Sour Grapes
Of course we're Fair and Balanced!

2004-04-12

President's Daily Brief–6 Aug 2001

Somewhere someone¹ suggested that this is but an excerpt from the PDB of that day. The White House Fact Sheet on the subject suggests otherwise, very strongly in my reading:



Q: Why has information been redacted from the PDB?


The copy of the PDB that has been released is a copy of the PDB prepared for the President, except that three redactions have been made to protect the names of foreign governments that provided information to CIA.


From Steven Aftergood's generally excellent Secrecy News, today's issue talks about the classified nature of the PDB in a way I completely agree with:



DCI: DECLASSIFICATION OF THE PDB IS NO PRECEDENT


The declassification and release of an excerpt from the August 6, 2001 President's Daily Brief (PDB) on al Qaeda, wrote the Director of Central Intelligence in an April 10 declassification order, "shall not be deemed to constitute any precedent concerning any future declassification or release of any other PDB."


But this appears to be wishful thinking, and pressure for more such releases is already growing.


The extraordinarily rapid transition of the newly released document from being among "the most highly sensitive documents in the government" to a merely "historical" memo that can be openly published with minor deletions has glaringly exposed the arbitrary character of the national security classification system. And it inevitably invites further challenges, despite the DCI's strictures.


"If the American people really want to get a full analysis of what happened, these PDBs are an important part of this landscape," said 9-11 Commission member Bob Kerrey in the Washington Post today. "We need complete access to all of them."


The pretense of inviolable secrecy surrounding the PDB is unfounded, in any case. The National Security Archive has published ten PDBs that are in the public domain (newly updated with supplemental material at www.nsarchive.org).


Furthermore, contrary to recent denials by CIA spokesmen, the CIA itself has declassified portions of past PDBs when it suited the Agency's interests to do so.


Thus, former DCI Robert M. Gates received CIA permission to characterize and to quote verbatim from two PDBs in his 1996 memoir "From the Shadows," including the September 2, 1983 PDB on the Soviet shoot-down of KAL-007 (at page 267) and a passage from the August 17, 1991 PDB on the impending break up of the USSR (at page 521) (thanks to Jim Dempsey).


Kevin Drum was disturbed by the PDB's lack of eruditeness:



[W]hat really struck me was that the whole thing was so short—considerably shorter than your average op-ed column, in fact—and written at about a high school level. This is an intelligence briefing prepared at the request of the president of the United States and he was apparently satisfied with it? Eleven paragraphs of pabulum considerably less authoritative than an average article in Foreign Affairs? Sheesh.


When first I read this on Saturday, I planned to point out how refreshingly clear and understandable this was for a government document, but in the meantime Patrick Belton already put it well enough.



Kevin also notes:



By the way, my guess is that the entire reason the White House has been so reluctant to release the PDB can be summed up in two words: "New York." The fact that the document specifically talks about al-Qaeda interest in "buildings in New York" probably hit a little too close to home for comfort.


I would go further. The PDB after all specifically mentions the "World Trade Center." The context is bin Laden's statement that Al Queda "would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramsi Yousef and 'bring the fighting to America.'"



My quarrel with the Bush Administration has not been that they didn't see 9/11 coming—although the more I learn the more I wonder even about that—but that they insist they were on top of Al Queda when clearly they weren't. If they had just said, “Whoops! We made a mistake. We were looking at anti-missle defenses or stem-cell research or whatever when we should have been looking at Al Queda.” then I think many citizens would have been willing to forgive them. As many have pointed out, there weren't many people besides Richard Clarke running around and saying, about Al Queda, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"President's Daily Brief–6 Aug 2001

Somewhere someone suggested that this is but an excerpt from the PDB of that day. The White House Fact Sheet on the subject suggests otherwise, very strongly in my reading:



Q: Why has information been redacted from the PDB?


The copy of the PDB that has been released is a copy of the PDB prepared for the President, except that three redactions have been made to protect the names of foreign governments that provided information to CIA.


From Steven Aftergood's generally excellent Secrecy News, today's issue talks about the classified nature of the PDB in a way I completely agree with:



DCI: DECLASSIFICATION OF THE PDB IS NO PRECEDENT


The declassification and release of an excerpt from the August 6, 2001 President's Daily Brief (PDB) on al Qaeda, wrote the Director of Central Intelligence in an April 10 declassification order, "shall not be deemed to constitute any precedent concerning any future declassification or release of any other PDB."


But this appears to be wishful thinking, and pressure for more such releases is already growing.


The extraordinarily rapid transition of the newly released document from being among "the most highly sensitive documents in the government" to a merely "historical" memo that can be openly published with minor deletions has glaringly exposed the arbitrary character of the national security classification system. And it inevitably invites further challenges, despite the DCI's strictures.


"If the American people really want to get a full analysis of what happened, these PDBs are an important part of this landscape," said 9-11 Commission member Bob Kerrey in the Washington Post today. "We need complete access to all of them."


The pretense of inviolable secrecy surrounding the PDB is unfounded, in any case. The National Security Archive has published ten PDBs that are in the public domain (newly updated with supplemental material at www.nsarchive.org).


Furthermore, contrary to recent denials by CIA spokesmen, the CIA itself has declassified portions of past PDBs when it suited the Agency's interests to do so.


Thus, former DCI Robert M. Gates received CIA permission to characterize and to quote verbatim from two PDBs in his 1996 memoir "From the Shadows," including the September 2, 1983 PDB on the Soviet shoot-down of KAL-007 (at page 267) and a passage from the August 17, 1991 PDB on the impending break up of the USSR (at page 521) (thanks to Jim Dempsey).


Kevin Drum was disturbed by the PDB's lack of eruditeness:



[W]hat really struck me was that the whole thing was so short—considerably shorter than your average op-ed column, in fact—and written at about a high school level. This is an intelligence briefing prepared at the request of the president of the United States and he was apparently satisfied with it? Eleven paragraphs of pabulum considerably less authoritative than an average article in Foreign Affairs? Sheesh.


When first I read this on Saturday, I planned to point out how refreshingly clear and understandable this was for a government document, but in the meantime Patrick Belton already put it well enough.



Kevin also notes:



By the way, my guess is that the entire reason the White House has been so reluctant to release the PDB can be summed up in two words: "New York." The fact that the document specifically talks about al-Qaeda interest in "buildings in New York" probably hit a little too close to home for comfort.


I would go further. The PDB after all specifically mentions the "World Trade Center." The context is bin Laden's statement that Al Queda "would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramsi Yousef and 'bring the fighting to America.'"



My quarrel with the Bush Administration has not been that they didn't see 9/11 coming—although the more I learn the more I wonder even about that—but that they insist they were on top of Al Queda when clearly they weren't. If they had just said, “Whoops! We made a mistake. We were looking at anti-missle defenses or stem-cell research or whatever when we should have been looking at Al Queda.” then I think many citizens would have been willing to forgive them. As many have pointed out, there weren't many people besides Richard Clarke running around and saying, about Al Queda, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"





¹Ah! The "somewhere someone" was Kevin Drum in another post on the PDB.



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