Updated | The Central Intelligence Agency is set to release 2,500 previously top-secret briefings it gave to presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s, a private pro-CIA group announced on Wednesday.
“The vast majority of the documents have never been previously released,” an informed official says, although a number of CIA presidential briefings have surfaced in heavily redacted form over the years. Intelligence officials from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations have also discussed their private conversations with the presidents in memoirs and other books.
The reports, customarily provided personally to the president each morning by a senior CIA officer, if not the director himself, will almost certainly show much of what the spy agency was telling Kennedy and Johnson about Vietnam, Cuba, the Soviet Union, China and conflicts in Africa and the Middle East. They may well also include the CIA’s private assessments of world leaders.
Try Newsweek for only $1.25 per week
But expectations should be low for the new materials, says Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Kai Bird. “I bet they are on the whole surprisingly dull [and only] occasionally insightful,” cautions Bird, author of a biography of McGeorge and William Bundy, brothers who held top national security posts in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Such memos are "at their best when they are telling the president what he doesn’t want to hear about the Cold War, the Vietnam War or the Middle East,” adds Bird, who is working on a book about the Jimmy Carter presidency. “But that would be decidedly rare.”
It could not be immediately learned whether the CIA records to be released include what the agency told Johnson about the November 1963 assassination of his predecessor, Kennedy. Many critics have leveled unproven charges over the years that CIA-linked personnel may have been involved in the assassination.
“The President’s Daily Brief (PDB) contains the highest level intelligence analysis of key national security issues and concerns of the president,” the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), a Virginia-based organization with a national membership of thousands, said in the announcement Wednesday on its website.
“Only the president, the vice president, and a select group of cabinet-level officials designated by the president receive the briefing,” the AFIO said. Intelligence historian Christopher Andrews once called the PDB the world’s “smallest circulation, most highly classified, and—in some respects—best informed daily newspaper.”
The papers are to be released September 16 at a public forum at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, and will be available then on the agency’s website. The agency has previously posted PDBs and other declassified materials on its historical collections page.
CIA Director John O. Brennan will present the event’s keynote speech, the AFIO said. Other former high-ranking intelligence officials, including Porter Goss, a CIA director during the George W. Bush administration, and Bobby Inman, a former CIA deputy director and National Security Agency chief, are slotted to speak as well.
The declassified documents, released as part of the CIA’s Historical Review Program, will also be available online, the AFIO said.