NBC News producer
updated 4/12/2004 6:14:16 PM ET 2004-04-12T22:14:16

It's the most exclusive "newspaper" in the world. Its publisher is a spy agency. Its circulation director is the president of the United States. Its subscribers are the world's most powerful men and women. It is the President's Daily Brief.

Here is how U.S. officials and intelligence historian Jeffrey T. Richelson describe it.

Circulation: "Low tens," roughly around 20, mostly Cabinet-level officials, senior White House officials, and intelligence and military officials. In the Clinton administration, the number was 32, but that was cut back in the Bush administration. The president designates the recipients in a letter to the director of the CIA. Each of the recipients has his or her own CIA briefer.

Recipients: Among those who get briefed either together or separately: The president [George W. Bush], the vice president [Richard Cheney], White House chief of staff [Andrew Card Jr.], national security adviser [Condoleezza Rice], director of central intelligence [George Tenet] and other intelligence agencies, the secretaries of state [Colin Powell], treasury [John Snow], and defense [Donald Rumsfeld], the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff [Gen. Richard Myers], and the deputy secretaries of state [Richard Armitage] and defense [Paul Wolfowitz] as well as the deputy national security adviser [Steve Hadley]. Normally, the president's briefer will brief the five key national security officials together just after dawn: Bush, Cheney, Rice, Card and Tenet at the White House, depending on their schedules

Length: Usually 10 to 15 pages with six to 10 headlines, each similar to the one released from Aug. 6, 2001, dealing with al-Qaida. [CIA and the White House say that there were roughly 40 al-Qaida items in the PDB during the eight months between inauguration and Sept. 11.] It is an intelligence summary rather than an exhaustive analysis. The president can order up a National Intelligence Estimate, which can run up to 90 or 100 pages or even a Special National Intelligence Estimate if there is a pressing need, but there has not been an SNIE for nearly 15 years.

Versions: There are different versions of the PDB, depending on the recipient and his or her interests and responsibilities.

Follow-up: Questions from top officials, particularly the president, are brought back to the CIA by the briefer, who can prepare a memo if time-urgent or respond during the next briefing. The briefing can also serve as the basis for a follow-up conversation between the president and the director of central Intelligence who normally sits with the president and the briefer.  While the director normally discusses larger, long-term issues with the president, if an item in the PDB triggers presidential interest, the director is prepared to deal with it

Copies: Retained at the CIA, not at the White House or anywhere else.

Briefers: High-ranking analysts from the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence. There are two presidential briefers who rotate in the job, currently a man and a woman. Each of the other officials who receive the PDB has his or her own briefer. The president's briefers all have at least a decade of experience at the CIA.

Production: A small staff of people, numbering fewer than 10, constitute the president's analytical support staff, part of the Office of Policy Support (OPS) within the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence.  The director of intelligence at the CIA — in essence, the chief analyst — acts as the "publisher" of the PDB, with her deputies filling in when she is not available. The director of the president's analytical support staff acts as an "executive editor," assigning topics to various "reporters" within the analytical community, who produce the "articles." Articles are edited and headlines written by the staff  The briefers carry with them background material on each of the issues. The PDB is printed at the CIA's printing plant at  CIA headquarters in Virginia.

Schedules: The PDB is published six days a week, Monday through Saturday. On those days, the president's briefer arrives at the CIA at midnight to begin his or her preparation for the next morning's brief. During the day, the support staff has been preparing "articles" for the PDB, in many cases responding to questions posed by the president or other recipients. Much of what is included in the PDB is not related to the day's events, but has been in progress for a while. Around sunrise, the briefer checks with the CIA Operations Center to see if there is anything urgent that he needs to relay to the president. He then proceeds to the White House. Briefers for other officials proceed to their offices or homes. On arrival at the White House, the president's briefer meets with the director of central intelligence just prior to the president's own briefing.

Delivery: Hand-carried to the offices or homes of the recipients. The PDB is handed to the recipient who reads it in the presence of the CIA officer. The copy is then returned to the CIA officer.  Secure electronic means are used to transmit the PDB when recipients are traveling.

Location: Some recipients are briefed at home, some in the office. CIA Director George Tenet, who is seen as a recipient, is briefed by his personal briefer at home just prior to his departure for the White House.

Similar publications: The CIA also publishes the Senior Executive Intelligence Briefing, which has a circulation in the thousands and, unlike the PDB, can be accessed and even searched electronically. It includes intelligence "below the presidential threshold" and is available to senior bureaucrats. [Richard Clarke would not have had access to the PDB but would have had access to the SEIB.]  A 3-year-old publication.

Robert Windrem is an investigative producer for NBC News.

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