U.S. President-elect Joe Biden is taking another step in his effort to revamp the country’s intelligence agencies, announcing Monday he will nominate career diplomat William Burns to be his director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Burns, a 33-year U.S. State Department veteran, has served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, serving as ambassador to Russia under former U.S. President George W. Bush and as deputy secretary of state under former President Barack Obama.
In a video released Monday, Biden praised the 64-year-old Burns as an “exemplary diplomat”, saying he shares the belief that intelligence must be apolitical.
"It's time to restore the independence of our intelligence community, and equally critical to restore trust and confidence in our career officials, including those at the CIA,” the president-elect said. "Bill Burns is exactly, exactly the right person for that job."
If confirmed, Burns would replace current CIA Director Gina Haspel, who served in the agency for more than three decades before becoming the first woman to lead the nation’s premiere spy agency in 2018.
Haspel has largely kept her public appearances to a minimum during her tenure, marked by increased antagonism between the White House and the U.S. intelligence community, though she has publicly clashed with outgoing President Donald Trump.
One of the most notable clashes came in January 2019, when she and other intelligence officials contradicted numerous White House claims during a threat briefing for lawmakers.
Earlier this month, Haspel oversaw a new look for the CIA’s website in an effort to recruit a more diverse workforce.
In a statement, she said she hopes the redesign “piques the interest of talented Americans, giving them a sense of the dynamic environment that awaits them here."
In the video released Monday by Biden’s transition team, Burns called intelligence, “the first line of defense for America - the indispensable basis for sound policy choices.”
"I'll always do my best to deliver that intelligence w/honesty and integrity, and without a hint of partisanship," he said.
Burns also promised, if confirmed, "to strengthen trust & intelligence cooperation with our allies and partners."
In addition to threats such as the great power competition from Russia and China, terrorism, and cyberspace, Burns said the CIA will have to confront the “increasingly powerful challenges” of climate change and health security.
The career diplomat’s nomination appears to be resonating with former intelligence and security officials, who took to Twitter to praise his selection.
“Bill Burns is deeply respected for his integrity, honesty, & commitment to the workforce,” wrote Norman Roule, a former national intelligence manager for Iran in the Office of the Director or National Intelligence, calling Burns a “strong choice.”
“He will bring a level of principled integrity that is much need today, both in Washington and on the world stage,” wrote Ali Soufan, a former FBI supervisory special agent.
“My sense is that this in fact will be a very popular choice” said Marc Polymeropoulos, a former senior CIA intelligence service officer. “He has in fact worked very well with the CIA field personnel…in his overseas postings.”
Since his retirement in 2014, Burns has been running the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace.
He has received three Presidential Distinguished Service Awards and the highest civilian honors from the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community.
Burns attended LaSalle University in Philadelphia where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history and earned a master’s and doctoral degrees in international relations from Oxford University, where he studied as a Marshall Scholar.