WASHINGTON – The Senate Intelligence Committee opened its confirmation hearing for William Burns to become head of the CIA opened with gold-plated, bipartisan endorsements from former Secretary of State James Baker and former CIA Director Leon Panetta.
“The confirmation should be a bipartisan no-brainer,” said Baker, who said Burns helped lead the country through the end of the Cold War, the reunification of Germany and combating Iraqi aggression. “Bill is quite simply one of the finest and most intelligent American diplomats.”
Panetta said Burns’ experience and unquestioned integrity make him a great choice to lead the agency.
“Bill Burns is the right person at the right time to lead the CIA,” Panetta said. “I trust Bill Burns to be a director who will have their backs,” he added of CIA workers.
Burns, President Joe Biden’s nominee, has a globe-trotting resumeand nearly four decades of experience negotiating with U.S. adversaries, from Russia to Iran. But Burns lacks training and experience in espionage.
The committee chairman, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., urged Burns to speak truth to power and not retaliate against workers who do.
“We will always rely on the CIA to be the nation’s eyes and ears, to see over the horizon and to give us warnings of threats and challenges,” Warner said.
Burns said the nation faces persistent threats, but China has become the greatest test.
“It’s a world where familiar threats persist – from terrorism and nuclear proliferation, to an aggressive Russia, a provocative North Korea, and a hostile Iran,” Burns said. “But it’s also a world of new challenges, in which climate change and global health insecurity are taking a heavy toll on the American people; in which cyber threats pose an ever-greater risk to our society; and in which an adversarial, predatory Chinese leadership poses our biggest geopolitical test.”
Burns has played critical diplomatic roles
Burns is a career ambassador and former deputy secretary of state who has been confirmed by the Senate five times. Experts say he is a unique choice for the CIA post because he comes from the world of diplomacy, not spy craft.
The 64-year-old Burns has served as U.S. ambassador to Russia and Jordan. He conducted back-channel talks with Iran that eventually led to the 2015 nuclear deal (later jettisoned by the Trump administration). He speaks Russian, Arabic and French.
“No CIA director has had that breadth and depth of experience in foreign affairs,” Tim Weiner, an author who has written about the CIA, wrote in a Washington Post column on Burns’ appointment. He noted that Burns’ nomination has won praise from ex-CIA agents, as well as anti-war activists.
“How refreshing that we will have a CIA director who was not involved in torture and drone killings,” Medea Benjamin, a co-founded of the CODEPINK women’s peace group, tweeted after Biden announced his choice of Burns.
Douglas London, a retired CIA agent and adjunct professor at Georgetown University, called Burns an “inspired choice.” While Burns is not an intelligence practitioner, London wrote on Twitter, he is “a sophisticated consumer with whom CIA worked closely” on Libya and Iran, among other matters.
If confirmed, Burns would take the helm of the CIA at a time of escalating threats from of China, Russian and Iran. He’s likely to face a gauntlet of questions on Wednesday about the SolarWinds cyber attack, the Russian linked intrusion into the networks of numerous U.S. government agencies and private companies.
Threats to U.S. from Russia, China
“Our country faces a host of hazards – from China’s drive to surpass the United States technologically, to Russia’s continued malign efforts in cyberspace and disinformation, to the ongoing threats from Iran and North Korea,” Warner said.
The top Republican on the panel, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, said the threat from China is greater than from Russia, Iran and North Korea.
“The threat from the Chinese Communist Party is the most significant facing our nation in perhaps its history,” Rubio said. “We cannot, in my view, just be the orderly caretakers of our nation’s decline.”
Burns said he worked with CIA officials as a diplomat in the Middle East and Russia, and “developed enormous respect” for their contributions.
“I served alongside them in hard places around the world,” Burns said. “It was their skill at collection and analysis that often gave me an edge as a negotiator; their partnership that helped make me an effective ambassador; and their insights that helped me make thoughtful choices on the most difficult policy issues.”
Warner has previously said that Burns’ status as an apolitical diplomat could help restore confidence and morale at the CIA after four years of attacks by former President Donald Trump. Trump repeatedly cast doubt on the intelligence community’s work, particularly when it came to conclusions about Russia’s attacks on the 2016 and 2020 elections.
“As a career diplomat under Democratic and Republican presidents, (Burns) has established himself as a smart and tested public servant who is free from political interference,” Warner said in response to Burns’ nomination. “Now more than ever, our intelligence and defense communities deserve leaders who will not politicize our national security institutions.”
Source: USA Today – Breaking News