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Adapted from the National Security Archive blog Unredacted.
The National Security Archive and ProQuest published President’s Daily Briefs (PDB) from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, opening documents that have been kept secret for nearly four decades. Researchers have gained an inside look at the American government during an era that encompassed remarkable and controversial events: the Bay of Pigs, the Vietnam War, the space race and cultural revolution in China.
PDBs are top secret CIA digests of essential intelligence presented every morning to the president. 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 that are now accessible and searchable in a new module of the Digital National Security Archive: The President’s Daily Brief: Kennedy, Johnson, and the CIA, 1961-1969.
This collection offers transparency to researchers seeking deeper insights into the workings of government. The PDBs are a rich source of information not only for illuminating a controversial and pivotal period in modern world history, but into the national security system processes, presidential decision-making, CIA intelligence production, and government secrecy.
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.
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 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.
The important topics covered by these documents include:
- 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
Image: This Johnson-era PDB, dated 29 May 1967, on the 6 Day War, was declassified in 2004.