Biden announces veteran diplomat William Burns as nominee for CIA director

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President-elect Joe Biden early Monday announced former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns as his nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Burns is a former career diplomat with more than three decades of experience in the Foreign Service. He retired in 2014 and currently serves as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He has served in various national security roles across both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Burns was U.S. ambassador to Russia between 2005 and 2008 and was U.S. ambassador to Jordan from 1998 to 2001.

“Bill Burns is an exemplary diplomat with decades of experience on the world stage keeping our people and our country safe and secure,” Biden said in a statement.

“He shares my profound belief that intelligence must be apolitical and that the dedicated intelligence professionals serving our nation deserve our gratitude and respect. Ambassador Burns will bring the knowledge, judgment, and perspective we need to prevent and confront threats before they can reach our shores,” Biden added. “The American people will sleep soundly with him as our next CIA Director.”

If confirmed, Burns would take the helm of the intelligence unit responsible for gathering, analyzing and disseminating foreign intelligence to support U.S. policy efforts.

Burns would take over at a low point in the relationship between the intelligence community and political leadership. President Trump publicly criticized and in some cases dismissed intelligence personnel for showing independence and has been widely criticized for politicizing the intelligence community.

Former officials say that Biden’s intelligence picks will need to work to restore morale and trust within the intelligence community, as well as ensure that political influence is kept out of intelligence.

In a video message released by Biden’s transition team on Monday, Burns emphasized his career in public service and underscored the importance of gathering intelligence that is free from political influence.

“Good intelligence is the first line of defense for America, the indispensable basis for sound policy choices,” Burns said. “I will always do my best to deliver that intelligence with honesty and integrity and without a hint of partisanship. And I will always do my best, if I am confirmed, to strengthen trust and intelligence cooperation with our allies and partners around the world.”

Burns would replace Gina Haspel, a career intelligence official nominated by Trump in 2018. Haspel was narrowly confirmed after a bitter fight over her involvement in the agency’s enhanced interrogation program.

Burns would work closely with Avril Haines, Biden’s nominee to serve as director of national intelligence (DNI) who served in various national security positions during the Obama administration. Haines, who was introduced by Biden as his nominee for DNI in November, pledged to speak “truth to power” if confirmed.

The announcement that Biden would nominate Burns to serve as CIA director comes just over two weeks before the president-elect will be inaugurated on Jan. 20. Biden has already announced all of his Cabinet picks, and the CIA post was his last remaining major national security position to announce.

A number of individuals had been in the mix for Biden’s CIA director, including intelligence veterans Mike Morell, David Cohen and Sue Gordon, and Burns’s nomination came as a relative surprise. While Burns does not have experience in the intelligence community, he has a wealth of foreign policy and government experience that’s likely to help him in the role. Burns also served in the federal government at the same time as many of the officials who Biden has nominated to serve in other positions, meaning he has experience working alongside them.

“Across all of those years of government service, I developed enormous respect for my colleagues in the CIA,” Burns said in Monday’s video message. “I served with them in hard places around the world, I saw firsthand the courage and professionalism that they displayed and the sacrifices that their families made.”

Burns is likely to be confirmed, now that Democrats have regained control of the Senate majority following the Georgia runoff elections. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the incoming Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, offered praise for Burns on Monday following Biden’s announcement.

“For decades, Bill has faithfully served our nation with honor and dignity. As a career diplomat under Democratic and Republican presidents, he has established himself as a smart and tested public servant who is free from political interference,” Warner said. “Now more than ever, our intelligence and defense communities deserve leaders who will not politicize our national security institutions.”

Burns also received a nod of support from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Wyo.), who had been vocally opposed to Morell amid reports that he was among those Biden was considering for the post.

A longtime critic of Trump-era foreign policy, Burns penned an essay for The Atlantic in August that was recirculated when Trump refused to accept the results of the presidential election.

In the piece, Burns wrote that Trump would “at best … be consumed by efforts to rationalize his defeat and paint the election as rigged; at worst, he’ll seek to contest or undermine the result.”

–Zack Budryk contributed to this report, which was last updated at 1:14 p.m.

Tags Biden cabinet Biden transition Central Intelligence Agency CIA Donald Trump Gina Haspel Intelligence Joe Biden Mark Warner National security Ron Wyden William Burns

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