Biden said in a statement that “the American people will sleep quietly with them as the next CIA director.”
If confirmed, Burns would become the first leader in CIA history whose lifetime experience comes from the State Department.
“Bill Burns is an exemplary diplomat with decades of experience on the world stage in preserving the security and safety of our people and our country,” Biden said. “He shares with me my deep belief that intelligence should be apolitical and that intelligence experts dedicated to serving our nation deserve our gratitude and respect.”
People familiar with the matter said Biden was drawn to Burns because of his diplomatic experience and perceived ability to restore credibility to the post-Trump intelligence agency, as well as his experience in Russia. His choice will surpass other competitors with formal intelligence experience.
Burns, better known as Bill, is the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a respected international affairs think-tank in Washington. He served as deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration after serving for more than three decades in positions through the diplomatic corps, which he joined in 1982.
He also served under five American presidents, Democrats and Republicans, and 10 foreign ministers in various positions, including the position of ambassador to Jordan in the Clinton administration and Russia under George W. Bush.
“If he loses, I doubt he will suddenly embrace the traditional bipartisan commitment to making effective transfers. At best, he will be consumed by efforts to justify his defeat and portray the elections as rigged; and at worst, he will seek to contest or undermine the outcome,” Burns wrote. “Like many other features of the Trump era, the transition will bear little resemblance to either before, or any of the many things I worked in as a professional diplomat. The costs of confusion, mixed signals, and bureaucratic turmoil can be prohibitively prohibitive.”
Burns also has a long history at the heart of peace negotiations in the Middle East and has worked closely with the Obama administration on the Iran nuclear deal. He has limited experience with China, but has a wide range of businesses in major regions around the world.
While all Biden candidates face an easier path to confirmation in the Democratic-controlled Senate, Burns’s role in the Benghazi investigation could also be revisited. He testified at a hearing in the House of Representatives in 2012 after then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was unable to do so due to a concussion.
“We learned some difficult and painful lessons in Benghazi,” Burns said. “We are already working on them. We have to do better. We owe that to our colleagues who lost their lives in Benghazi.”
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a member of the Intelligence Committee, has criticized Morrell as a “torture advocate” for his earlier suggestions that the “enhanced interrogation” of terrorists was effective and ethical.
Burns, who is respected by Democrats and Republicans alike in foreign policy, is expected to receive a much easier confirmation. The CIA director position is not expected to be an official member of the Biden government, which would represent a change from the Trump administration, but a return to the position he enjoyed in the Obama administration.
“Everyone always wanted to send their diary to Bill,” Haines told the audience.
While Burns was initially mentioned as a candidate for Biden’s secretary of state, a veteran CIA analyst made the case for his choice to lead the CIA in a blog post late last year.
“Much of the CIA’s difficulties over the past 40 years can be attributed to modest leadership. The CIA would be the primary beneficiary of such an exemplary designation in an institution that has become very isolated and narrow-minded.”