Book review: 'The President's Book of Secrets' delves into presidential intelligence briefings

Posted November 1, 2016

"THE PRESIDENT'S BOOK OF SECRETS: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America's Presidents From Kennedy to Obama," by David Priess, PublicAffairs, $16.99, 400 pages (nf)

A true mainstay of the modern American presidency is the daily intelligence briefing. First produced during the John F. Kennedy administration on June 17, 1961, the briefing is given to the president of the United States each morning at 7:45. Known within national security circles simply as "the book," the daily brief contains summaries and analysis of existing global threats and other international situations. In addition to the president, the secretaries of state and defense and the national security adviser have also been privy to the daily brief.

David Priess, who served during the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations as an intelligence officer and daily intelligence briefer at the CIA, offers a look into the history of the brief in "The President's Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America's Presidents From Kennedy to Obama." In the process of compiling his book, Priess interviewed every living president and vice president as well as many others who were involved with the production and delivery of the daily intelligence briefing.

The book starts with an insightful foreword by President George H.W. Bush. The nation's 41st chief executive was in a unique position to receive the daily brief, as he had previously been a provider. Bush served as director of the CIA during the Gerald R. Ford administration. He praised members of the intelligence community for "their dedication, their courage and their determination" in preparing the brief.

While Bush may have had nothing but admiration for the daily briefing, some felt quite the opposite. Priess writes of President Richard Nixon's longtime animosity toward the CIA. He viewed the agency as a political opponent and, as such, paid little attention to his daily briefing. Priess notes that Nixon failed to even mention it in his infamous recorded conversations in the Oval Office or in his memoirs and post-presidency interviews, suggesting that it appears to have not influenced his opinion in any significant way.

"The President's Book of Secrets" is a fascinating look at a daily ritual that has been mostly shrouded in secrecy since its inception. Carefully weaving through the history of the presidential daily briefing with a chapter going over each administration (except George W. Bush, who has two), Priess illustrates a compelling portrait of the many interesting stories surrounding the production of the daily brief and the subsequent reactions of its recipients.

The book contains a moderate amount of swearing throughout but no violence or sexual content.

Ryan Curtis is a proud seventh-generation Utahn and also writes for Utah Political Capitol. In his spare time, he enjoys doing family history research and listening to '70s and '80s music. You can contact him at ryancurtis4218@gmail.com.


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