1998 (2) Winter

Mornings in Pacific Palisades: Ronald Reagan and the President's Daily Brief

By Richard J. Kerr and Peter Dixon Davis

The presidential election of 1980 was over, and it was the morning after. In CIA’s Office of Current Operations, we knew that a new boss and a new set of customers had us in their sights. Ronald Reagan would be in the White House by the end of January, and a Republican team of national security officials would be calling the shots. CIA would have a new Director of Central Intelligence (DCI). He would bring in a new deputy. There probably would be other new faces at the top of CIA, and a new set of staff weenies would appear as well.

Déjà vu all over again? So it seemed to us: here we were, the Director and Deputy Director of the Office of Current Intelligence, and we faced another new administration, another foreign policy team, another group to which we had to prove ourselves all over again. But, while we were veterans of such transitions, neither of us had grown so jaded or so weary of trying to convince our customers of the value of intelligence that we did not warm to the possibility of new experiences. We were at once stimulated by the prospect of change and challenged by the problems we clearly had to overcome. It would not be easy, but it would be exciting. The task sounded straightforward if you had no experience trying to do it: providing a daily report of current intelligence to the President and his national security team that was comprehensive, offered information and analysis not available from other sources, and helped rather than frustrated the policymaking process.

We knew that in the confusion of changing administrations, establishing daily intelligence support at top levels of a wary new leadership might just as likely be resisted as welcomed. At the same time, this new group valued intelligence; the question was whether they thought CIA was up to the task. How would we be received by a palace guard that at times had appeared downright hostile?

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