WASHINGTON – President Bush's secret morning intelligence briefing (search) is getting an overhaul, drawing on new sources of information and trimming others, nearly four months after a presidential commission criticized the daily report for being ineffective.
In a rare look at how the president receives his intelligence each day, two senior intelligence officials said Bush is now getting written assessments and verbal briefings that pluck information from across the government's 15 spy agencies, rather than almost exclusively relying on the CIA.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity at the request of National Intelligence Director John Negroponte (search).
As soon as next week, Bush will no longer receive a separate report on terrorism prepared by the National Counterterrorism Center (search), known as the President's Terrorist Threat Report, or "Putter." That information instead will be folded into the regular morning briefing so Bush has a single, daily intelligence product, one of the officials said at a briefing Tuesday.
The quality of the President's Daily Brief (search) — or PDB in Washington-speak — recently came under fire in a scathing 600-page report by a commission Bush formed to examine the quality of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction.
In late March, the nine-member intelligence commission led by Republican Judge Laurence Silberman and former Sen. Charles Robb, D-Va., recommended major changes to the PDB as part of its report. The panel said the briefings on Iraq before the March 2003 invasion were flawed by "attention-grabbing headlines" and "repetition of questionable data."
For the first time, one official said, an advisory board is looking at the topics of the president's briefings to make sure briefers are presenting the right information. Senior officials also are scrutinizing the sources of information to ensure that the government's top experts are consulted.
Bush's intelligence commission also recommended major changes in how agencies assemble and disseminate classified analysis on a day-to-day basis.
Since opening its doors in April, the two senior officials said Negroponte's office is in the process of ensuring that sometimes little-noticed but quality products get more attention inside the government. They concede, however, that there are challenges in simply moving information.
"It has to do with the [information technology] guys who say anything is possible, and the security mavens who say nothing is prudent," said one official.
The officials, who are part of a senior analysis organization called the National Intelligence Council, said Negroponte's organization is also finding ways to highlight differences among analysts at various agencies.
For instance, one official said analysts sometimes differ in how they interpret statements from terrorists about fissile material.
"Does that mean they have it? They are actually looking for it? Attempting to get it? Is this sort of an idle wish?" the official said. "How you spend money, how you deploy collection kind of depends on how you come down."
Technical judgments are also at times an area of disagreement, the officials said.
Before the Iraq invasion, most intelligence agencies thought Iraq was trying to purchase aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment — a major finding of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. The Energy Department believed the tubes were for rockets.
In hindsight, the experts at Energy were right.