Process tells you something about an administration.
How a president structures his regular morning meeting on intelligence and national security is one way to measure his personal approach to foreign policy.
The Obama morning meeting involves two parts. The first deals with the latest important intelligence, with the president leading the questioning. The second part generally is an extensive policy discussion, which is led by Donilon and focuses on how to handle immediate national security issues that require the president’s attention.
This approach differs somewhat from those of Obama’s predecessors and illustrates his way of doing business: He holds regular, open discussions with top policy advisers based on current facts, designed to try to stay ahead of issues before they become problems.
One regular participant in the roughly 500 Oval Office sessions during Obama’s presidency said the meetings show a president consistently participating in an exploration of foreign policy and intelligence issues.
In contrast, a former senior adviser to former presidents said the system sounded more like a morning “seminar” where other stakeholders, such as Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, are not present.
But a senior White House official said the morning meeting is not used to discuss presidential decisions, but rather for the White House staff to get departments to work on present or future issues.
It also is used to remind Obama about decisions that are needed and sometimes leads to a National Security Council (NSC) meeting, where the president will directly ask Clinton, Panetta and other members for their departments’ views on the subject.
Since the Kennedy years, one constant element of the White House meeting has been the President’s Daily Brief (PDB), the 20-to-25-page, highly classified, bound notebook compiled overnight — these days by DNI staff.
Using the most important new intelligence drawn from the CIA, along with State, Defense, the FBI and others, the PDB sometimes contains imagery or transcripts of intercepted conversations that — because of their “mind-boggling sensitivity,” according to one former White House official — should be shared with the president and only a handful of top officials.
PDB copies are delivered about 6:30 a.m. to the White House for the president and Donilon. They also go to Biden, Panetta and Clinton.