President Barack Obama reminds us quite often that our nation's security is very much on his mind. But not so much on his schedule, it turns out. Marc Thiessen, a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute and a weekly columnist for the Washington Post, found the president missed more than half his Presidential Daily Briefing sessions between the time he took office in January 2009 and mid-June of this year. The PDB sessions are the briefings a president receives on the most serious and urgent security threats the nation faces. The reports are classified, of course, and most Americans were probably unaware of the daily reports until we heard or read, long after the 9/11 attacks, of the now famous PDB report titled: "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." The date on that report is August 6, 2001 — little more than one month before hijacked planes flew into the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
The Government Accountability Institute, described by Thiessen as "a new conservative investigative research organization," examined the president's schedule and found that in his first 1,225 days in office, President Obama attended 536, or 43.8 percent of the daily briefings. During 2011 and the first half of 2012, his attendance became even less frequent — falling to just over 38 percent.
Thiessen reports that when he asked National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor about the findings, Vietor did not "dispute the numbers." What he disputed was their significance, stating that the fact that the president does not attend his intelligence briefings on a daily basis is "not particularly interesting or useful." The president, Vietor said, reads the PDB report every day, whether or not he avails himself of the opportunity to question national security and intelligence officials about their findings and assumptions. "The president gets the information he needs from the intelligence community each day," Vietor told Thiessen in an e-mail.
As evidence of Obama's immersion in the details of the intelligence reports, Vietor referred to a Washington Post story published earlier this year that described the way the president conducts a PDB session. "Obama reads the PDB ahead of time and comes to the morning meeting with questions," the Post reported. "Intelligence briefers are there to answer those questions, expand on a point or raise a new issue.... One regular participant in the roughly 500 Oval Office sessions during Obama's presidency said the meetings show a president consistently participating in an exploration of foreign policy and intelligence issues." Yet that description magnifies, rather than minimizes, the importance of the president's presence at the meetings, Thiessen said.
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Photo: The President's Daily Briefing "PDB," a top secret leather binder, in which President Bush received his daily intelligence reports was displayed on Feb. 15, 2002, at the "Spies: Secrets from CIA, KGB, and Hollywood" exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation in Simi Valley, Calif: AP Images