The Campaign Spot

Why Obama’s Use of the PDBs Is an Issue

Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact-checker, insists the “Obama is missing his intel briefings” accusation is bogus:

The notion that Obama has skipped his intelligence briefings was promoted by a right-leaning research group called the Government Accountability Institute, which published a report detailing that the president’s daily calendar shows Obama receiving an in-person briefing on the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) 43.8 percent of his time in office. (The percentage dropped from a high of 48.8 percent in 2010 to 38.2 percent through May of 2012.)

Marc Thiessen, a former Bush speechwriter who writes an opinion column for The Washington Post, then drew attention to what he called the “startling new statistics” in the report. His column on the subject is cited as the source in the American Crossroads ad.

That column also includes the White House’s response—that Obama reads his PDB every day, but he does not always require an in-person briefing every day. The White House argument is that this is how Obama structured his White House operation, so it is specious to say he has “skipped” a meeting that was not actually scheduled.

At first glance, Obama’s PDB habits seem like small potatoes; some folks prefer to take in information through the written word, others prefer to hear it from a person’s voice. And besides, if a president sees something in a President’s Daily Brief that he doesn’t understand or that he wants to know more about, the top folks in the intelligence community are just a phone call away.

But there are certain days you figure a president would want as much information as possible, where he would want to get everything, ask a few follow-ups, get the assessment of his most trusted advisers on national security. You would think that September 12, the day after the deadly attack on our Benghazi consulate and the mob storming our embassy in Cairo, would be one of those days. You would be wrong.

I’m reminded of one of the more egregious comments from the First Lady in recent years, spoken at a Democrat party fundraiser in California in June 2011: “He reads every word, every memo, so he is better prepared than the people briefing him,” she said. “This man doesn’t take a day off.” 

It’s a good thing that the Central Intelligence Agency is full of classy, dignified, professional people; otherwise, tomorrow’s President’s Daily Brief might consist of, “Well, since you’re so well prepared, figure it out yourself, smarty-pants.”

Maybe he feels like he’s heard it all before; as Michael Lewis wrote in his “Obama’s Way” profile in Vanity Fair:

“After a quick breakfast and a glance at the newspapers – most of which he’s already read on his iPad – he reviews his daily security briefing. When he first became president he often was surprised by the secret news; now he seldom is. ‘Maybe once a month.’”

Concluding his defense of Obama, Kessler cites a CIA history of the PDB, and looks back at President Reagan:

Thinking back over the eight years of the two Reagan administrations, the Agency’s briefing officer remembered only one or two occasions when the National Security Adviser took him into the Oval Office to brief the President directly. Unlike Carter, Reagan almost never wrote comments or questions on the PDB.

Reagan didn’t get in-person briefings from the Agency? No wonder we lost the Cold War.

When the news is good, no one second-guesses how the president receives and processes intelligence. When the news is bad, well… these sorts of questions will be asked.

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