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By Nicholas Barry
Beth Sanner, who spent 30-plus years as an intelligence professional in the federal government, said knowing who you are, putting fear aside, and being humble are among the keys to building a successful career.
“I briefed President Trump for two years, I was head of the PDB (Presidential Daily Brief) for two years [2017-2019]. I went through presidential transitions multiple times. I mean, all of this stuff, it was hard. And there were definitely times, during these periods, where I had to think about values,” Sanner said, at The Catholic University of America’s (CUA) Columbus School of Law on Thursday, Feb. 24.
According to Intel.gov, The President’s Daily Brief (PDB) is a daily summary of high-level, all-source information and analysis on national security issues produced for the president and key cabinet members and advisers.
The President’s Daily Brief is a document filled with highly classified information pertaining to national security. The Brief is written every day and is only seen by prominent US government officials, including the President of the United States and select significant cabinet members and other important influential personnel.
At the event, Sanner described herself as a pastor’s kid from North Dakota, who earned her undergraduate degree from American University and her master’s degree in national security strategy from National War College.
“Clarity in my values was essential to get through the timeframes that we were talking about” Sanner said, referring to her multiple roles in different intelligence agencies. “I was successful in a lot of different ways because I was myself in every job I was in,” Sanner said.
Sanner also described one of the more challenging parts of being an intelligence analyst and briefer at the hardest level of the federal government.
“It is really hard to tell the President, or someone that important, something they don’t want to hear,” Sanner said.
Yet being a career intelligence professional enabled Sanner to keep a distance from the political appointees who provided direct policy advice to the president.
“I wasn’t in the President’s inner circle, and I didn’t want to be. It wasn’t my job,” Sanner said.
After Sanner completed her formal remarks, it was followed by a question-and-answer session with CUA students. One of the questions dealt with what interests a person should have if they’re interested in pursuing a career in intelligence.
“Intellectual curiosity and an ability to feel excited about what you’re doing,” Sanner said. “You get me in a room with analysts covering pretty much any country in the world and I’m in my happiest place.”
Having retired from the federal government, Sanner is now offering her insights to CNN’s viewers, most recently on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The event, Conversations with Intelligence Professionals: Beth Sanner, was co-sponsored by the Catholic University Intelligence Club and the Department of Politics.