New Shapiro professor and former U.S. director of national intelligence lays out global issues he’d discuss with the president.
February 24, 2016
As a leading scholar on diplomatic affairs, John D. Negroponte joins the George Washington University community as the Elliott School’s newest J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of International Affairs. He previously taught at his alma mater, Yale University, where he was the Brady Johnson Distinguished Fellow in Grand Strategy and Senior Lecturer in International Affairs at the Jackson Institute.
“I sincerely hope I can encourage those interested in public service, and convey the richness and variety of opportunities in government to our students,” Mr. Negroponte said.
He has had a long career in foreign policy, completing appointments as ambassador to Honduras, Mexico, the Philippines, the United Nations and Iraq. He served twice on the National Security Council staff, first as director for Vietnam in the Nixon Administration and then as deputy national security advisor under President Reagan. He also has held a cabinet level position as the first U.S. director of national intelligence under President George W. Bush.
As director of national intelligence, one of Mr. Negroponte’s many responsibilities included overseeing the president's daily intelligence briefing—a process in which an intelligence team would prepare articles with everything the president needed to know about global affairs of the day.
George Washington Today reporter Julyssa Lopez spoke with Mr. Negroponte and discussed his role and the foreign policy issues he would include in a briefing for the 45th president of the United States.
Q: What was the process of preparing the Presidential Daily Briefing?
A: I became director in early 2005, and I had the job for almost two years. One of my main activities, six days a week, Monday through Saturday, was to attend and participate in the President’s Daily Intelligence Briefing from 8 to 8:30 a.m.
Normally, what happens is the analysts come into the office in the afternoon and polish updates they have in mind. Then, the actual briefer would come in at about 3 or 4 in the morning and go over the final drafts and raise any questions. The briefer would come into the White House complex at 6:30 in the morning and meet with me, and we’d go over the material for about an hour before we’d see the president. There was a lot of careful preparation that went into these, and they succeeded in representing the best available information to the United States government.
Q: What was the actual briefing with the president like?
A: Different presidents approached that briefing in different ways. For example, when I was deputy national security adviser to Gen. Colin Powell, we would give President Reagan the actual book of about 7-8 articles on current issues of the day. We would let him read it at his leisure over the course of the day, perhaps highlighting one or two articles that were particularly useful.
In the case of President Bush, both son and father, they liked to have an intelligence officer join them. They would read and listen to the briefing every morning. With President [George] W. Bush, it was a very dynamic process. He would read the articles, and he would debate—quite energetically at times. It was a real Socratic exchange, and he took that process very seriously. Not only did he do the briefing every day, but when he traveled abroad or around the country, he took one of the intelligence briefers with him.
Q: If you were responsible for delivering a Presidential Daily Briefing to the next president, what would you include on it?
A: Some issues are perennial. They remain roughly the same from day to day. For example, the threat of global terrorists has been relatively constant, although its forms and its shape change. Al-Qaeda has morphed into ISIL and spread to Syria. Now some of these same tendencies have spread to other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Certainly, international terrorist threats are a key issue constantly monitored by the intelligence community, so that would go into a briefing on a regular basis.
Another issue would be nuclear proliferation. We’re concerned about the nuclear weapons and missile launch programs of North Korea. We also have concerns about Iran’s commitment to dismantling its nuclear program and complying with the agreement it made with the international community a few months back.
Specific concerns about nation states, particularly the countries of Russia and China, would also be reviewed daily for the briefing—their intentions and their behavior. The next move of Russia in the Ukraine would be examined, as well as what intentions they harbor after moving into Crimea. The analysts also frequently do these leadership profiles based on collected information and what assessments we can make from the character and leader’s personality—so something like, “Who is Xi Jinping?” That can give you insight into how the country as a whole might behave, particularly countries with authoritarian tendencies.
Finally, we'd include assessments about pandemics and epidemics. Usually the CDC takes the lead on global health, but the intelligence communities can add significant analysis. Currently, there’s the Zika virus and Andean flu virus, and these can really take you by surprise. The implications, like the case of Ebola showed, can lead to national security issues.