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The President's Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America's Presidents from Kennedy to Obama

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Every president has had a unique and complicated relationship with the intelligence community. While some have been coolly distant, even adversarial, others have found their intelligence agencies to be among the most valuable instruments of policy and power. Since John F. Kennedy's presidency, this relationship has been distilled into a personalized daily report: a short su Every president has had a unique and complicated relationship with the intelligence community. While some have been coolly distant, even adversarial, others have found their intelligence agencies to be among the most valuable instruments of policy and power. Since John F. Kennedy's presidency, this relationship has been distilled into a personalized daily report: a short summary of what the intelligence apparatus considers the most crucial information for the president to know that day about global threats and opportunities. This top-secret document is known as the President's Daily Brief, or, within national security circles, simply "the Book." Presidents have spent anywhere from a few moments (Richard Nixon) to a healthy part of their day (George W. Bush) consumed by its contents; some (Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush) consider it far and away the most important document they saw on a regular basis while commander in chief. The details of most PDBs are highly classified, and will remain so for many years. But the process by which the intelligence community develops and presents the Book is a fascinating look into the operation of power at the highest levels. David Priess, a former intelligence officer and daily briefer, has interviewed every living president and vice president as well as more than one hundred others intimately involved with the production and delivery of the president's book of secrets. He offers an unprecedented window into the decision making of every president from Kennedy to Obama, with many character-rich stories revealed here for the first time.


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Every president has had a unique and complicated relationship with the intelligence community. While some have been coolly distant, even adversarial, others have found their intelligence agencies to be among the most valuable instruments of policy and power. Since John F. Kennedy's presidency, this relationship has been distilled into a personalized daily report: a short su Every president has had a unique and complicated relationship with the intelligence community. While some have been coolly distant, even adversarial, others have found their intelligence agencies to be among the most valuable instruments of policy and power. Since John F. Kennedy's presidency, this relationship has been distilled into a personalized daily report: a short summary of what the intelligence apparatus considers the most crucial information for the president to know that day about global threats and opportunities. This top-secret document is known as the President's Daily Brief, or, within national security circles, simply "the Book." Presidents have spent anywhere from a few moments (Richard Nixon) to a healthy part of their day (George W. Bush) consumed by its contents; some (Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush) consider it far and away the most important document they saw on a regular basis while commander in chief. The details of most PDBs are highly classified, and will remain so for many years. But the process by which the intelligence community develops and presents the Book is a fascinating look into the operation of power at the highest levels. David Priess, a former intelligence officer and daily briefer, has interviewed every living president and vice president as well as more than one hundred others intimately involved with the production and delivery of the president's book of secrets. He offers an unprecedented window into the decision making of every president from Kennedy to Obama, with many character-rich stories revealed here for the first time.

30 review for The President's Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America's Presidents from Kennedy to Obama

  1. 5 out of 5

    David Huff

    The most important advice I can offer about this book is to not let the title mislead you. The President's "Book of Secrets", actually known as the President's Daily Brief (or PDF for short), is a top-secret document, containing sensitive daily intelligence briefings, prepared for the President. Because the briefings are classified, you won't find any "secrets" revealed in this book. What you will find is a detailed account of the history of the PDF, from it's preliminary evolution, during the Tr The most important advice I can offer about this book is to not let the title mislead you. The President's "Book of Secrets", actually known as the President's Daily Brief (or PDF for short), is a top-secret document, containing sensitive daily intelligence briefings, prepared for the President. Because the briefings are classified, you won't find any "secrets" revealed in this book. What you will find is a detailed account of the history of the PDF, from it's preliminary evolution, during the Truman and Eisenhower years, to the official birth of the PDF under Johnson and Kennedy, and its subsequent use by every President since. The work of the CIA and other agencies in preparing this important document is traced in considerable detail, and will make you appreciate the efforts of so many different people to provide the President with accurate and timely intelligence. David Priess, the author, was himself a CIA officer and a daily briefer for Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Most fascinating, to me, was the approach each President took toward the PDF and his daily briefings, and the contrast in management styles, information gathering, and decision making between the Presidents. This gave an interesting human side to what, essentially, is a deeply detailed history of the PDF and how it has grown and developed over the years.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    Every day, the President receives a report revealing the most sensitive intelligence reporting and analysis of world events: the President’s Daily Brief (PDB). Every day, the President receives a report revealing the most sensitive intelligence reporting and analysis of world events: the President’s Daily Brief (PDB).

