Classified Intelligence Briefings for Presidential Candidates: Questions Answered

Both candidates will soon receive the national intelligence briefings.

ByABC News
August 5, 2016, 3:34 PM
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at an event at East High School in Youngstown, Ohio, July 30, 2016.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at an event at East High School in Youngstown, Ohio, July 30, 2016.
Andrew Harnk/AP Photo

— -- Both presidential candidates are now eligible to receive classified intelligence briefings. Unlike past elections, this has become a subject of intense scrutiny, since both political opponents are raising questions about the other candidates' ability to handle such information. So here are the answers to some basic questions about how this process works:

When do the briefings begin and how many do they get?

The candidates are eligible for briefings but so far none have occurred. They will both receive an initial briefing from the office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and either candidate can ask for a follow-up briefing on any topic. The DNI will decide if they want to provide that follow up and, if it is granted, the briefing will be offered to both candidates, no matter who requested it. In the past, candidates have received no more than three briefings. This election season, the candidates are expected to have two or three. The briefings become much more frequent and detailed once a candidate becomes the president-elect.

What are the topics of the briefings?

The briefings are broad in scope and closely resemble the DNI’s "Worldwide Threat Assessment" report delivered to the Senate annually. The same briefing is prepared for both candidates.

Do the candidates need security clearance?

The candidates don’t need a security clearance. But, any aides they bring do need one. Obtaining clearances for those people is usually the biggest logistical hurdle. Once clearances are complete, scheduling a briefing becomes easier.

Where are the briefings held?

They can be done anywhere in the U.Ss where there is a secure facility, such as an FBI field office.

Do the briefings include top secret information?

These briefings do not include the nation’s most sensitive information. Some top secret information could be discussed, but the most sensitive information, such as sources and methods and operations are not included. The DNI says candidates are advised of the classified nature of the material and operational and policy matters are not addressed.

Is the White House going to hold anything back over Trump concerns?

They say they won’t. White House spokesman Josh Earnest had a lot to say about this last week after some Democrats expressed concerns about sharing secrets with Trump. Earnest said the White House staff are already working on the transition.

"For more than 60 years now, the intelligence community has offered briefings to the presidential nominees of the two major political parties in an effort to facilitate a smooth transition," Earnest said. "So the Director of National Intelligence has indicated he intends to conduct those briefings pursuant to that longstanding tradition and he certainly is supported by this administration and this White House in doing so. What’s also true of the intelligence community is they understand what steps are necessary to protect sensitive national security information. And the administration is confident that they can both provide relevant and sufficient briefings to the two major party presidential candidates, while also protecting sensitive national security information."

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