Blogs > Cliopatria > Really, How Secret Are the PDB's?

Apr 13, 2004 7:55 pm

Really, How Secret Are the PDB's?

Steven Aftergood, in Secrecy, the newsletter of the FAS Project on Government Secrecy (Volume 2004, Issue No. 35 April 12, 2004):

The declassification and release of an excerpt from the August 6, 2001 President's Daily Brief (PDB) on al Qaeda, wrote the Director of Central Intelligence in an April 10 declassification order, "shall not be deemed to constitute any precedent concerning any future declassification or release of any other PDB."

But this appears to be wishful thinking, and pressure for more such releases is already growing.

The extraordinarily rapid transition of the newly released document from being among "the most highly sensitive documents in the government" to a merely "historical" memo that can be openly published with minor deletions has glaringly exposed the arbitrary character of the national security classification system. And it inevitably invites further challenges, despite the DCI's strictures.

"If the American people really want to get a full analysis of what happened, these PDBs are an important part of this landscape," said 9-11 Commission member Bob Kerrey in the Washington Post today. "We need complete access to all of them."

The pretense of inviolable secrecy surrounding the PDB is unfounded, in any case. The National Security Archive has published ten PDBs that are in the public domain (newly updated with supplemental material at

Furthermore, contrary to recent denials by CIA spokesmen, the CIA itself has declassified portions of past PDBs when it suited the Agency's interests to do so.

Thus, former DCI Robert M. Gates received CIA permission to characterize and to quote verbatim from two PDBs in his
1996 memoir "From the Shadows," including the September 2,
1983 PDB on the Soviet shoot-down of KAL-007 (at page 267) and a passage from the August 17, 1991 PDB on the impending break up of the USSR (at page 521) (thanks to Jim Dempsey).

A copy of the newly disclosed excerpt from the August 6,
2001 President's Daily Brief, entitled "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US," is available here:

A White House Fact Sheet that purports to explain how the PDB should be understood is available here:

The transcript of a White House background briefing on the release of the PDB is available here:

The release of the PDB is "the latest example of how political imperatives sometimes force officials to set aside the government's normal procedures for classifying and declassifying national security information," wrote Robert Pear in the New York Times.

See "Politics Can Get in the Way of Keeping Papers Secret,"
April 10:

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