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WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House says President Donald Trump was never briefed on intelligence that Russia had put a bounty on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan because there wasn’t corroborating evidence.

But former intelligence officials say presidents are routinely informed about intelligence even when it’s not definitively confirmed. Intelligence that may be on shaky ground today may foreshadow tomorrow’s calamity.

Some questions and answers about how presidents are briefed on intelligence, what sort of information they receive and how this applies to the situation with Russia:


Both orally and through a written document known as the President’s Daily Brief.

The PDB, as it is known, is a compilation of intelligence and national security assessments from government analysts. It’s material the intelligence community thinks the president should know.

The document has been provided to presidents in some form since Harry Truman occupied the White House. Some presidents are said to have been voracious consumers of their briefings; Trump, by contrast, is known to demand only the sparest details.

Today, the PDB is coordinated by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and includes contributions from the CIA and other members of the intelligence community who effectively pitch stories for inclusion, said Rodney Faraon, a former CIA analyst who served from 1999 to 2001 on the briefing team for the White House.

“It’s not unlike what you would see in a journalistic newsroom,” he said.



Depending on the day, and the particular interests of a president, the PDB could include the latest inside information about a country a president is preparing to visit, intelligence about potential national security threats or other secrets relating to current events.

“There’s no mathematical formula” for deciding what gets briefed to the president, said David Priess, a former CIA intelligence briefer and author of “The President’s Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America’s Presidents.”

“The job of the analysts is to decide, ‘does the president need to know this today?’ You are writing for the president,” he added.

There’s also no mathematical formula for evaluating the credibility of intelligence. Sometimes, information is deemed reliable because it comes from a trusted source, because it matches up with a separate piece of intelligence or fits into a pattern, or because it derives from surveillance or intercepted recordings.

“A lot of it comes down to the source of the information: Did the source have first-hand access?” said former CIA officer Cindy Otis. Or, conversely, “Is it a person with fourth-hand access who heard it from a dude who heard it from a dude and so on down the chain?”

“You’re not going to put garbage in front of the president,” she added.



Absolutely not. If that were the case, the PDB would be both brief — since intelligence deals more often with uncertainty than fact — but also boring, restricted to observations that are obvious and likely already known to the president, Priess said.

“Because it’s intelligence, that means it deals with the unknown, things that are uncertain — but things that are of grave importance to U.S. national security and worthy of the president’s attention,” he said. “Nothing in there says that it has to be fully verified or certain because intelligence is rarely certain.”

Modern history is loaded with examples of briefings to presidents that contained warnings, or informed suppositions, but not certifiable facts.

One month before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, President George W. Bush was famously warned in a PDB that Osama bin Laden was determined to strike the U.S. The intelligence, including chatter picked up by counterterrorism analysts, was seen as urgent and credible enough to bring to the president’s attention though it lacked details about date, location and method.

Nearly a decade later, President Barack Obama’s advisers alerted him to their belief that bin Laden was in a compound in Pakistan — despite disagreement over the strength of that intelligence. Obama still approved the operation that killed bin Laden.

In his book, “The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism from al-Qaida to ISIS,” former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell writes that his confidence level was at 60 percent. Other analysts felt more secure.

When Obama asked about the disparity, Morell said it reflected differences in individual experiences but not differences in the information people had.



Intelligence that may be on shaky ground today may precede an actual crisis, so briefers are expected to ensure that presidents have the fullest possible picture to prepare for something that may soon require maximum attention.

That’s especially true when even unclear or uncorroborated intelligence indicates that American lives or infrastructure could be at risk.

“The president is going to get hard decisions, and those hard decisions normally come with murky facts and gray areas,” said Larry Pfeiffer, a 32-year intelligence community veteran who held positions as CIA chief of staff and senior director of the White House Situation Room.

To account for the uncertainty, briefers will caveat the information and detail internal disagreements among different intelligence agencies so that presidents understand a situation’s nuance.



White House officials have repeatedly insisted that the president hadn’t been briefed that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-linked fighters in Afghanistan to kill American troops, though officials have told The Associated Press and other news organizations that the information was included in the President’s Daily Brief.

The AP, citing officials familiar with the matter, also has reported that national security adviser Robert O’Brien had discussed the matter with Trump and that former national security adviser John Bolton told colleagues that he had done the same last year. O’Brien has denied that, and Bolton has declined to comment.

O’Brien has said the CIA and Pentagon did pursue the lead and briefed international allies. But he said the intelligence wasn’t brought to Trump’s attention initially because it was unverified and there was no consensus among the intelligence community.

After news broke about the intelligence, Trump was briefed, the White House said.

