The Final Word on the Prose Style of Presidential Briefings

THE FINAL WORD ON THE PROSE STYLE OF PRESIDENTIAL BRIEFINGS….A few days ago I commented that I was surprised the infamous August 6 PDB was so short and badly written. The next day Patrick Belton suggested I was wrong: the PDB was actually quite clear and concise. Today Fred Kaplan informs me that I was really, really wrong:

Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer and the State Department’s counterterrorism chief from 1989-93, explained on MSNBC this afternoon, during a break in the hearings, why the PDB?let alone the Moussaoui finding?should have compelled everyone to rush back to Washington.

In his CIA days, Johnson wrote “about 40” PDBs. They’re usually dispassionate in tone, a mere paragraph or two. The PDB of Aug. 6 was a page and a half. “That’s the intelligence-community equivalent of writing War and Peace,” Johnson said. And the title?”Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US”?was clearly designed to set off alarm bells. Johnson told his interviewer that when he read the declassified document, “I said ‘Holy smoke!’ This is such a dead-on ‘Mr. President, you’ve got to do something!’ “

So not only was the August 6 PDB unusually long, it was also unusually punchy. I hereby apologize profusely to the CIA analyst who wrote it.