Prepping the President for the Helsinki Summit

The Kremlin and a statue of Abraham Lincoln
Photo: The Cipher Brief

For decades, former secretary of state and White House chief of staff James Baker has touted his version of a salty military catchphrase as a good-government mantra: “Prior preparation prevents poor performance.”

That doesn’t necessarily apply to intelligence; even exquisite inputs from the CIA and other spy agencies cannot guarantee that policymakers will perform well at high-stakes events like summits. A whispered maxim in CIA is, “You can lead a policymaker to intelligence but you can’t make him think.”

Yet intelligence should be a part of every step of planning and executing meetings between US leaders and their counterparts—from the first inklings of a summit to the face-to-face session itself—to raise the odds of achieving favorable outcomes.

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