No, Clinton and Trump Do Not Receive the Same Daily Intel Briefing Obama Receives
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has a message for all the election Cassandras: “It will be OK.”
Calling this election year “sportier than we’re used to,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Wednesday sketched out the intelligence community’s obligations in briefing the major presidential candidates on national security threats in the modern era.
“I know a lot of people have been feeling uncertainty about what will happen with this presidential transition,” Clapper told 1,000 industry and government professionals at a summit put on by the nonprofit Intelligence and National Security Alliance. “There’s been a lot of catastrophizing, if I can use that term, in the 24-hour news cycle, and of course, on social media. So I'm here with a message. It'll be OK.”
Clapper described the formal transition team meeting for both presidential campaigns at the White House Aug. 25—the one required under the new presidential transition law—by saying he was “struck by how sober and professional and courteous and civil the conversation was.”
The purpose of the candidate briefings is to use the continuity provided by the intelligence community to reduce uncertainty for the next president, Clapper said, rattling off a range of challenges including climate change, technological disruption, ISIS, tensions with Russia and China, and African economic development.
“To dispel a myth; we're not giving President Obama's PDB, or any PDB product, to the candidates,” he said, referring to the president’s highly-classified daily intelligence briefing. Clapper noted that the tradition of giving candidates classified briefings dates to President Truman in 1952. The CIA handled those briefings every year until 2008, when the Office of the Director of National Intelligence took over.
“One team produces and delivers the PDB, as we always do, and a completely separate team produces and coordinates the cross-agency effort to brief the candidates,” Clapper said. “In our effort to try to make sure that there's no political influence on the briefings, the candidate briefing team does not coordinate with the White House and only career intelligence officers give the briefings, not political appointees like me.”
Those rules were proposed and approved by the White House on June 22, the spy chief said, “and the IC has essentially been operating independently since then. We have a list of topics that we offer to each candidate. They can ask for briefings on any or all of them. They can also ask for briefings on new topics. If we give briefs on new topics, we'll make sure both candidates have a chance to get those same briefs. Otherwise we don't tell either campaign or the public what happens in those briefings: not what topics each candidate shows interest in or gets briefed on, not how either candidate reacts and not what questions get asked.”
On the day after the election, the new President-elect will receive his or her first PDB briefing, which will be essentially identical to the one President Obama receives, Clapper added. Later in September, he plans to send the White House ground rules for making that happen. His team will also prepare to orient the next director of national intelligence
Clapper spoke just hours before Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made controversial comments at a forum broadcast by MSNBC. Asked what he had learned at his first intelligence briefing, he said "What I did learn is that our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow . . . what our experts said to do . . . And I was very, very surprised. I could tell—I'm pretty good with body language—I could tell they were not happy."
Many in the intelligence field later commented that briefers would not indulge in such body language and do not make recommendations when presenting factual intelligence analysis of national security situations.
On Thursday, Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine received his first intelligence briefing; Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence received his on Friday.