A history of the president's secret daily national security summary.
Since the John F. Kennedy administration, the CIA has produced a daily summary of news and analysis for review by the president and a handful of senior officials. The President's Daily Brief, known colloquially as “the book,” is classified top secret and contains nearly up-to-the-minute intelligence from human agents, electronic intercepts, and other sources. Former CIA intelligence officer Priess interviewed more than 100 former senior U.S. policymakers and intelligence officials to produce this history of the PDB, describing its formats, production process, distribution, and daily presentation to the president over the course of half a century. Presidents have responded to the PDB with varying degrees of enthusiasm; Richard Nixon distrusted the CIA and often ignored it, while George H.W. Bush, a former director of Central Intelligence, devoured it every morning in the company of at least one agency briefer. Barack Obama gets his on an iPad, a change in format that permits near real-time updates and hyperlinks to more thorough analysis. Despite his extensive research and clear prose, Priess is disadvantaged by a serious limitation. Because the contents of the PDB are classified, he can't discuss any of them. As a result, while he lays out in considerable detail how the book has been assembled, who saw it, whether the president preferred an accompanying briefing or read it alone, and so forth, Priess is not permitted to explain how or why the PDB ever made any difference to anyone. Readers hoping to gain insight into how CIA briefings have affected specific national security decisions will be disappointed; the president's book retains its secrets. The author is also loath to criticize any of the book's first customers, even when their overextensive circulation of the book jeopardized its integrity or when they scorned it altogether.
The CIA may value this deferential piece of institutional history, but civilian readers will learn little of interest from it.