William Burns: Biden’s CIA director pick set to face senators in confirmation hearing


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An official familiar with Burns’ testimony tells CNN he’ll focus primarily on four areas: the CIA work force, partnerships, technology and China.

The partnerships Burns will discuss, the source says, include the critical relationship with Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and other intelligence agencies, as well as the working ties with foreign intelligence partners.

Burns will mention the revolution of technology, advances in fields like artificial intelligence and how the CIA needs to sharpen its use of these tools in order to be the best intelligence service it needs to be, the source said. Burns will also touch on what focusing on China means for the CIA and making sure the agency has the resources it needs to strengthen its approach to Beijing, the official added.

Burns, a respected veteran diplomat who has served in posts around the world from the Reagan to the Obama administrations, was tapped by Biden as his nominee for CIA director after other top contenders faced criticism for their previous support of torture programs.

Former acting CIA Director Michael Morell, who had been under consideration by Biden, was assailed as unacceptable by top Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

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Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a member of the Intelligence Committee, had criticized Morell as a “torture apologist” for his previous suggestions that “enhanced interrogation” of terrorists was effective and moral.

Burns, who is respected by Democrats and Republicans alike in the foreign policy arena, is expected to receive a far easier confirmation. If confirmed he won’t be a member of Biden’s Cabinet, which represents a change from the Trump administration, but a return to the status the job had in the Obama administration.

Haines, who has already been confirmed, represents the intelligence community in the Cabinet. Haines and Burns have a long-standing relationship and during an appearance last year at Columbia University, she praised Burns for being well known for providing thoughtful feedback during his time in government.

“Everyone always wanted to send their memos to Bill,” Haines told the audience.

Burns has talked extensively about the damage he believes the Trump administration has inflicted on the United States’ foreign policy. He warned of the dangerous consequences of President Donald Trump not accepting election defeat in a prescient essay last August in the Atlantic.

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“If he loses, I doubt that he will suddenly embrace the traditional bipartisan commitment to effective transitions. At best, he’ll 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,” Burns wrote. “Like so many other features of the Trump era, the transition would bear little resemblance to any before, or any of the many I served through as a career diplomat. The costs of confusion, mixed signals, and bureaucratic turmoil could be very high.”

While all Biden nominees face an easier path to confirmation in a Democrat-controlled Senate, Burns’ role in the Benghazi investigation could also be revisited. He testified at a House hearing in 2012 after then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was unable to because of a concussion.

“We learned some very hard and painful lessons in Benghazi,” Burns said. “We are already acting on them. We have to do better. We owe it to our colleagues who lost their lives in Benghazi.”

CIA deputy director David Cohen has served in the role of acting director as Burns awaits confirmation.

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