Historical Presidential Daily Briefs Declassified

Yesterday at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, the Director of National Intelligence, General James Clapper, and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), John Brennan, announced the declassification of over 2,500 historical Presidential Daily Briefs (PDB) dated from 1961 through 1969.

We, the members of the PIDB, congratulate the Intelligence Community, the Department of State, and the CIA in particular for completion of this historic project.  Historians and scholars have long sought access to these important records.  Previously locked in security vaults and unavailable to the public, these newly declassified records will prove a treasure trove to sift through and study.  Covering its first use in the Kennedy administration to the last day of the Johnson administration, the “PDB” was used by the CIA to inform and provide the President and his most senior staff with sensitive intelligence information.  With the declassification of over 19,000 pages in this release, historians will now gain new insight into Presidential decision-making and the intelligence assessments used to make decisions during these administrations.

We first recommended that the PDB be subject to declassification in our 2008 report, “Improving Declassification.”  Up until then, the CIA viewed the PDB as inherently privileged and not subject to declassification or review for public access.  We followed up with this recommendation after President Obama asked us to make recommendations on replacing Executive order 12958, as amended.  We were pleased that he included language in Executive order 13526 that allowed for the declassification review of the PDB.

The CIA led this special review project – over two years of painstaking and labor-intensive “line-by-line” review work.  But, the results are impressive – over 19,000 pages declassified with 80% of the information released to the public.  This project solidifies our recommendations in our Report to the President on “Transforming the Security Classification System.”  It is our view that topical or subject area declassification and a line-by-line declassification review is both possible and beneficial.  This project proves that it can be done – to the great benefit for our democracy.   In an age where information is being created electronically and, therefore, exponentially, the Government must target and prioritize its declassification efforts to focus on reviewing its most important records first – and do so in automated and line-by-line ways that allow our history to be told – “with the bark off” as President Johnson once said.

Congratulations to the professional declassifiers at the CIA, and across Government for your outstanding work!  We are looking forward to 2016 and the next PDB declassification installment from the Nixon and Ford administrations.

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