  3. 5 out of 5

    Dean

    Both this book and the daily briefing itself are over rated.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    This book was a letdown. It was quite dull and dry. Priess has an impressive resume, but is not a very good author for a general publication. It was interesting to see how each President handled intelligence and the briefings, but this book doesn't give us much insight into what was discussed due to the PDB being classified. But, it's a bit misleading, as many other people had access to the briefings besides the President so it isn't necessarily "secret". It was also quite repetitive and my eyes This book was a letdown. It was quite dull and dry. Priess has an impressive resume, but is not a very good author for a general publication. It was interesting to see how each President handled intelligence and the briefings, but this book doesn't give us much insight into what was discussed due to the PDB being classified. But, it's a bit misleading, as many other people had access to the briefings besides the President so it isn't necessarily "secret". It was also quite repetitive and my eyes started to cross after a while; it definitely takes concentration to get through.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Marcia King

    This book was interesting because I like politics and secret stuff. A book about the presidents from Kennedy to Obama and how they viewed and received the CIA daily intelligence report would seem to fit the bill. Unfortunately, since most of the info contained in the President's Book of Secrets (the presidential daily brief) remains classified, there aren't too many secrets revealed. However, each presidents handling of the book, their response to it and the hoops the CIA jumps through to ensure This book was interesting because I like politics and secret stuff. A book about the presidents from Kennedy to Obama and how they viewed and received the CIA daily intelligence report would seem to fit the bill. Unfortunately, since most of the info contained in the President's Book of Secrets (the presidential daily brief) remains classified, there aren't too many secrets revealed. However, each presidents handling of the book, their response to it and the hoops the CIA jumps through to ensure its "First Customer" is pleased, is very interesting. The information about President George W Bush's usage of the book and his generosity toward the CIA briefers is revealing. It seems he (and his father before him) understood the value of the intelligence provided and promoted the book and the briefings as a good way to receive it. The book also acknowledges that the info prior to 9/11 was inadequate given the magnitude of the terrorists attack. The book provides good info on how the Intelligence Agencies were reconfigured to work together more effectively to protect our country. If you like politics, you will probably like this book

  6. 4 out of 5

    Robert Sparrenberger

    This one started slowly and then got into a good rhythm. I thought the book was going to review the secrets that the president was receiving but it was actually about the book itself and how each president liked the daily brief prepared. The book is dry and probably geared towards a political junky or someone involved with intelligence.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Abraham Ray

