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Exploding the Reagan video briefing 'myth'

Overview of the Soviet Space Program, created by CIA's Global Video Program. Reagan watched this film on 10/14/82, according to his diary entry of that date. To learn more, read Ronald Reagan: Intelligence and the Cold War on CIA.gov's Historical Collections Division page at http://go.usa.gov/XWQ.

By Robert Windrem, NBC News senior investigative producer

Some old hands may recall reports that President Ronald Reagan preferred to have his intelligence delivered in the form of videos rather than as documents. It was said he preferred it that way, being an actor and a creature of movies and television.

The CIA last week released seven of the videos. The videos declassified and released by the CIA last week are entitled, "The Soviet Space Program," "Afghanistan: the Gallant Struggle," "Andropov Succession," "Soviet Internal Propaganda," "The Soviet Media's Portrayal of America," "The Chernobyl Accident," and "The Moscow Summit."


The videos along with papers, declassified documents, etc., were made available for a Nov. 2 program on "Ronald Reagan: Intelligence and the End of the Cold War," held at the Reagan Presidential Library.

In the lead paper, on Reagan as a consumer of intelligence, CIA Historian Nick Dujmovic suggests the president's reported reliance on videos were part of the myth of the "insubstantial president," suggesting that there were only a small number of videos produced (each of which took a month to put together). Dujmovic adds that the idea did not come from Reagan or the White House but from the CIA, which in the summer of 1981 suggested some videos already in production might be "helpful for Reagan."

Dujmovic is careful to state that "no one should exaggerate the significance of the video intelligence Reagan consumed, especially compared with the great quantities of printed intelligence he read. If Reagan had watched every video prepared for him during his presidency, he would have watched an average of one video every two months."

He also says that the belief that Reagan received his daily intelligence briefings via video is a "myth." "A daily or even a weekly PDB (Presidents Daily Briefing) would have been impossible, given the minimum production time of three to four weeks for each video," writes Dujmovic.

Among the videos produced were "scene setters or advanced travelogues for presidential trips, including side travel by Mrs. Reagan," he writes.

Dujmovic quotes a Reagan note from October 1982 on a Soviet space program video: "Back at W.H. Saw a C.I.A. classified movie on Soviet Space Prog[ram]. They are much further ahead than most people realize and their main effort has been military."

Want to look at the videos? They're on the CIA's YouTube channel, where the videos are listed in (unfortunately) alphabetical order. They're fairly straightforward and not particularly sophisticated.

Overview of Soviet perceptions of the United States, created by CIA's Global Video Program. Reagan was interested in the subject and wrote how important it is to see "how others see us." To learn more, read Ronald Reagan: Intelligence and the Cold War on CIA.gov's Historical Collections Division page at http://go.usa.gov/XWQ.

Here are links to some of the videos:

The Soviet Space Program

Afghanistan: The Gallant Struggle

The Andropov Succession

The Moscow Summit

The Chernobyl Accident

Soviet Internal Propaganda

The Soviet Media's Portrait of America