The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Avril D. Haines, a lawyer and former deputy director of the CIA, as the director of national intelligence. The 84-to-10 vote signaled early bipartisan support for President Biden’s slate of national security nominees.
Haines had played a key role in Biden’s transition and was an early favorite for the position. The office of director of national intelligence was created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to help coordinate an intelligence apparatus that includes the CIA, the National Security Agency and more than a dozen other organizations.
Haines will be the first woman to serve in the position. She was also among the first Cabinet nominees Biden announced, signaling that he intends for her to serve as the principal leader and public face of the spy agencies. Historically, the DNI had authority on paper that didn’t always translate into bureaucratic clout.
“Given the critical importance of the role of the Director of National Intelligence to our country’s security, it is appropriate that Avril Haines has now become the first member of the new administration to be confirmed by the Senate in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.
At her confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Haines pledged to “safeguard the integrity” of intelligence work and to ensure that it is free from political influence.
“When it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics — ever,” she said.
The intelligence agencies often found themselves in President Donald Trump’s crosshairs. The former president viewed agency leaders as members of a “deep state” that had concocted allegations of collusion between his presidential campaign and the government of Russia. Before taking office in 2017, Trump compared intelligence officers to Nazis and accused them of persecuting him.
While in office, Trump’s administration declassified documents related to the FBI’s investigation of Russian election interference — and sought to release much more. Some intelligence officials believe those disclosures may have jeopardized the intelligence community’s ability to collect information inside Russia.
Haines will assume her role as the U.S. faces strategic challenges abroad and at home.
At her hearing, she described China as a security threat, particularly because of its systematic theft of intellectual property and technology from U.S. companies and researchers. But she also noted that it is a country that the U.S. must negotiate with to tackle global issues such as climate change.
“China is adversarial and an adversary on some issues,” Haines said, “and on other issues, we try to cooperate with them.”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) criticized the intelligence community for, he said, being “way too slow to pivot to the primary focus we need to have on China,” including not having enough Mandarin-speaking analysts. Haines committed to addressing the issue. She said she recognized that “China is focused on a very long-term horizon, where the United States frequently is not.”
Haines also said the intelligence community would play a limited role in countering domestic extremists like those who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.
She emphasized that by law, the intelligence agencies address foreign threats and that the FBI and Homeland Security Department would take the lead on domestic ones. But she noted that to the extent that U.S. groups have connections with foreign extremists, the intelligence agencies would support the work of law enforcement and security agencies.
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