Every president has had a unique and complicated relationship with the intelligence community. While some have been coolly distant, even adversarial, others have found their intelligence agencies to be among the most valuable instruments of policy and power.
Since John F. Kennedy's presidency, this relationship has been distilled into a personalized daily report: a short summary of what the intelligence apparatus considers the most crucial information for the president to know that day about global threats and opportunities. This top-secret document is known as the President's Daily Brief, or, within national security circles, simply "the Book." Presidents have spent anywhere from a few moments (Richard Nixon) to a healthy part of their day (George W. Bush) consumed by its contents; some (Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush) consider it far and away the most important document they saw on a regular basis while commander in chief.
The details of most PDBs are highly classified, and will remain so for many years. But the process by which the intelligence community develops and presents the Book is a fascinating look into the operation of power at the highest levels. David Priess, a former intelligence officer and daily briefer, has interviewed every living president and vice president as well as more than one hundred others intimately involved with the production and delivery of the president's book of secrets. He offers an unprecedented window into the decision making of every president from Kennedy to Obama, with many character-rich stories revealed here for the first time.
Priess, a former CIA intelligence officer, turns the potentially dour history of the president's daily intelligence briefing into a stimulating, if uncritical, account. Every day, a CIA officer travels to the White House to deliver a top-secret summary of international events. The practice was initiated under President Truman when the CIA first circulated a "Current Intelligence Bulletin." It wasn't highly regarded, according to Priess, but Eisenhower would still read it. Kennedy preferred to get his news from the press; in response, CIA officials produced a shorter document that held his attention. Lyndon Johnson ignored it, so it was trimmed further to just a few pages and renamed the president's daily brief. Johnson approved. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Nixon preferred to learn about the world through Henry Kissinger. Presidential successors from Ford onward have taken the document more or less seriously. Readers accustomed to CIA skullduggery will be surprised to find it admiringly portrayed as an organization of experts devoted to delivering unbiased information to a grateful president. Priess notes with regret that the briefing has failed to predict several crises, but dismisses critics who maintain that some presidents pressured the agency to slant evidence in favor of presidential policies.