The Central Intelligence Agency is set to release 2,500 previously top-secret briefings it gave to presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s, a private pro-CIA group announced on Wednesday.
“The vast majority of the documents have never been previously released,” an informed official says, although a number of CIA presidential briefings have surfaced in heavily redacted form over the years. Intelligence officials from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations have also discussed their private conversations with the presidents in memoirs and other books.
The reports, customarily provided personally to the president each morning by a senior CIA officer, if not the director himself, will almost certainly show much of what the spy agency was telling Kennedy and Johnson about Vietnam, Cuba, the Soviet Union, China and conflicts in Africa and the Middle East. They may well also include the CIA’s private assessments of world leaders.
But expectations should be low for the new materials, says Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Kai Bird. “I bet they are on the whole surprisingly dull [and only] occasionally insightful,” cautions Bird, author of a biography of McGeorge and William Bundy, brothers who held top national security posts in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Such memos are “at their best when they are telling the president what he doesn’t want to hear about the Cold War, the Vietnam War or the Middle East,” adds Bird, who is working on a book about the Jimmy Carter presidency. “But that would be decidedly rare.”