    ok book about presidential secrets

  8. 5 out of 5

    Bill Tress

    As the title states, this book is about the President's Book of Secrets, also known as the President's Daily Briefing (PDB). There is a lot of redundancy in this book that makes a reader sometimes question, why continue but continue they should! The writer gives the impression that the preparation and presentation of the PDB is all the CIA does and particularly all the management of the CIA focuses on and I am sure this is the writers failure and not a fact. Over the years the worth of the CIA h As the title states, this book is about the President's Book of Secrets, also known as the President's Daily Briefing (PDB). There is a lot of redundancy in this book that makes a reader sometimes question, why continue but continue they should! The writer gives the impression that the preparation and presentation of the PDB is all the CIA does and particularly all the management of the CIA focuses on and I am sure this is the writers failure and not a fact. Over the years the worth of the CIA has come into question many times, this book adds some validity to this point. The author admits to the numerous failures of our intelligence agencies in general and the CIA in particular, yet, he insists that the PDB is a very necessary product of the CIA while at the same time acknowledging that one half of the material in the PDB is already being reported on by the news media. Some of the merits of this book are that you do gain some insight into each President's personality and work habits. Also, some of the questions about how events unfolded, such as, war in Iraq and Desert Storm are answered and may not be found in other historical writing. It is very clear that all of the intelligence agencies in our government are in competition to such an extent that they withhold information from each other, the tragedy of 9/11 is the best example. These agencies are like children competing for the attention of their father, the President; the President's Handlers, in a child like manner, compete to have exclusive access to the President. The best of this book is towards the end when the 9/11 tragedy is covered in a step by step manner with all of the emotion of the school scene in Sarasota when the President is informed of the attack and has to decide what to do, next. In reading this book , I gain some respect for President Bush (W). His father has stated in other books that his son was not served very well by his cabinet and this book sheds light on this issue. (W) was misled by his intelligence agencies regarding weapons of mass destruction (WMD), another CIA failure, but also failures such as withholding information in his cabinet and other Departments of Government. After 9/11 (W) took steps to change how intelligence agencies operate and mandated interaction between agencies, maybe not a fix, yet, an improvement. In the end, the book had some value for me, it did confirm my lack of trust in our intelligence agencies and their management. This lack of trust was also evident in how some President's viewed their briefings, (W) after 9/11 rook a "deep dive" into a lot of what they gave him and this of course took a lot of his time from maybe more important Presidential business.. It seems almost impossible that politics does not enter into the culture of intelligence agencies and than into the Presidential briefings, thereby reinforcing untruth as apposed to just the facts. In any discussion with friend who had an interest in the workings of our government, I would recommend the book with all of its warts.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    If you're looking for an overview of the evolution of the President's Daily Brief (the president's regular written security briefing from the CIA), then this book gives you the detail you are looking for, especially from the Ford administration up through the Obama years. Two things that are obvious through this book is, whether you agree with certain presidents politically or not, they all took very seriously the duty to know all they could know to assist them in their work. That is also true of If you're looking for an overview of the evolution of the President's Daily Brief (the president's regular written security briefing from the CIA), then this book gives you the detail you are looking for, especially from the Ford administration up through the Obama years. Two things that are obvious through this book is, whether you agree with certain presidents politically or not, they all took very seriously the duty to know all they could know to assist them in their work. That is also true of the employees of the CIA who viewed it as their responsibility to ensure that their information was shared as accurately and as completely as possible. I did find the final chapter on the Obama years to be a bit lighter than the rest of the book, but the cause of that is obvious, as the book was written during the Obama presidency. I recommend this book highly for readers interested in presidential history, or the history of the intelligence services (specifically the CIA) over the last 50 years.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mike Thiac

    Seeing the United State "Intelligence Community" is looked upon as an colossus, in every spot in the world, it is sometime shocking to people to know it’s a fairly recent creation. Until World War II, with the establishment of the Office of Strategic Services (Which became the CIA), the president got his intelligence generally from the War Department or the State Department. It wasn’t until the US took a leading roll in the world that the president was presented with an almost daily classified u Seeing the United State "Intelligence Community" is looked upon as an colossus, in every spot in the world, it is sometime shocking to people to know it’s a fairly recent creation. Until World War II, with the establishment of the Office of Strategic Services (Which became the CIA), the president got his intelligence generally from the War Department or the State Department. It wasn’t until the US took a leading roll in the world that the president was presented with an almost daily classified update of issues. This book goes over how the CIA (later the Director of National Intelligence) would bring a daily briefing, and get to adjust to what the president wanted to know, and more importantly, what he needed to know, and how to best get it to him. I’ll leave it at that, I don’t want any spoilers. If you are “into” intelligence, a good light read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Cathy

    he forward by George H.W. Bush. He said the CIA was his favorite job, after POTUS of course. A really interesting history of the presidency and the CIA as seen through the narrow lens of the President’s daily briefing. Priess was able to provide totally different stories and tidbits about the presidents when looked at from this angle. This aspect of how the CIA works was really interesting too. We’ve heard so much in recent years about what did the president know and when did he know it, and thi he forward by George H.W. Bush. He said the CIA was his favorite job, after POTUS of course. A really interesting history of the presidency and the CIA as seen through the narrow lens of the President’s daily briefing. Priess was able to provide totally different stories and tidbits about the presidents when looked at from this angle. This aspect of how the CIA works was really interesting too. We’ve heard so much in recent years about what did the president know and when did he know it, and this explains a lot about the process that makes sure that happens as well as possible. A good book from an author who understands the process personally and has done his research very well.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Reynolds S

