17 September 2015
Peter Pesavento Comments on the PDBs
Courtesy of Peter Pesavento.
From: Peter Pesavento
Sent: Wednesday, September 16, 2015 12:23 PM
Subject: PDBs...some background history
I thought I would post this backgrounder on the PDB (Presidents Daily
Brief) set that CIA is having a symposium on later today at the LBJ library.
Presenters and speakers include current DCI (Director of Central Intelligence)
Brennan, Porter Goss (a former DCI), even the current DNI (Director of National
Intelligence) James Clapper will be making comments.
But this soiree most likely would not have happened in the first place had
I not made a bold decision in 1997 to attempt to get a PDB declassified.
I had at the time (in 1996 or so) recently read The US Intelligence
Community by Jeffrey Richelson, and he had a section in that book talking
about NIEs (National Intelligence Estimates). As I began to make inquiries
of the archivists at LBJ, I learned about these PDB-type document family
that had never been accessed for public release before.
I had wanted to declassify some of these PDBs to see whether President Johnson
was interested in Russian space activies, which--according to a number of
interviews I had conducted with LBJ adminstration personnel--claimed that
he wasnt. Almost all of those claimed Vietnam preoccupied him.
Good thing I didnt take their word for it.
[Side note: PDBs are tailor-made to the Chief Executives interests
and policy making trends. The CIA has on their reading room webpage an e-book
about the PDBs, and how they evolved to each Presidents interests and
I figured that there was a fair possiblity that there might be Russian space
news items in the PDBs, its just that I didnt know where to begin.
But the archivists at LBJ (in this time frame of the late 1990s) were
I brought up that I was looking for materials about the Soviet effort to
upstage Apollo 8 with a manned mission of their own, as well as a B-52 bomber
crash inside the USSR in the Caucasus mountain range (during the approximate
same time frame (the latter was mentioned in an article by Winslow Peck/Perry
Fellwock that appeared in Ramparts magazine in 1972 if my memory serves),
that apparently had been on an intel mission.
So the LBJ archivists went looking in the PDBs (with me giving them some
time swaths to look for the items). The spot checks that they made in the
PDBs for me didnt uncover the B-52 crash, but they did indeed find
stuff on the Soviet manned circumlunar aspirations for late 1968. As the
one archivist told me, I found something that has three paragraphs
in it that you will really like. [paraphrasing here]
So I asked for that PDB to be declassified.
Time dragged for three years as I went through some rounds of MDR appeal
(Mandatory Declassification Reviewnot FOIA, and in many ways much stronger
and at times quicker than FOIA), prior to in (if memory serves) 2000 the
case was appealed to ISCAP. It wasnt until 2011 that the first recognized
PDB declassified for public release (actually an excerptthe one paragraph
on Soviet space activities was all that was let out) was disclosed, and it
was my case. (As a matter of fact, it was my very first MDR appeal case I
had engaged in.)
ISCAP is the Inter-agency Security Classification Appeals Panel in Washington,
DC, and is kind of like the Supreme Court of declassification.
(Of course, I am sacrificing some accuracy for brevity.) They dont
move very quickly, but they do move decisively.
But to my surprise what was released was not the document that I was told
by archivists existed. That particular document (a special report)
had to await being released (in redacted form to me) in 2014. But I have
appealed the redactions to the Soviet manned circumlunar aspirations report
to ISCAP, and that happened earlier this year.
The PDB released in 2011 had about Soviet ship tracking movements indicating
a significant space shot in the offing.
As it turns out, President Johnson had a very keen interest in the Soviet
space program, and there are numerous PDBs that have Soviet space activities
entries in them. Some short (one paragraph), and some longer (a page for
a special report). Sometimes over a series of days there would
be updates on Soviet space activities as they occurred. The vast majority
of these PDB excerpts are currently with ISCAP for declassification processing.
I currently have with ISCAP numerous PDB excerpts (that had elements redacted
out of them by CIA) on the Soviet space program awaiting declassification
I should also mention that I am currently the appellant that has the most
MDR appeal cases with ISCAPwhether individual or corporate. It was
guess-timated that I have about 40% of all cases on their docket. (Keep in
mind that many of these cases have been there for many yearsthink five
years, and some have been there much longer.)
I had made mention of some PDB materials relased to me in the Aerospace America
two-part article serial published back in 2012. That focused on the Soyuz
My conclusion from all of these research experiences is this: US Government
agencies are exceptionally reluctant to release materials that contain old
secrets. But perseverance will win out.
From: Peter Pesavento
Sent: Wednesday, September 16, 2015 2:58 PM
Subject: PDBs.... a little bit more
I thought I would provide the following anecdotes as well to my recollections.
There was a chance in the 2006/2007 time frame that the first PDB publicly
released could have happened during the GWB administration, but it was not
There was an argument at the White House (during this time frame in which
my PDB appeal was being looked at) over another document that was ranked
confidential in security classification, that was something akin
to a biographical data sheet on a particular person. It was felt that if
that was approved to be released, then similar argumentation could be applied
to the PDB in my MDR appeal with ISCAP for its release as well. (I was informed
by someone with knowledge of the proceedings that two Federal entities, perhaps
NARA and the US State Department, urged the release of the PDB excerpt. CIA
was dead set against it.)
But it didnt happen.
I had even written a letter to Condy Rice (GWBs national security advisor
at the time) providing her with my views and arguments as to why the PDB
of my ISCAP appeal could be released, without any damage whatsoever to the
nations security. I had even included a copy of the JBIS periodical
that had my 2003 paper in. That articles title was Declassified
American documents show a broad and in-depth interest in Soviet space
But I never received a response.
Whenever the GWB library becomes operational and opens its files to researchers,
I suspect that there should be a file with this material of mine in it. There
may even be some internal correspondence on the subject connected to this
Only time will tell, as to what some future researcher may find.