was in a compound in Pakistan, despite disagreement over the strength of that intelligence. Obama still approved the operation that killed Bin Laden.

In his book, “The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Al-Qaida Terrorism Against ISIS,” former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell writes that his confidence level was 60 percent. Other analysts felt more confident.

When Obama asked why there was such a disparity, Morell said it reflected differences in individual experiences but not differences in the information people had.

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WHY WOULD A PRESIDENT RECEIVE UNCORROBATED INFORMATION?

Intelligence that may be on shaky ground today can foreshadow tomorrow’s calamity, so informants are expected to make sure presidents have the most complete picture possible to prepare for something that will soon require full attention.

That’s especially true when even unclear or unsubstantiated intelligence indicates that the lives or infrastructure of Americans could be at risk.

“The president must make tough decisions, and those tough decisions usually come with shady facts and gray areas,” said Larry Pfeiffer, a 32-year-old intelligence community veteran and former CIA chief of staff.

To account for the uncertainty, informants will warn the information and detail internal disagreements between different intelligence agencies so that presidents understand the nuances of a situation.

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HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO THE SITUATION WITH RUSSIA?

White House officials have repeatedly insisted that the President was not informed that Russia offered rewards to Taliban-linked fighters in Afghanistan for killing US troops, although officials told The Associated Press and other organizations News that the information was included in the President’s Daily Report. .

The AP, citing officials familiar with the matter, also reported that national security adviser Robert O’Brien had discussed the matter with Trump and that former national security adviser John Bolton told colleagues that he had done the same on last year. O’Brien has denied that and Bolton has declined to comment:

O’Brien has said that the CIA and the Pentagon did pursue leadership and informed international allies. But he said intelligence was not initially brought to Trump’s attention because it was unverified and there was no consensus among the intelligence community.

After the intelligence news, Trump was briefed, the White House said.

Former intelligence officials say it is an issue that Trump should have been informed of earlier, whether substantiated or not.

“The security of US troops in a war zone is of utmost importance,” said Faraon, a partner at Martin + Crumpton Group, a business intelligence firm.