While millions of Americans are starting their mornings with a cup of coffee and a dose of the news, President Barack Obama is drinking a weaker, but more sobering brew.
“I get a thick book full of death, destruction, strife and chaos. That’s what I take with my morning tea,” Obama said in an interview with Vox published on Monday.
That “thick book full of death” the President’s referencing is most likely what’s formally referred to as the President’s Daily Brief – an intelligence briefing the President, his top aides and national security officials sift through six days a week.
Here’s the low down on what Washington insiders call the PDB.
“Death, destruction, strife and chaos.” Sounds scary. What’s inside?
The PDB is a product of the U.S. intelligence community, which the CIA describes as a “daily, multi-source intelligence digest.” Delivered by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in coordination with the CIA, the daily briefing gives the commander-in-chief the latest updates on U.S. national security issues.
The document gives the President and national security officials key insight into everything that’s going on in the world – especially everything that’s dangerous and could potentially threaten U.S. interests at home and abroad.
Aside from that, very few people know what’s actually inside. That’s because it’s also a super-secretive document. In fact, it’s classified Top Secret.
So is it actually a book?
It’s not even in paper form anymore. On Feb. 15, 2014, Obama became the first president to receive his “death, destruction, strife and chaos” on a tablet.
Obama is handed a secure iPad every morning that’s got the “book” downloaded onto it.
How did it start?
President Harry Truman was the first to receive a daily intelligence briefing, then known as the Daily Summary.
It became the Current Intelligence Bulletin in 1951, before President John F. Kennedy “requested a more concise summary of all-source intelligence on key issues,” according to the CIA.
But it wasn’t until President Lyndon B. Johnson that the document finally became the President’s Daily Brief.
Do we ever find out what’s inside?
Very, very rarely. Few PDB’s have ever been declassified, though one notable exception is the Aug. 6, 2001 document that warned “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” which was declassified as part of the investigation into the 9/11 attacks.
“Clandestine, foreign government and media reports indicate bin Laden, since 1997, has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the U.S. Bin Laden implied in U.S. television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and “bring the fighting to America,” that PDB warned.
What happens after the President reads the PDB?
He gets to ask questions.
Obama meets with his national security advisers daily – almost always at 9:30 a.m. – for an in-person debriefing where he gets to discuss the issues presented and how they could impact U.S. national security.