Title: A View from the Oval Office: Insights from the President’s Daily Brief, 1961-1977

Project Overview: National intelligence agencies collect, analyze, and simplify an ocean of information about the outside world for busy leaders. Many studies abstract away from internal processes or focus on individual leaders; this project puts the spotlight on the interpretive function that intelligence bureaucracies of modern states play. To assess how intelligence mediates between events and leader perceptions, the President’s Daily Brief Project systematical codes and analyzes a unique corpus of top secret – but now declassified – daily intelligence summaries given to the head of state and top advisors. Released in 2015, this corpus President’s Daily Briefs (PDBs) cover four US presidents, seventeen years, and many of the most important events of the Cold War. The project seeks to identify how the U.S. intelligence community simplified, prioritized, and tailored the content of the PDB for each president by, for example, tracking changes in the PDB’s length, regional focus and graphical content. As a CISSR faculty fellow, I will advance the PDB Project from a pilot data collection effort to a full-fledged research agenda. Project activities includes support for graduate research assistance, funds for collaboration with external faculty, archival visits, and a unique event on the UChicago campus on the use of redactions as a tool for social science inferences.  

Bio: Austin Carson is assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago. His research addresses the role of secrecy and intelligence in International Relations theory, international conflict, and global governance. His first book, Secret Wars: Covert Conflict in International Politics (Princeton University Press, 2018), argues that secrecy helps great powers meddle in conflicts while keeping war limited. It was awarded the Lepgold Book Prize for best book on International Relations in 2018. His second book coauthored with Allison Carnegie, Secrets in Global Governance: Disclosure Dilemmas and the Challenge of International Cooperation (Cambridge University Press, 2020), analyzes how secrecy allows international organizations to draw on sensitive information to improve multilateral cooperation. His articles have appeared in International Organization, American Journal of Political Science, Security Studies, and other outlets.