Biden to nominate veteran diplomat William Burns as CIA director

Joe Biden has chosen veteran diplomat William Burns as his nominee to serve as CIA director, filling one of the final national security slots before he is due to take office next week. 

The decision would hoist the first career diplomat into the top job after repeated attacks and efforts to politicise the intelligence communities’ institutions under Donald Trump. 

Mr Biden called Mr Burns an “exemplary diplomat with decades of experience on the world stage”, who shared his belief that intelligence must be “apolitical”. 

Mr Burns has served in senior positions in both Democratic and Republican administrations. Working closely with Jake Sullivan, Mr Biden’s incoming national security adviser, he helped steer the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and has served in overseas postings in Russia and Jordan. 

He now serves as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an international affairs think-tank where Mr Sullivan was a non-resident senior fellow. 

“Whether it’s cyber attacks emanating from Moscow, the challenge China poses, or the threat we face from terrorists and other non-state actors, 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,” the Biden team said in a statement.

Mr Burns has also worked closely with Antony Blinken — whom Mr Biden intends to nominate as secretary of state, and who succeeded Mr Burns as deputy secretary of state in 2015 — and other top members of his team.

The Biden transition team’s statement described Mr Burns as a “crisis-tested public servant who has spent his career working to keep Americans safe and secure”.

The veteran diplomat is celebrated by his supporters as dependable, wise and discreet. Introducing Mr Burns a Carnegie event on nuclear security in 2017, Mr Biden described him as man of “enormous, enormous integrity” and a really effective diplomat with “prodigious” knowledge.

If confirmed, Mr Burns will replace CIA director Gina Haspel. While Ms Haspel served as a member of Mr Trump’s cabinet in a break with recent precedent, Mr Burns will instead serve “as a trusted adviser to the president and his team” and as a principal on the National Security Council. 

Mr Trump has regularly contradicted US intelligence assessments on North Korea, Iran and Russia, and on one occasion wrote on Twitter that they should “go back to school”. He later appointed a series of loyalists to top jobs.

Mr Biden announced his pick for director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, in November. She will oversee the 18 US intelligence agencies and serve as a member of Mr Biden’s cabinet.

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