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Biden puts the 'daily' back into the administration's intelligence briefings

While his predecessor received the in-person daily intelligence briefing sporadically, Biden plans to have it on his schedule most days, administration officials say.
Image: President Biden Delivers Remarks On Response To Economic Crisis From White House
President Joe Biden talks about the economic crisis alongside Vice President Kamala Harris in the White House on Jan. 22, 2021.Alex Wong / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden plans to put the “daily” back in the President’s Daily Brief, and that’s just one of the changes underway as the intelligence community adjusts to a new commander in chief, according to several administration officials.

While some of his predecessors, including former President Donald Trump, received the in-person briefing, commonly known as the PDB, sporadically, Biden plans to have it on his schedule most days, the officials said. He’s also returning to the practice of having his vice president join for the briefing when they’re both in Washington, officials said.

Vice President Kamala Harris has attended Biden’s Oval Office briefings in the administration's opening week, “and that is the plan going forward,” one of her aides said. Biden and Harris received the briefing Thursday and Friday, as well as Monday, according to their public schedules.

“The president is receiving the PDB daily and intends to keep doing so,” a senior administration official said. “President Biden values the expertise of intelligence professionals, and relies on them for apolitical analysis of national security issues.”

The PDB and its frequency are tailored to an individual president’s preferences. It’s a process that doesn’t typically gain public attention, but under Trump it did because his approach to intelligence appeared detached and combative.

The former president routinely criticized intelligence officials and publicly disagreed with them, particularly over the assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help him. He would get distracted during in-person briefings and oftentimes veer off topic on a tangent, NBC News and other outlets have reported.

Trump didn’t regularly read the materials and had intelligence officials whittle down written briefings, sometimes to a single page and preferably with bullet points. His vice president was not routinely part of his in-person intelligence briefings, and in the final weeks of his presidency Trump didn’t have a single one listed on his public schedule.

Biden consumes intelligence in a more fulsome and traditional way, according to officials. His newly confirmed director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, attended his first briefing as president Thursday, according to a spokesperson.

As vice president during the Obama administration, Biden received a paper version of the PDB that was delivered to the vice presidential residence at the Naval Observatory in the very early morning hours. Later, the PDB was digitized and appeared on an iPad he kept with him. Biden would read the intelligence summary in the morning and make notes for follow-ups, according to officials, and then meet in the Oval Office with President Barack Obama for the in-person briefing.

That initial part of the briefing, about 15 to 20 minutes, would involve asking the intelligence briefer follow questions and for more details. Sometimes, the briefer would bring an analyst or an expert along to do a deeper dive into a specific policy area or issue. And, sometimes, the briefer would come with “walk-on material,” either new information that had come since the PDB had been prepared, or something to illustrate a part of the briefing in more detail that wasn’t already in the written product.

Obama would then send the briefers out of the room, and the remaining 10 to 15 minutes would be a discussion with the core members of the president’s national security team about the PDB or other issues on their agenda.

“That would be the model he has in his head,” an official who was involved in the process said of Biden.

Biden, who has signaled he won’t publicly question the soundness of U.S. intelligence, adopted a similar process once he gained access to the PDB during the transition, the official said.

Trump’s intelligence consumption habits came under intense scrutiny last year when it was disclosed that he was unaware of intelligence about an alleged plot by Russia to give money to militants in Afghanistan for killing American troops — even though it had been included in the PDB.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that Biden had directed intelligence officials to provide him with an assessment of Russia’s 2016 election interference and the alleged bounties plot in Afghanistan.

Trump also drew criticism when he visited CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, the day after his inauguration and spoke of his inauguration crowd size and election victory while standing in front of the agency’s Memorial Wall, which commemorates members of the CIA who have been killed in the line of duty.

A White House official said there aren’t any current plans for Biden to visit the CIA headquarters.