    Excellent book detailing the evolution of the President's daily briefing of current events around the world. It was interesting to see how the Presidents reacted to having the briefing, which ones accepted it grudgingly and those that eagerly embraced it. It give the reader a look at one aspect of the President's life that helps him to be prepared for just about anything. There were several incidences where the brief did not help the President or completely missed the mark on what was going to h Excellent book detailing the evolution of the President's daily briefing of current events around the world. It was interesting to see how the Presidents reacted to having the briefing, which ones accepted it grudgingly and those that eagerly embraced it. It give the reader a look at one aspect of the President's life that helps him to be prepared for just about anything. There were several incidences where the brief did not help the President or completely missed the mark on what was going to happen.

  13. 5 out of 5

    C

    Perhaps one of the best researched CIA books I’ve read to date, benefiting clearly from Priess’ access to America’s most influential political figures. Priess delivers this wonderfully comprehensive narrative in the succinct and precise style that is characteristic of CIA alumni. Despite attention to detail and prose, the only perceivable shortcoming of the work is an occasional but evident influence of the author’s political subscriptions, which at times, undermine the objectivity of his commen Perhaps one of the best researched CIA books I’ve read to date, benefiting clearly from Priess’ access to America’s most influential political figures. Priess delivers this wonderfully comprehensive narrative in the succinct and precise style that is characteristic of CIA alumni. Despite attention to detail and prose, the only perceivable shortcoming of the work is an occasional but evident influence of the author’s political subscriptions, which at times, undermine the objectivity of his commentary.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Robert S

    Often times there are articles that would make for an absolutely fascinating book if fleshed out properly and other times there are books that would have worked better as a longer article or essay. Unfortunately, The President's Book of Secrets fits in the latter category for me. Some interesting tidbits here. Others who enjoy books about the intelligence community might get more out of it than I did. Often times there are articles that would make for an absolutely fascinating book if fleshed out properly and other times there are books that would have worked better as a longer article or essay. Unfortunately, The President's Book of Secrets fits in the latter category for me. Some interesting tidbits here. Others who enjoy books about the intelligence community might get more out of it than I did.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    The main topic in this book is the President's relationship with the CIA. Via this relationship one can begin to see the working President vs. the leading President presented in the media. These insights give one the ability to see the President's working style and to some degree his priorities during his presidency. The main topic in this book is the President's relationship with the CIA. Via this relationship one can begin to see the working President vs. the leading President presented in the media. These insights give one the ability to see the President's working style and to some degree his priorities during his presidency.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Christoher Corbaz

    I'd put this between a 3 and 4. It was very informative and interesting. Great insight into how the president and the executive branch work. However, it was a bit repetitive after awhile. It could've also included more about Obama's presidency as we didn't get very much of that at the end. Would recommend to history and/or politics nerds like myself! I'd put this between a 3 and 4. It was very informative and interesting. Great insight into how the president and the executive branch work. However, it was a bit repetitive after awhile. It could've also included more about Obama's presidency as we didn't get very much of that at the end. Would recommend to history and/or politics nerds like myself!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bill Hughes

    David Priess tells a fascinating history of Presidents and their intelligence briefings. Covering Truman through Obama, this books gives an inside look at how our leaders have processed information regarding national security. It’s well documented with a lot of firsthand accounting from primary participants in the events described. This is a must read for any history nerd.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Marie

    A history of the Presidential Daily Brief, written by a CIA staffer who was a briefer for Bush 1 and Clinton. Insightful how the product evolved over time, adjusting to each recipient and his interest level. General caveat about dates: March 13, 2020 through August 2020 is a blur in terms of what I read when. This title falls into my pandemic quarantine reading. 

  19. 5 out of 5

    Shawn

    I initially thought this was about the secret book shared among former Presidents about top secret information during their tenure. Instead, this is actually how the creation of the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) came to fruition since the Truman Administration. A very interesting read about how the PDB evolved from President to President.

