Books Monographs

Getting to Know the President, Fourth Edition

Intelligence Briefings of Presidential Candidates and Presidents-Elect, 1952–2016

Publication Details

Published October 2021

By: John L. Helgerson

President Harry Truman, in whose administration the Central Intelligence Agency and the postwar Intelligence Community (IC) were created, instituted the custom of providing candidates for the presidency classified briefings on foreign developments. In 1952 he authorized CIA to brief Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and Gov. Adlai Stevenson so that the successful candidate would be as well informed as possible about the world situation when he took office. The briefings would also position CIA to develop a close working relationship with the new president and his advisers. These two objectives have guided the efforts of CIA and the IC during presidential transition periods ever since.

Getting to Know the President by John Helgerson provides unique insights into the mechanics and content of the briefings of presidential candidates and presidents-elect, the interaction of the participants, and the effects of briefings on the relationships presidents have had with their intelligence services. Helgerson’s observations on how and what to brief during the campaign and transition periods are essential reading for members of the IC charged with that responsibility in the future and seeking to learn from the best practices of their predecessors.

About the Fourth Edition

In its ninth chapter, this fourth edition of Getting to Know the President updates the earlier editions to incorporate experience from the election and transition of 2016, which brought President Trump to office. Briefing Trump presented the IC with the most difficult challenges it had ever faced.  Trump had publicly criticized CIA and the outgoing DNI and disparaged the substantive work and integrity of the intelligence agencies. In addition, the controversy over Russian interference in the 2016 election and Trump associates’ contacts with Russian officials heightened tension between the IC and the president-elect. After the inauguration, the briefings soon settled into a pattern: they were held only two or three times a week, Trump did not read the PDB closely if at all, and the briefers had to draw his attention to the most important issues.