Massoud Hossaini / AP
President Trump said he had learned nothing of a suspected Russian bounty program that is used to pay the Taliban to kill US troops in Afghanistan.
However, the president’s critics, former intelligence officers, and even some members of his own party have questioned this. They find that in addition to regular personal security meetings every day of the week, U.S. intelligence agencies compile a detailed, leather-bound book for Trump and his top advisors, known as the President’s Daily Briefing.
US intelligence agencies began receiving raw information at least six months ago after raids in Kabul, Afghanistan, and in the northern city of Kunduz. The prisoners were interrogated and, according to the New York Times, a large pile of cash was exposed.
With intelligence agencies evaluating this raid and additional information, the CIA appears to have the highest confidence in the existence of a Russian bounty program.
However, other senior national security officials, including Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, have made all statements that their departments have not confirmed the media reports.
The White House said that because there is no consensus in the intelligence community, the advisors have not raised the issue with Trump until it is released in the press.
Damian Dovarganes / AP
Share raw intelligence
Former intelligence officers say, however, that raw critical data, even if it has not been confirmed, is widely available and should reach the president.
“The first myth about raw intelligence is that it is only seen by an analyst or a group of analysts,” said David Priess, a former CIA officer who wrote a history of the president’s security briefings The President’s Book of Secrets. “In fact, raw information is spread across the national security community. The Situation Room at the White House is also provided with direct, raw information.”
Dan Hoffman, a former CIA station chief in Moscow who has also worked in the Middle East, says it is important to exchange information as far and as quickly as possible.
“I served in overseas combat areas for three years and gathered that kind of tactical intelligence,” he said. “It’s not that good wine gets better with age. You have to bring it to people at risk. That means our soldiers, but also the coalition forces.”
“My concern as an intelligence officer would be that I don’t want the president or his national security adviser to be blind when [British] Prime Minister Boris Johnson says: “Hey, we have received from this reporting that the Russians have a bounty for our people in Afghanistan …” said Hoffman.
The director of the National Intelligence Service has the final say on what is included in the daily information book, although the CIA generates much of the content and all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies can contribute.
This flow of information flows to the various authorities around the clock, and overnight while Washington is sleeping, a team compiles the formal briefing book, which is ready at dawn.
Face to face briefings
The book, which typically contains up to 10 articles, is available to Trump and his top advisors, although the president prefers to discuss the material in person and, according to trusted officials, the process is taught several times a week for about 30 minutes to an hour .
Trump has been criticized for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and now for the Russia bounty story. In both cases, the White House tried to transfer at least part of the blame to the briefings.
The White House said the U.S. coronavirus threat was first mentioned in a briefing on January 23, but only at a glance. And now it is said that the president was never verbally informed about the history of the Russian bounty.
In both cases, detailed information was reportedly provided to the President and his top advisers in the information book.
Typically, the president’s dedicated short cut is not publicly identified. In the midst of recent controversy, Trump’s has been referred to as Beth Sanner, a highly regarded 30-year-old veteran of the intelligence community.
In addition to Sanner, CIA director Gina Haspel and Ratcliffe, director of national intelligence, usually take part in the briefings. National Security Advisor O’Brien is also present, and according to David Priess, the person in this position must ensure that the President receives the information he needs.
“The ultimate responsibility for ensuring that the President receives national security information that the President needs is with the National Security Advisor,” said Priess.
O’Brien, who took up the position last September, is Trump’s fourth national security advisor in less than four years.
The daily news program goes back to President Harry Truman, who requested this when he tried to understand a still chaotic world after World War II.
The CIA finally published these first briefings for Truman two years ago, and the content today sounds very familiar. The first point of the first briefing concerned the spread of disinformation about the United States by the Soviet Union. This briefing also included reports of tensions on the Korean peninsula and a U.S. trade dispute with China.
The briefings were tailored to the wishes of each president.
President Richard Nixon didn’t care much about her and only authorized one advisor to see her – Henry Kissinger. President Barack Obama got it on his iPad and read it privately. Then he discussed it all day with the more than 30 other consultants who were also allowed to see it.
Greg Myre is an NPR correspondent for national security. follow him @ Gregmyre1.