Biden and his transition team are increasingly frustrated that they cannot access the most sensitive information generated by the U.S. intelligence community as Trump refuses to admit he lost the election.
This complicates their efforts to build an administration that will take charge of the country’s security under tense and unprecedented circumstances, including a deadly pandemic.
Experts and advisers tell CNN there’s a world of difference between what Biden can learn from outside experts and the depth of knowledge he would gain even from a limited confidential briefing – which he didn’t have. not received since becoming president-elect.
Different levels of access
Senators on the Intelligence Committee can get daily updates from the intelligence community, but they don’t receive very detailed and in-depth background information. They are also not presented with developing information on the latest threats or very sensitive topics.
In contrast, the director of national intelligence could give a high-level briefing to the president-elect if he was not prevented from doing so by Trump. During this briefing, the DNI could go into more detail about the specific threats and the underlying intelligence to support the analysis.
Furthermore, Biden currently does not receive the President’s Daily Brief, also known as the PDB, which is by far the most comprehensive intelligence product available to senior U.S. officials. The PDB is set up by the DNI so that the Commander-in-Chief can make timely and sometimes rapid decisions in matters of national security.
The PDB provides “timely, objective and (hopefully) accurate information from all available sources, gives information that cannot be obtained simply from open-source information and the country’s own national security advisers. ‘transition team, whatever their experience,’ said David Priess, a former CIA officer who served during the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.
Biden is well aware of the gap between the information he gets and what the president-elect would usually see at this point in the transition. He called, with a growing sense of urgency in recent days, for Trump to clear the way for him to receive classified briefings.
“The good news here is that my colleague is still on the intelligence committee, so she gets the intelligence briefing,” Biden said of Harris. “I hope the president will be a little more enlightened before arriving on January 20. ”
Harris’ job on the Intelligence Committee is entirely separate from his role as vice president-elect, a Biden transition official told CNN, adding that “there is no mixing of these roles and responsibilities . ”
In the meantime, concerns are mounting over the information blockage and not just about Biden and Harris. Dozens and dozens of employees have a dark view and this limits them in formulating policies specific to real threats.
Some of that bureaucracy could be wiped out this week if Trump’s General Service Administration grants a verification, officially kicking off the transition period and allowing current intelligence officials to engage with Biden and his team, according to a spokesperson. word of the office of the director of national intelligence. .
The Biden team has taken on an increasingly urgent tone in recent days as it calls on the GSA to certify the election results.
“It is in the interest of the national security of the United States that a new administration has access to briefings, threat assessments and all the data collected by officials on the threats we face,” a Biden transition official told CNN on Wednesday.
“Over the past 60 years, since Congress passed the Presidential Transition Act to ensure a smooth and orderly transfer of power, the GSA administrator has generally recognized the winner as president-elect within 24 hours of the election, ”they added, placing the immediate burden on the GSA to certify the results.
Outside experts dispute the fact that classified briefings for Biden can only begin after the GSA declares the finding.
“President-elect Biden should now have access to the same information that is traditionally provided to the President-elect, namely intelligence information and reports, including the Presidential Daily Brief,” said Jamil N. Jaffer, Founder and Director executive of George Mason. National Security Institute at Law University and former White House associate lawyer to President George W. Bush.
“Of course, the president has the right to deny the president-elect access to any information of this type, but just because he can do so does not solve the problem,” he added. . “Denying the president-elect’s access to such information is downright dangerous because it is more difficult for the new president to be effective when he finally takes office in January 2021.”
The director of national intelligence could give a higher-level briefing to Biden and Harris, but his office is awaiting the green light from the GSA before contacting the transition team, according to an ODNI spokesperson.
ODNI, which is overseen by Trump’s hand-picked intelligence chief John Ratcliffe, referred all questions about Biden and the PDB to the White House, pointing to the fact that the decision regarding Biden’s access to the secrets most confidential of the country belongs to the president who will leave. office in a few weeks.
For now, experts say, the problem is, Biden doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. This is a fundamental problem that could last until the day of the inauguration.
Blocking information raises national security concerns
To date, the office of the director of national intelligence has refused to engage with Biden’s team, cutting off what would normally be a critical national security resource for the president-elect.
All of this makes it all the more difficult to ensure continuity of government for the new Biden administration and could lead to gaps in the transmission of crucial intelligence on everything from geographic hotspots and cybersecurity threats to the state of negotiations with the Taliban and North Korea.
Even Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of Trump, urged the president to allow Biden to receive confidential information on Wednesday, as Trump continues to launch legal challenges to try to delay certification of election results.
Asked whether Biden was properly briefed on the Trump administration’s vaccination efforts, Graham replied, “You know, the president is contesting the election, and I urge him to give Biden information.”
“How far to go, I don’t know. Everything will be fine at the end of the day. This thing will work out. He always has and it will happen, ”he added.
He did not say whether he had spoken personally with the President on this matter.
At the same time, transition officials say the delay is not just a national security concern because it prevents Biden and Harris from being informed of the most confidential information, but also because it could have an impact. on the capacity of the incoming administration to occupy key positions.
L’appel de Trump
For now, Biden’s team has accepted the ODNI’s claim that it is bound by GSA verification and can only engage in the transition after the election results are certified – a claim which has been disputed by experts who say Trump could allow the president-elect to begin receiving intelligence briefings, including at the PDB level, as early as tomorrow if he chooses to do so.
“On the PDB, this is Trump’s call,” according to Priess. “Without any orders from Trump, to start giving it to Biden, the ODNI leaders did something that I think was entirely reasonable, which is to say, ‘Look, we are at an impasse. If we start telling Biden, when Trump didn’t say so, at least we are violating the spirit of the Commander-in-Chief’s lack of order. They therefore await the decision of the GSA administrator. ”
But that said, experts agree that the GSA administrator is not unlocking the APB and ultimately the decision is up to Trump, but at the same time the verification allows the ODNI and the team to transition to meet in the middle.
“Once that observation is made, it unlocks a whole lot of things. And it is likely that the full spectrum of support from the intelligence community to the transition team up to and including Biden would begin, ”Priess told CNN.
“But that doesn’t unlock the APB. It’s a separate determination, ”he added.
Either way, Biden should ask for the full range of information he’s entitled to once the verification is done, according to Jaffer.
“As long as the Biden campaign is prepared to wait for verification, which is a process defined by the presidential transitional law and which is not directly relevant to whether and when the president-elect can or should obtain the PDB,” when that happens, they should certainly ask for and have access to the same information that is traditionally made available to the president-elect, ”Jaffer said.
But even after the verification, Jaffer told CNN that Trump and Ratcliffe could still limit Biden’s access to certain classified documents if they chose to do so.
It also remains to be seen whether Trump and his senior officials will attempt to block members of Team Biden from meeting with members of various national security agencies, even after the GSA certifies the election results.