The Central Intelligence Agency released over 2,500 highly classified daily briefs from the Johnson and Kennedy presidency Wednesday.
CIA Director John Brennan and other top national intelligence officials gathered at the LBJ Presidential Library at the University of Texas to release the collection of day-to-day summaries of intelligence and analysis. The presidential daily briefs (PDBs) addressed the national security issues from 1961-1969 under Texas State alumnus Lyndon B. Johnson’s and John F. Kennedy’s presidential terms.
“It is all here with the story of our time, with the bark off, ” Brennan said, quoting Johnson himself.
The daily briefings are the first presidential PDBs to be released to the public. Brennan said PDBs from the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford will be released next year.
“Public releases of historical significant documents like this don’t just happen,” said Joseph Lambert, director of information management services. “They require a great amount of collaboration and work.”
Readers can find “sporty and eyebrow-raising” language in the collection of PDBs, Brennan said. In a daily brief prepared on Oct. 17, 1964 for President Johnson, PDB writers paralleled the disposal of Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev and former Yankee Coach Yogi Berra.
“In the last few days the ax has been falling all over the world,” the document states. “Not only has it cut down such diverse figures as Khrushchev and Lord Home, but it has shown itself no respecter of either victor or vanquished. Both the Cardinal’s Johnny Keane and the Yankee’s Yogi Berra have felt its edge.”
Brennan said PDBs are a vital part of how the modern presidency and White House operates. The documents have grown in length and sophistication.
“Many of the changes have been driven by technology,” Brennan said. “The publication has changed in response to the habits of each president.”
Brennan said Kennedy preferred a checklist format, stripped of intelligence and political jargon. Kennedy wanted it small enough to fit in his breast pocket so he could carry it around and refer to it throughout the day.
When Johnson took office after Kennedy’s assassination, PDB writers had to start over in tailoring the daily briefings to the president’s preferences, Brennan said.
“It became very clear Johnson wasn’t reading the checklist,” Brennan said. “He preferred to get his intelligence informally, in meetings and through conversation.”
“LBJ requested his daily briefing delivered in the afternoon, oftentimes while in his pajamas and lying in bed,” Brennan said.
Bobby Inman, former deputy director of Central Intelligence, said he hopes the release of Johnson’s daily briefings will offer insight into his presidency.
“It wasn’t all just Vietnam,” Inman said.
Peter Clement, deputy assistant director of CIA for Europe and Eurasia, said the compilation of documents reminds the public of the “boiling cauldron” of challenges the president faces daily.
“Reading this is almost of getting a mirror image of the president’s mind,” Clement said.
Clement said he hopes historians notice Johnson wrestled with other international affairs while dealing with conflict in Vietnam.
“Dominican Republic, the Congo, turbulence in the Middle East, Soviet and Communist adventurism throughout the developing world, political instability among allies in Europe and Asia, student unrest around the globe,” Clement listed off other occurring issues that arose while tensions in Vietnam increased. “These are a bracing reminder no issue is confronted or decision is made in isolation.”
The daily briefing distributed to Johnson on Nov. 23, 1963—the day after Kennedy’s assassination—represents the “unfathomable challenges” inherited when Johnson assumed office, Clement said.
“It takes only the briefest stretch of our imaginations to appreciate this was the new reality that faced LBJ,” Clement said. “These are not just academic interests but things he faces as being responsible for being the leader of the free world.”
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