President-elect Joe Biden will nominate longtime diplomat William Burns to serve as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the transition committee said in a press release.
Burns, a career diplomat who has served in the Middle East and Russia, will inherit the country’s premier intelligence agency as national security and espionage from rival nations like China, Iran and Russia are of chief concern to the incoming Biden administration.
The Biden transition contended Burns was well prepared for the challenge, noting “he has the experience and skill to marshal efforts across government and around the world to ensure the CIA is positioned to protect the American people.”
Burns “shares my profound belief that intelligence must be apolitical and that the dedicated intelligence professionals serving our nation deserve our gratitude and respect,” Biden said in a statement.
“Ambassador Burns will bring the knowledge, judgment, and perspective we need to prevent and confront threats before they can reach our shores,” he continued.
“A national security expert with decades of experience serving under Democratic and Republican presidents, Ambassador Bill Burns has a deep understanding of the global threats and challenges facing our country,” Vice President Kamala Harris said in a statement.
“He will lead the CIA with independence and integrity, always honoring our nation’s intelligence professionals,” she assured.
Burns left the U.S. Foreign Service in 2014 after 33-years of working in diplomacy under Democratic and Republican administrations. Burns served as the deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration, only the second career diplomat to serve in the position.
Burns was ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs from 2001-2005 and the ambassador to Jordan from 1998 to 2001.
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Most recently, Burns was president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank with a focus on foreign policy and international affairs.
Biden selected Burns over a field of career intelligence officials, several of whom had come under scrutiny from some Democrats for their involvement in controversial espionage and torture programs previously in their careers.
Michael Morell, former acting director of the CIA, and David Cohen, a former senior Treasury Department official who served as deputy CIA director under President Barack Obama, were also reportedly under consideration.
Some of Burns’ writings, both as a diplomat and scholar, may shed light on his approach to intelligence. He has been an outspoken critic of Trump-era foreign policy, while also reflecting in his published writings of the shortcomings of past administrations.
“We highlighted the deep sectarian fault lines in Iraq … We emphasized the dangers of civil unrest and looting if the Iraqi military and security institutions collapsed … We noted the likelihood that … Iran could wind up as a major beneficiary,” Burns presciently warned in a 2002 memo titled “Perfect Storm” about the possible outcome of U.S. intervention in Iraq.
“Despite the notable accomplishment of the Iran nuclear deal, adjusting the terms of our engagement was harder than Obama had anticipated,” Burns wrote in the Atlantic in 2019.
“While we saw the Arab Spring as a window of opportunity and the Iran agreement as a demonstration of the value of hard-nosed diplomacy, most of our friends saw them as existential dangers. They continually exaggerated our ability to affect events, and we did the same,” he argued.
Burns has identified intelligence as a key part of American foreign policy going forward, noting it must be used in concert with diplomacy, military force, as well as economic and cultural soft power.
“For better or worse, we will never again enjoy the monopoly we once had – or imagined we had – in foreign policymaking and execution. We have to come to terms with that,” Burns said in a 2019 interview with the American Foreign Service Association.
“But State ought to be the conductor of the foreign policy orchestra. That means bringing together the soft power of ideas, economic incentives and sanctions, intelligence-gathering and covert action, military assistance, and the threat of force to achieve policy aims,” Burns then argued.