Experts Say Intel Should Have Reached Trump On Russian Bounty Program The president says no one told him about the threat to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Reports say the information was available in a detailed intelligence file called the President's Daily Briefing.
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Experts Say Intel Should Have Reached Trump On Russian Bounty Program

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Experts Say Intel Should Have Reached Trump On Russian Bounty Program

Experts Say Intel Should Have Reached Trump On Russian Bounty Program

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Now moving on to another big story developing this week. President Trump says that he had no idea about a suspected Russian bounty program to pay the Taliban to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Critics question this. They say the information was in the president's daily briefing. It's a detailed leather-bound book the intelligence community puts together for him every day. To tell us how this works, we're joined by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre.

Greg, thanks for being with us.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Clearly a very big story at a time when there are lots of big stories. Is it possible that President Trump wouldn't be told about this suspected Russian bounty program even if the intelligence was less than 100% certain?

MYRE: Well, that's what I've been asking, and it seems the U.S. Intelligence Committee began getting raw intelligence at least six months ago. There was a raid in Afghanistan. Some Taliban were captured and interrogated, and a large pile of cash was uncovered. Now, the CIA seems to have the highest degree of confidence that there was or is a Russian bounty program. Some of the other agencies say they haven't corroborated it. And the White House said for this reason, because there was no consensus, it wasn't presented to the president.

But former intelligence officers say that important raw intelligence, even if unconfirmed, is widely shared and should reach the president. One of the people I spoke with was David Priess, a former CIA officer who is part of the presidential briefing team and wrote a book about it called "The President's Book Of Secrets."

DAVID PRIESS: The first myth about raw intelligence is that it is only seen by one analyst or a group of analysts when, in fact, raw intelligence is disseminated around the national security community. The White House situation room gets a feed of direct raw intelligence, too.

SIMON: Greg, tell us more please about how this process is supposed to work.

MYRE: So the president's daily briefing is traditionally heavily a CIA product, but all 17 intelligence agencies can contribute. And these streams of intelligence are gathered throughout the day. And while Washington is sleeping, a team of intelligence officials puts together this book, the president's daily briefing. This happens every weekday. Though, in President Trump's case, he likes to be brief face to face.

SIMON: And who actually does that? Who's in the room with the president?

MYRE: Well, there is a dedicated briefer, and normally we wouldn't know the name of this person, but it has come out recently. She's Beth Sanner, and she's a highly respected 30-year CIA veteran. Now, the president's been criticized for his response to both the coronavirus and now the Russian bounty story. And the White House has sort of deflected some of the blame onto his briefings, saying the coronavirus briefing in January only glancingly mentioned the potential threat and that he wasn't told about this Russian bounty program.

But in both cases, the material was reportedly in the daily briefing. And the briefer's not alone. The CIA director, director of national intelligence is there. And David Priess says the most important figure in this process is the president's national security adviser.

PRIESS: The ultimate responsibility for getting national security information that the president needs to the president lies with the national security adviser.

MYRE: And that person is Robert O'Brien, who is president's trump fourth national security adviser.

SIMON: These daily briefings began in the Truman administration?

MYRE: That's right. Harry Truman was trying to make sense of the world after the chaotic aftermath of World War II. The very first briefing to him would sound familiar to us. It was about the Soviet Union spreading disinformation about the United States.

SIMON: NPR's Greg Myre, thanks so much for being with us.

MYRE: My pleasure.

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