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News | Feb. 2, 2022

DIA and the presidency: The president’s intelligence officer

By DIA Public Affairs

One phone call. That’s all it took for Jim Danoy to find himself in the pages of the DIA history books.  

Danoy is no stranger to pivotal moments. His life story is full of moments that once only existed in the childhood dreams of a little boy from New York City. At a young age, Danoy enjoyed reading through his father’s extensive library and studying the history and geography of faraway lands. A trip to Europe during college solidified his passion for international relations, and ultimately led to his start in the Intelligence Community. 

But despite achieving untold success as a DIA officer, he still never expected to receive a phone call that would land him in the White House Oval Office as President Barack Obama’s intelligence briefer in 2010. 

As a career analyst, Danoy was long familiar with the President’s Daily Brief — arguably one of the most highly classified documents in the U.S. Government. He intimately understood the elements of an impactful PDB, and had even helped author articles selected for it in the past. 

Danoy began his Federal career as a file clerk at the FBI. Nearly 40 years later, he ended his career as DIA’s senior executive representative to that same agency — an appropriate finale to a career that included assignments at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

In 1983, Danoy joined DIA and served as part of the DIA contingent at the CIA-led National Photographic Interpretation Center, now the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, as an imagery analyst. He specialized in Europe, Eurasia and NATO issues, and was a founding member of DIA’s Executive Support Office, which afforded him the opportunity to brief high level officials, including the secretary of defense — preparation for the opportunity he would receive years later. 

Danoy’s selection as the president’s briefer marked the first time a DIA officer served in this role; which, until that point, had been held exclusively by CIA officers. But it wasn’t coincidence or perfect timing that found Danoy at the center of this landmark occasion — it was his career exemplifying excellence in defense of the Nation that made Danoy the perfect choice for the position. 

“I didn’t seek out the role,” said Danoy. “I had no idea I was even being considered, but I didn’t hesitate. It was an incredible honor. Everything I did prior to becoming the president’s briefer prepared me in some way, shape or form.” 

As the president’s briefer, Danoy acted as the final quality control for the articles that comprised the PDB. Starting at midnight, Danoy would review the articles, question the authors of each analytic product, and pre-brief the president’s chief of staff or national security adviser. And then, at 9:30 a.m., he briefed the president. 

The biggest challenge Danoy faced was adding value to the most well-informed individual in the Nation. And as the president’s knowledge base exponentially increased throughout his term, this challenge became even more difficult.   

“How do you provide additional information to someone who has access to all kinds of information at any given time of the day or night?” Danoy asked. It was a question he would have to answer time and time again throughout his tenure. 

As the first DIA presidential briefer, Danoy was able to offer a unique perspective to Obama — namely, an insider understanding of the importance and impact of defense intelligence.  

During Obama’s presidency, the key national security issues revolved around terrorism, Iran’s nuclear program, and relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. These issues informed some of the content of the PDB and shaped how Danoy advanced the intelligence narrative. 

“I knew I was neither his policy advisor nor his friend,” said Danoy. “I was his intelligence officer, and I was representing the Intelligence Community.” 

While the assignment was filled with sleepless nights at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and thousands of miles on Air Force One, it was also filled with surreal moments, not the least of which was driving through the streets of New York City as part of the presidential motorcade.  

“It was a ‘hometown boy makes good’ moment,” said Danoy. “The whole thing was unreal.”  

After his year-long tour at the White House, Danoy served as the first national intelligence manager for Europe and NATO at ODNI. From there, he spent five years in Germany at U.S. European Command. 

His final assignment as DIA’s senior executive representative to the FBI was a full circle moment. The first day he walked in those doors, he was a GG-03. The last day? A senior executive.  

Danoy retired from Federal service in 2020. Today, he serves as an adjunct professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, where he helps to train future generations of intelligence officers. 

Now more than 10 years removed from his time at the White House, Danoy’s perspective of that assignment remains the same as it was the first day he briefed the president. 

“It was incredibly rewarding to know that I was representing the hard-working men and women of the Intelligence Community, and that I was presenting our best analysis to the president.” 

His time as the president’s briefer also offered him an important perspective of the IC as a whole.  

“The role of the IC is to provide intelligence,” said Danoy. “Our job is to inform the decision makers to the best of our ability and leave the policymaking up to others.” 

As he reflected on the important relationship between DIA and the presidency, he encouraged DIA officers to continue doing what they always have — providing the best and most timely defense intelligence in the world. And while Danoy doesn’t carry the title of DIA officer anymore, he still remains proud of the work DIA accomplishes in defense of the Nation.  

“DIA is the finest defense intelligence organization on the planet. No one holds a candle to us, and we should be proud of that.” 

Learn more about Danoy’s time as the PDB briefer in this episode of DIA Connections.