So while the US is by far primarily comprised of two main political parties, those parties are private organizations.

That being said, soon both candidates will be officially briefed by the US government with highly classified information to prepare them for the presidency. Since there hasn't been a government run election yet, only private elections for party nominations, how does the government decide which candidates are "worthy" of receiving this briefing?

Specifically, what is the policy for the US government to decide that the Democratic and Republican Nominees can be briefed with classified information, but candidates elected as nominees of smaller minority parties cannot?

Do they just look at private polls, the media, and "wing it"? It's common sense that they're the only two who have a chance to win but processes involving sharing national secrets with people including senators, governors, and reality TV show stars seems like they would have some form of strict policy to determine how much of a following the candidate needs to receive the briefing in case of a "third party" candidate becoming popular, including a specific method of measuring each candidate's following.

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    I've always found this strange, myself. It's one thing to brief them after they've won the election, but why brief them beforehand? Is there actually that much secret information? It's not like they're going to suddenly take over if the President died a month before the election.
    – Bobson
    Jul 29, 2016 at 19:10
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    @Bobson Well, I can see how it would be important for a candidate to know a significant amount in case World War 3 starts during their first hour in office. "Sorry Generals, I'm going to have to finish this 3 hour briefing before I can give you the go-ahead on that, please politely ask the other nations to postpone launching their nukes until this afternoon."
    – J.Todd
    Jul 29, 2016 at 20:10
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    Yes, but there's roughly two months between the election and taking office for that. Until those two months are up, it's the outgoing president and VP's job to handle that.
    – Bobson
    Jul 29, 2016 at 20:23
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    @Bobson I would assume that it's so that they don't promise to do things that are ridiculous in the face of what we know. I.e. it is meant to influence the positions that they take while campaigning, not to get a head start on their briefings.
    – Brythan
    Jul 30, 2016 at 3:45
  • Relevant: foreignpolicy.com/2016/11/04/… Sep 1, 2021 at 7:17

1 Answer 1


NPR recently ran a piece about the process of giving intelligence briefings to major party candidates. It is actually the President who decides if, when, and to what candidates an intelligence briefing is given. These briefings have only ever been given to nominees of the two major parties.

Though this has never happened we can reasonably assume that if a third party was polling high enough prior to an election then the President would also grant their nominee a briefing as well.

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    Did Ross Perot get briefings in 1996? Aug 3, 2016 at 23:50
  • @MartinSchröder good question. If you don't get an answer here I suggest posting it as a Question. Sep 1, 2021 at 6:26
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    @PaulJohnson Perot was briefed (foreignpolicy.com/2016/11/04/…): "Why were John Anderson (1980) and Ross Perot (1992) briefed, but no intelligence support was offered this year to Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson?" Sep 1, 2021 at 7:16

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