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Thousands of Curated Top Secret CIA Digests Now Available through the Digital National Security Archive

November 3, 2016

pdbThe National Security Archive, working with our partners at ProQuest, just published a new compilation of documents on the President’s Daily Briefs (PDBs) from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations that is now available online. This collection of PDBs (PDBs are Top Secret CIA digests of essential intelligence presented every morning to the president that were previously said to be too sensitive to ever be released) will serve as a rich source not only on a pivotal period in modern world history but on the workings of government and the national security system, especially presidential decision-making, CIA intelligence production, and government secrecy.

The President’s Daily Brief: Kennedy, Johnson, and the CIA, 1961-1969 consists of 2,483 documents and 19,098 pages of Top Secret intelligence summaries prepared by the CIA and delivered to the president each day. Known as the President’s Intelligence Checklist (PICL) during the Kennedy administration and the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) during Johnson’s tenure, these documents were used to brief the president on world events and global threats, including the evolution of the war in Vietnam, conflicts resulting  from decolonization in Africa and Indonesia, Cold War crises in Berlin and Czechoslovakia,  the Cuban Missile Crisis and its aftermath, Latin American political upheavals, and the 1967 Six-Day War in the Middle East, among others.

October 27, 1962 PICL

October 27, 1962 PICL

These documents were kept secret for nearly four decades, with only a few PDBs finding their way into the public domain. The CIA fought hard to prevent their disclosure, and continues to inconsistently declassify the documents, claiming that the daily summaries would reveal intelligence sources and methods. Press secretary Ari Fleisher termed the PDB “the most highly sensitized classified document in the government.” and CIA director George Tenet declared that information in these records could never be disclosed “no matter how old or historically significant it may be.”

The National Security Archive – in partnership with others in the academic community – was instrumental in paving the way for the first substantial release of PDBs through a campaign of public education and pressure that finally led to litigation. The Archive joined with Professor Larry Berman in 2007, then a professor of political science at the University of California, Davis, in a suit against the CIA. Though the court denied the plaintiffs’ immediate request, it rejected the CIA’s attempt to obtain a blanket exemption for all PDBs, opening the door for the eventual release of the 2,483 documents and nearly 19,100 pages included in this collection.

Above all, the PDBs in this collection will help researchers understand how decision-makers receive and utilize information in determining policy. (Combining these materials with the Digital National Security Archive’s collections on presidential directives will increase their value even more.)  With coverage spanning several years, researchers can use the PDBs to analyze comparatively the interests, priorities and approaches of different presidential administrations. Students of the U.S. intelligence community will also find much raw material for understanding one of the most critical aspects of the community’s mission – keeping the president informed.

Among the important topics covered by these documents are:

  • the evolution of the Vietnam war;
  • the Cuban missile crisis;
  • the Congo crisis;
  • the Laotian civil war;
  • tensions among Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaya resulting from the creation of Malaysia and the decolonization of Borneo;
  • leadership changes in the Soviet Union;
  • Soviet military aid to Cuba, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa;
  • the North Yemen civil war;
  • the Biafra-Nigeria civil war;
  • intercommunal violence in Cyprus and the Greek and Turkish responses;
  • elections, coups, and civil unrest in Latin America;
  • the Sino-Soviet dispute;
  • Chinese conflicts with India and Taiwan;
  • the Chinese cultural revolution;
  • independence movements in Africa and the Caribbean;
  • the French withdrawal from NATO;
  • European discussion of political, economic, and security benefits of integration;
  • Cold War flashpoints in Berlin;
  • Czechoslovakia’s Prague Spring;
  • nuclear issues;
  • the space race;
  • the Arab-Israeli conflict;
  • Egypt’s attempts to unite with Syria, Jordan, and Iraq

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