Rotating group of analysts to provide Biden security briefs

Written By: Julian E. Barnes © 2021 The New York Times The New York Times
Washington, United States Published: Feb 07, 2021, 09:52 PM(IST)

US President Joe Biden speaks during the 59th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2021. Photograph:( Reuters )

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The question of whether Trump should continue to get briefings has been raised in recent days

A veteran CIA analyst who had led President Joe Biden’s in-person briefings in the opening days of the administration is no longer doing so, intelligence officials said Saturday.

The duties of the briefer typically included coordinating work across 18 intelligence agencies, in what is known as mission integration, and overseeing the assembly of the written intelligence document delivered to the White House each day. In a shift from previous administrations, the job of leading the in-person briefing will be distinct from the other responsibilities and divided among various people.

The veteran analyst, Morgan Muir, is still set to take over as director of mission integration, a top post in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, succeeding Beth Sanner, who was the lead briefer for President Donald Trump. As director of mission integration, Muir will put together what is known as the President’s Daily Brief, or PDB, from various reports from across the intelligence community, but he will no longer lead the in-person briefings.

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In his new role, Muir will oversee the agency’s efforts to integrate the intelligence community’s activities “from collection to analysis, including the interagency PDB process,” said Amanda Schoch, the spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The appointment of Muir as Biden’s briefer last month was unusual because it was his second tour in that job, the only time someone had returned to the post under a new administration. He had served as one of George W. Bush’s briefers midway through his presidency.

Former presidents, too, continue to receive briefings, though they are different from the classified one that a sitting president is given daily. Still, it is provided partly as a courtesy and partly for the instances in which a sitting president reaches out for advice. The team of CIA analysts who would brief a former president is not the same team who would brief a current president.

The question of whether Trump should continue to get briefings has been raised in recent days. On Friday, Biden told CBS that there was “no need” for the former president to receive briefings, citing his “erratic” behavior. But a day later, the White House clarified those comments.

“The president was expressing his concern about former president Trump receiving access to sensitive intelligence,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in a statement, “but he also has deep trust in his own intelligence team to make a determination about how to provide intelligence information if at any point the former president Trump requests a briefing.”

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On Saturday night, the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment clarifying whether Trump had asked for briefings.

The New York Times earlier reported that Muir was set to become the lead briefer, but at the time intelligence officials said that the director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, was still determining the final format of the briefing sessions and that additional briefers would work with Biden. Officials also said at the time that there had been no final decision about whether to split briefing duties from the broader responsibilities of the director of mission integration.

Some officials in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have long pushed to delegate those tasks to different people.

But in recent days, Haines decided to bring in a series of expert briefers to lead the sessions in the Oval Office, Schoch said. Haines continues to participate in those meetings.

On Saturday, BuzzFeed News reported that in 2013, Muir, then a senior CIA analyst, led a delegation from the agency in tense talks with Senate Intelligence Committee staff members putting together what would become the report on the agency’s torture program. The article quoted Daniel J. Jones, one of the lead committee staff members at the time, saying that, in private talks with Senate aides, Muir had defended the value of the CIA’s torture program.

In a statement, Jones said that Muir had provided “verifiably false information” to the committee that year. The CIA later acknowledged that Muir’s statements were wrong, Jones said.

“One would hope that type of professional failure would be, at the very least, disqualifying for any future leadership positions,” Jones said.

The Senate report issued in 2014, a sweeping indictment of the CIA, outlined abuses and torture by the agency in interrogating terrorism suspects in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks and a pattern of misleading Congress and the White House about it.

While the report remains a sore point with many former senior agency officials, who disagree with its conclusions and characterization, a number of senators have expressed frustration that some top agency officials continue to question the report.

After the publication of the BuzzFeed article, two intelligence officials insisted the criticism of Muir’s interactions with the Senate committee had nothing to do with the decision to change how Biden was being briefed.

Schoch said Haines remained “confident in Morgan’s steady leadership.”

“Morgan Muir is a widely respected intelligence officer who has demonstrated the highest standards of integrity and professionalism throughout his career,” Schoch said.

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