THE TRANSITION FROM THE COLD WAR
George H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft
President George H.W. Bush and his national security adviser Brent Scowcroft vividly
recall the activities of the National Security Council during the first Bush Administration—
particularly the role of the Council in the buildup to the Persian Gulf War.
In the days after the inauguration, we immediately began to establish routines and procedures. One important fixture was the 8:00 A.M. national security meeting in the Oval Office, at which the CIA briefed me on the latest developments around the world. It had two parts. The first portion was the intelligence briefing, at which I was joined by Brent, Bob Gates, usually John Sununu, and, once or twice a week, Bill Webster. A CIA officer would bring in the President's Daily Brief (PDB), which was a written rundown of important intelligence reports and analysis put together during the night and small hours of the morning. I made it a point from day one to read the PDB in the presence of a CIA briefer and either Brent or his deputy. This way I could task the briefers to bring in more information on a certain matter or, when the reading would bring to mind policy matters, ask Brent to follow up on an item of interest. The CIA officers would write down my questions; in a day or so, I would get an answer or an elaboration.
Knowing of my interest in the oft-berated but essential clandestine service, Webster would occasionally ask to bring along some individual who had risked his or her life to gather critically important intelligence. I found those sessions fascinating, and I was always impressed with the courage, the patriotism, and the professionalism of those who served in the Directorate of Operations. I have great respect for the people who devote their lives to the intelligence field. They never get recognition and never get to sit at the head table, but they are among the most dedicated Americans I know. There was always a danger that they or any one of their comrades would be killed because of their cover being blown by people I consider traitors; but they continue to serve with honor.
After the CIA briefing, the second part of the national security meeting would begin. The Vice President, already briefed separately by a different CIA team, would arrive and I would go over pertinent events of the day, items where the President's guidance was needed, and anything else requiring discussion. The President, who by this time usually had scanned at least seven newspapers and the White House News Summary, would frequently have questions or comments from his reading, and would raise issues of current concern or pursue other subjects that might be on his mind.
I was mindful of questions which arose during the Iran-Contra investigations about "process" in these daily meetings, questions implying that this was the venue for secret, irregular decisions "slipped by" the President without the knowledge of others who should have been informed. Therefore, I was careful not to try to use them to seek decisions involving other national security departments or agencies. If the President indi-
From George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed (New York: Knopf, 1998), 30–42, 314–33.
George H.W. Bush served as the 41st president of the United States; Brent Scowcroft was national security adviser in the Ford and
first Bush administrations.