Nov 5, 2013
At Yale, Iran, Drone Technology, Snowden Discussed by Obama's Former National Security Advisor
Arnold Gold/New Haven Register
Thomas Donilon, former National Security Advisor to President Obama, answers questions at Yale University's Luce Hall in New Haven on 11/4/2013.
In a talk at Yale University Monday, President Barack Obama’s former national security advisor offered an insider’s view of the planet’s most critical, regular chat: the president’s daily security briefing.
“It’s the most protected conversation in the world,” said Thomas Donilon, who conducted roughly 800 such briefings for Obama from 2010 until earlier this year. He typically spent three and a half hours preparing for each morning’s session.
“We would start the briefing every day with a review of threats to the world,” Donilon, 58, explained. He noted that unlike Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama wanted a preview of his security briefings in writing, and he would have specific questions ready.
If Donilon were conducting a presidential security briefing today, he said, the issues he’d bring up would include ramifications of the Edward Snowden intelligence leaks, ongoing talks with Iran over its nuclear program, the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria and the situation in Afghanistan.
“Although it’s not on the front page of the newspaper, we discussed Afghanistan every day,” Donilon said.
Donilon served presidents Clinton and Jimmy Carter, prior to working in the Obama White House. As National Security Advisor, he favored quick removal of U.S. troops from Iraq and advocated more of a focus on Asia. Susan Rice replaced him as National Security Advisor in July.
Regarding the unauthorized release of U.S. intelligence gathering information by Snowden, Donilon said it presents a “multi-dimensional” problem for national security. He mentioned the recent cancellation of a state visit from Brazil’s president, as well as the potential impact of the leaks on upcoming trade negotiations with Europe.
The Snowden leaks have led to international outrage, as well as intense criticism in the U.S. about government collection of information from phone calls, email and other digital sources.
The issue, Donilon said, is finding the right balance between gathering intelligence and preserving individual rights. “Are we doing these various actions because we can do them,” or because they are necessary to keep the country secure, Donilon said.
Although Donilon said he believes the president has struck the correct balance, he conceded there are valid concerns to be discussed over such things as whether there is enough oversight on the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which grants requests for surveillance warrants against suspected foreign intelligence threats.
At Yale, Donilon also discussed Iran, drone technology, cyber security, the viability of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and Pakistan.