Former intelligence officials say it’s a matter Trump absolutely should have been briefed on earlier, whether corroborated or not.

“The safety and security of American troops posted in a war zone is of the highest importance,” said Faraon, a partner at the Martin + Crumpton Group, a business intelligence firm.

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision Thursday blocked a lower court ruling allowing curbside voting in Alabama and waiving some absentee ballot requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Conservative justices granted Alabama’s request to stay a federal judge’s order that would allow local officials to offer curbside voting in the July runoff and loosen absentee ballot requirements in three of the state’s large counties. The order will remain stayed while the court decides whether to hear Alabama’s appeal.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said he was pleased the court acted quickly so that Alabama voting rules remain in place for the July 14 runoff.

“Alabama is again able to enforce laws that help ensure the fairness and integrity of our elections,” the Republican said.

The court rulings stem from a lawsuit filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program. A group of voters had sought more voting options because of health concerns.

U.S. District Judge Abdul K. Kallon last month issued a preliminary injunction after finding that Alabama’s election rules will cause sick or elderly voters to “likely face a painful and difficult choice between exercising their fundamental right to vote and safeguarding their health, which could prevent them from casting a vote in upcoming elections.”

Kallon said Alabama can’t prevent local election officials from offering curbside voting at in-person polling locations in the July 14 runoff. Kallon also ruled Alabama can’t require some absentee ballot voters in three counties to submit photocopies of their identification and witness signatures if it is dangerous for them to get out during the pandemic because of their age and underlying health conditions.

The three counties are where plaintiffs in the lawsuit live.

Alabama appealed the decision. The state argued that it would be confusing to change absentee ballot rules in three of Alabama’s 67 counties and that curbside voting would be a major change done right before the election.

The state also argued that Alabama’s rules are needed to combat voter fraud and are not unreasonable.

“But this dichotomy between voting and safety is false, even during COVID-19. The individual plaintiffs in this case regularly see at least one other person. Can they really not find a safe way to have a second person watch them sign a piece of paper?” lawyers for the state wrote in their petition to the Supreme Court.

The court’s five conservative justices ruled in favor of Alabama while the four more liberal justices indicated they would deny the state’s application for a stay. The justices did not offer an explanation for their decision in the brief order handed down late Thursday.

“Unfortunately, this means that Alabama voters who are at greater risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 will be required to risk their health and violate CDC recommendations in order to vote on July 14,” Deuel Ross, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., said in a statement.

The plaintiffs said they were disappointed by the decision, and will continue to pursue the ongoing litigation in federal court in Alabama.

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A congressional committee criticized President Donald Trump’s administration on Thursday for a series of problems in distributing personal protective and testing equipment during the coronavirus pandemic and called on the administration to come up with a better plan.

“We need urgent action from the federal government now, before this virus spins further out of control,” said Rep. James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat and chair of a House committee overseeing the nation’s pandemic response.

He said that associations of doctors and nurses and others have noted a continuing shortage of N95 masks and other protective gear. Democratic committee members also said the federal government has been at times too hands-off in leaving procurement up to state and local governments and individual health care providers, and at other times they have steered purchases to a specific contractor.

In a sometimes testy hearing before the committee, administration officials defended their work. Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, for instance, outlined how the federal government worked with the industry from late March through April to fly in shipments of gear from overseas to hand out to hospitals and others. Without taking that approach, he said, equipment would have taken far longer to get in place.

Polowczyk said that most states have at least a month’s worth of protective gear on hand now, and some are working on building up to a 120-day supply. He also said the federal government, whose stockpile was depleted in April, is on course to build a 90-day supply.

Some Democrats questioned an earlier report he made projecting that federal supplies would fall short of demand. But he said that didn’t take into account equipment bought by states — and that the demand included gear for some industries, such as janitors, who may not need medical-grade equipment.

Democrats on the committee questioned the federal response in the earliest days of the coronavirus outbreak.

“The administration completely and utterly failed to provide the private sector with critical guidance” on how to prioritize distribution of gear from January through March, said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat.

Republicans on the committee tried to change the subject, saying the Democrats who control it were not looking at the right places as it digs into the coronavirus pandemic. Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, for instance, called on the committee to investigate whether China withheld information about the virus as the outbreak started.

Jordan also called for a probe of how some states sent patients with the virus to nursing homes and denounced the way Democratic governors and mayors kept churches closed in some places in the name of public health while not stopping protests over racial injustice. He specifically cited New York Mayor Bill de Blasio breaking up the funeral of a rabbi in Brooklyn in April.

“You go to someone’s funeral, you can get arrested,” Jordan said. “You can protest in the streets, not maintaining social distancing.”

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