On his first morning as president, the CIA told Gerald Ford that Richard Nixon’s resignation the day before had probably left many adversaries, including America’s Cold War nemesis, the Soviet Union, “in something of a state of shock.”
“None of the potential trouble-makers has produced even a rumble,” according to the CIA. “It may be that many have not had time to consider how the situation might be turned to advantage,” since they had “probably not anticipated the situation to come to a climax so rapidly.”
The CIA assessment is just one of many revealing glimpses on display in approximately 2,500 President’s Daily Briefs spanning the Nixon and Ford administration that were declassified this week.
The inside look comes as both 2016 major-party contenders are receiving their first classified intelligence briefings as presidential candidates.
The 28,000 newly declassified pages recall key moments in history and detail the kind of top-secret information conveyed to the president at the time, though some material remains redacted.
During Nixon’s famed 1972 visit to China, his briefs discussed how hardliners were absent from the welcoming ceremonies and cited concerns that Japanese officials were feeling anxious about “being left behind” as part of the US-China rapprochement.
A brief from 1969 describes Moammar Gadhafi, having recently come to power in Libya via a coup, as giving “an emotional” speech denouncing the presence of US forces at a base in Libya — though a brief given days after the coup said “it is too early to assess what a successful coup would mean as far as the two main US interests in the area are concerned i.e., US petroleum companies and Wheelus Air Force Base.”
The CIA’s Historical Review Program described the briefs as the documents that were “the primary vehicle for summarizing the day-to-day sensitive intelligence and analysis, as well as late-breaking reports, for the White House.”
Nixon and Ford had different approaches to how they handled the briefs.
“Nixon, as a once practicing attorney, preferred to review the PDBs on longer legal size paper” than his predecessor, Celia Mansfield, the CIA’s Historical Programs Coordinator, wrote in a booklet accompanying the briefs publication.
Nixon was also never briefed by the CIA directly, instead the National Security Council briefed the CIA-produced documents to the President, with then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger acting as “Nixon’s gatekeeper,” according to Mansfield. Kissinger wanted to be on top of issues to the extent that he asked for an afternoon brief as well. The brief was given every day but Sunday.
Ford, on the other hand, received his briefs directly from a CIA official.
He “requested more detailed reporting and analysis,” Mansfield said and his briefs were close to 20 pages long compared to Nixon’s, which tended to be about 10 pages.
Despite even the most recent of the files being nearly 40 years old, portions of the briefs, including entire pages, remain redacted.
The CIA published the briefs for presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson in September.