  20. 5 out of 5

    John Bordeaux

    The Authority on the President’s Daily Brief Mercifully, this book ends with the Obama administration. It offers a comprehensive view into the product over time, the various First Customers, and fits it into the known history of recent decades. A must for policy wonks, and also recommended for all who may have only recently come to care about how we govern ourselves.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Keyes

    Wow!! It's a biography of the intelligence agencies of the US! In addition, the personalities of our past presidents are reviewed by the writer. It's so interesting.I read this during the 2016 election. Now I think about the "daily briefing" every day. I am not encouraged. Wow!! It's a biography of the intelligence agencies of the US! In addition, the personalities of our past presidents are reviewed by the writer. It's so interesting.I read this during the 2016 election. Now I think about the "daily briefing" every day. I am not encouraged.

  22. 5 out of 5

    James McFarland

    Great read! This book was insightful into who and what agencies actually brief the president and how the information is filtered to the Oval Office! Anyone who is a political science or history major should read this book!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Carla Zinn

    It was most revealing and helps to put our modern day Presidents quirks in perspective. Also, to see how the media and gov't bureaucrats hid that they or others not elected, actually were running the gov't,,,much like today. Good book. It was most revealing and helps to put our modern day Presidents quirks in perspective. Also, to see how the media and gov't bureaucrats hid that they or others not elected, actually were running the gov't,,,much like today. Good book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rick Cheeseman

    Interesting topic, but not much here. Could have been a short story or a feature article somewhere...

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tracy Johnson

    Not quite sure what I was expecting, but several key points, facts and related interviewed portions delighted me. While other sections seem to drone on.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Katie Richards

    I listened to this book on Audibles. It was very interesting to learn how the President's Intelligence Brief has evolved through the different Presidency's. I listened to this book on Audibles. It was very interesting to learn how the President's Intelligence Brief has evolved through the different Presidency's.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Evan Kail

    How do you make a great subject boring? I actually stopped reading it half way though because it just wasn't that engaging or interesting. How do you make a great subject boring? I actually stopped reading it half way though because it just wasn't that engaging or interesting.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Gordon Kwok

    A very interesting book, some parts of it read like a history of the creation of the post-WW2 Liberal World Order and international institutions like the UN and IMF. This book discusses some background on the CIA and evolution of the intelligence community and delves into how each president from Truman/Eisenhower to Bush43 preferred their briefing - e.g., short, long, lots of pictures. Obama was discussed briefly and how he was the first to receive his daily PDB on an iPad. He was criticized by A very interesting book, some parts of it read like a history of the creation of the post-WW2 Liberal World Order and international institutions like the UN and IMF. This book discusses some background on the CIA and evolution of the intelligence community and delves into how each president from Truman/Eisenhower to Bush43 preferred their briefing - e.g., short, long, lots of pictures. Obama was discussed briefly and how he was the first to receive his daily PDB on an iPad. He was criticized by some for expanding the list of recipients. Overall, a good book and I recommend it if you are interested in presidential history.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    A rare and comprehensive book on some mechanics and foibles of delivering intelligence briefings to presidents since JFK. Hopefully this will continue to be a valued service, but goodness knows.

  30. 4 out of 5

    R.

    I learned a great deal about the content and presentation of the daily briefing, and its reception by various public servants. I gained more insight into many of our presidents and vice-presidents by learning how they responded on a day-to-day basis in managing one of their greatest responsibilities: maintaining their knowledge of current events in the world of intelligence. The writing is detailed, not superficial. I really felt the difference in preparation and reception of the daily briefings. I learned a great deal about the content and presentation of the daily briefing, and its reception by various public servants. I gained more insight into many of our presidents and vice-presidents by learning how they responded on a day-to-day basis in managing one of their greatest responsibilities: maintaining their knowledge of current events in the world of intelligence. The writing is detailed, not superficial. I really felt the difference in preparation and reception of the daily briefings. I gained some respect for Pres. Carter, about whom I'd previously learned nothing laudable, after learning how thorough he was in reviewing material prepared for him by the CIA.

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