Obama's New Daily Economic Intelligence Briefing

At the request of top Obama administration officials, the CIA today began producing a daily secret briefing paper on the international economic crisis. At a meeting with reporters at CIA headquarters, the agency's newly confirmed director, Leon Panetta said that the classified daily bulletin, to be called the Economic Intelligence Brief, will report on economic developments in foreign countries that could affect U.S. foreign policy. He said the agency's move to begin producing such a daily briefing—which would parallel other secret daily summaries the U.S. intelligence agencies produce, such as the President's Daily Brief (PDB), which covers international threats and foreign-policy issues—was based on growing concern about how the worldwide economic crisis could produce internal developments in foreign countries, which in turn could have an impact on U.S. foreign-policy decisions.

Another official familiar with the matter said that the agency was asked to start producing such a daily report by administration policymakers but did not indicate specifically where the request came from. An official in the office of Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, which is supposed to coordinate the activities of all intelligence agencies and which produces the PDB, also was unaware of who in the administration had asked for the new report to be produced. An official familiar with congressional oversight activities expressed surprise about the new daily intelligence report and indicated that Congress may have not been fully consulted in advance about plans for the new report. If, indeed the administration did not consult with Congress about its plans for the new report, it would be ironic, since Panetta, a former congressman, stressed during his discussion with reporters that he wanted to greatly improve cooperation between his agency and Capitol Hill.

Panetta did not specify how many people in the administration would be given access to the new daily economic paper. A national-security official familiar with the issue said the daily bulletin would be intended principally for the use of top administration economic policy experts, such as senior officials at the Treasury Department and the National Economic Council, a White House unit led by Obama economic guru Lawrence Summers. But intelligence officials who brief policymakers in other parts of the government will also have access to the economic bulletin's contents. The official familiar with the bulletin said that while the CIA would be responsible for producing it, the daily report will be considered an "intelligence community" product and will be based on "all source" reporting from the entire U.S. intelligence establishment. The bulletin will be principally comprised of "refined" intelligence reporting—information and analysis fully vetted by agency experts for credibility and plausibility—as opposed to "raw" intelligence reporting direct from secret sources in the field—about economic developments in foreign countries that in turn could affect American foreign policy. The daily bulletin could include assessments of how a foreign government is coping with local aspects of the world economic crisis.

Panetta said that, in his view, the CIA already has a considerable amount of economic expertise that it will be able to use to produce the new daily report, though he said it was possible that the agency would have to hire more economists. He indicated that he had been meeting recently with several foreign intelligence chiefs, including one from Latin America; during the course of these meetings, he said he had learned of particular economic concerns related to three Latin American countries: Venezuela, Ecuador and Argentina. He did not elaborate.

Like his predecessor, Gen. Mike Hayden, and other top U.S. law-enforcement and intelligence officials, Panetta expressed particular concern about the deteriorating security situation in Mexico, where a beleaguered government is trying to deal with violence between drug gangs, which Panetta said had resulted in the deaths of 6,000 people. When asked what the CIA specifically could do to help the U.S. and Mexico cope with the drug-related violence, Panetta said he couldn't discuss details, but that what the agency could do in Mexico would be very similar to what it has been doing in Colombia.