Robert Cardillo Deputy DNI Integration

TAMPA: The conventional image of an American president managing a crisis shows him thumbing through a briefing book on a desk in the Situation Room or Oval Office. The new standard may well become that of a president with an iPad in his lap or on his desk, keenly watching a video or flipping through a series of satellite images or listening to an NSA intercept as he peers at an NGA map overlaid with targets and reams of hyperspectral data or showing the movements of a terrorist over time.

The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) is the man formally charged with briefing the president each work day on the world’s most pressing intelligence and national security issues faced by the United States but he covers a lot of territory so, day-in day-out another person — Robert Cardillo — oversees compilation of what’s known in Washington as the PDB.

Cardillo, deputy DNI for integration, rarely grants interviews, speaks to the press or to Congress. (He’s probably spoken to Congress more than he’d like lately, but that’s another story. Think of Syria’s poison gas attacks.)

At the end of last week’s Geoint conference (the world’s largest intelligence conference), Cardillo offered a rare glimpse inside the PDB, talking of “oval briefs” and how the Intelligence Community continues to grapple with essential problems like how to tell the president what he needs to know and how to decide what he needs to know.

Cardillo spends a lot of time in the White House so he knows his principal client pretty well. As a deputy on the National Security Council he meets one to three times a day in the Situation Room. And then there are those regulars forays to the Oval Office for the “oval briefings.”

He told a small gathering of reporters Thursday afternoon that we wouldn’t be “surprised by the topics” of the PDB. “Today it’s Ukraine; it’s Iran; it’s Korea it’s South Sudan; it’s cyber; it’s terrorism etc.”

While that is not surprising (and is wonderfully vague) the more interesting details were about how the president gets his briefing. That brings us back to the iPad or other tablets used. (If you peer closely at the photo below you will see that is Cardillo in the Oval Office with the president, finger poised over the tablet. That was the first time a tablet was used to brief the president.)



The White House and the president initially pushed quite forcefully to get the PDB delivered digitally. That got the ball rolling. But Cardillo made clear that things have moved at the more usual Washington pace since then.

“We did offer him the move to the tablet about a year ago,” he told me when I asked for an update. (The photo was taken more than two years ago.) “My motivation was two-fold. My job is to tell stories — which is your job by the way — and to tell them clearly and crisply.” More interestingly, he noted a cultural bias in the Intellgience Community’s workforce.

“I also wanted to send a message to our workforce that says, look some of you may be struggling with the transition from our customary comfort zone, which is prose,” he said, noting “there were some people who worried, felt this is glitzy, and we will lose our way and we will forget our tradecraft….”

But Cardillo made pretty clear that argument has been heard and the tablet will be used: “If the real measure or merit of our business is alerting, informing, providing insight, understanding so that you can make a decision, then the tablet is a way at least to open up possibilities of ways to do that.” He “would like to see it move faster myself.”

Almost two years ago, when I wrote the first story about efforts to digitize the PDB, there was much talk about giving the president secure smartphones or tablets from which he could both pull and push for information. The deputy DNI did not address that during his discussion but I would be surprised if the IC has found ways to do that in a way that maintains its ability to do that securely and without disrupting the PDB process.

Today, the IC tries to provide the most useful product to the man they call the customer. What and when does the president need to know something, and why does he need it, they ask themselves. If the president started sending emails to ask for more or new information — especially without the PDB leadership team there to ensure they understood exactly what he wanted — that could create a whole lot of excitement in the Old Executive Office Building, in the DNI’s offices and at CIA headquarters.


  • Don Bacon

    It’s probably mostly BS. Matthew Olsen, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center recently testified to Congress: “Iran remains the foremost state sponsor of terrorism” and then told an audience of more than a hundred security professionals gathered at Aspen: “There are times when we are briefing the White House [on terror threats that] at the top of the list are Hezbollah or Iran.”

    Actually there are no Iran “terrorists” on any national terrorism list (check out US ally Saudi Arabia though) and any Hezbollah terrorism is concocted. These “intelligence” clowns are one reason that US foreign policy is racking up one failure after another. They haven’t gotten anything right yet, on tablets or otherwise.

    But what can we expect for $68 billion? (2013 annual intelligence cost)

    • Curtis Conway

      Don, you read that right on the money. If ever there was a contrived story this is it. All we have to do is observe how the president is obviously not attending daily intel briefings. And here it comes. You judge people by their actions not their words. This article is a PHOTO OP. The president’s actions have shown that he does not know, understand, pay any attention to intelligence, gathered by our various regional analyst in any way form or fashion. Event after events shows demonstrate the conclusion specifically. Even I, without the intel products sitting in front of me can tell closer to what the truth is about a foes intentions than the president can with our ‘most capable and expensive intelligence apparatus on the face of the planet’ providing him insight into world activities . . . on a daily basis?! the REAL WORLD activities, and what that tells us, does not fit into his Liberal understanding of the world, so he ignores it and the Last Five Years is HiStory . . . up front and in your face DEMONSTRATING in a very specific way the administrations lack of understanding. Even Charles Krauthammer was reflecting today about how the administration seems to have a HUGE capacity for ignoring HUMAN NATURE. Secular Humanist do no believe in EVIL. Now they have to stare it in the face . . . and deal with it.

      • Don Bacon

        I guess the best current example of intelligence (or presidential) failure is that the US-instigated coup d’etat in Kyev, resulting in a potential advance of NATO into Ukraine and the concurrent takeover of Russia’s only warm-water port, would somehow not instigate any reaction from Russia. A stupid disregard for human behavior. The US again was made the fool.

        • Curtis Conway

          I cannot believe that those analyst in the cubes in CIA are oblivious as to what is going on in any situation. What turns it into a cluster is the interpretation by an administration that wants to control human behavior of others yet ignores the constants of human nature, and interpreting the world through their warped sense of reality. We learn from HiStory or we are bound to repeat it. This administration is insistent on their interpretation even though that interpretation has been wrong for the last 5 years, and demonstratively so. The only achievements are those that ride on the coat tails of the previous administration. The world gets more dangerous. We get weaker, and out options are more limited due the economic situation. How I long for growth policies coming our of DC. What was it that has been said about that? That is why we have elections.

  • Ineluctable

    IN a desperate attempt to pretend to have technological lead on the other party Obama decides to risk national security by using a tablet. IS there any tech device that secure? Not yet. Too many looking and listening.