No senator raised the slightest sign of opposition to Burns’ appointment. At times, members were more interested in his take on what US policy should be toward foreign adversaries than how he would organize the CIA to meet those challenges. As Burns noted, the CIA doesn’t make politics, it supports those who do.
But Burns, who most recently served as Assistant Secretary of State in the Obama administration, would bring a rare combination of policy-making experience and in-depth intelligence knowledge to the post of Director of the CIA.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Deputy Chairman of the committee, praised Burns’ “long and distinguished career” and said he intended to work with Burns “as a partner in the work of the CIA as as our country’s first line of defense.
A full Senate vote on his nomination could take place next week, congressional officials said.
Burns would take control of the CIA at a time of transition, as the agency focuses on espionage against nation states after nearly two decades of counterterrorism operations, which some current officials say and elders, drained too many resources and diverted the CIA from its classic espionage mission. .
“Today’s landscape is increasingly complicated and competitive,” Burns said in his opening speech. “This is a world where familiar threats persist – from terrorism and nuclear proliferation to an aggressive Russia, a provocative North Korea and a hostile Iran. But it is also a world of new challenges, in which climate change and global health insecurity weigh heavily on the American people; in which cyber threats pose an ever greater risk to our society; and in which antagonistic and predatory Chinese leadership poses our greatest geopolitical test.
Burns paid special attention to China.
“If upheld, four critical and interrelated priorities will shape my approach to leading the CIA: China, technology, people and partnerships,” Burns said.
Burns would assume the leadership of a workforce that has been battered by four years of intense political conflict, in which President Donald Trump has consistently accused career intelligence officers and their superiors of conspiring against him and attempting to undermine its administration.
When President Biden appointed Burns last month, he underscored what he called their shared belief “that intelligence must be apolitical and that dedicated intelligence professionals in the service of our nation deserve our gratitude and respect.”
Burns is committed to ensuring that politics do not influence the agency’s work.
“This is exactly what President Biden expects from the CIA. That’s the first thing he said to me when he asked me to take on this role, ”Burns told lawmakers. “He said he wanted the agency to give it to him directly – and I am committed to doing that and standing up for those who do the same.”
He also vowed to investigate the source of a series of mysterious illnesses suffered by U.S. intelligence officers and diplomats that some believe may have been caused by microwaves targeting U.S. personnel. Russia is one of the main suspects, US officials said.
“I will make it an extremely high priority to find out who is responsible for the attacks… and to make sure that colleagues and their families receive the care they deserve,” Burns said.
Some former intelligence officers, including those claiming to be victims of the attack, complained that they had not received assistance with treatment and medical bills from former CIA director Gina Haspel and d ‘other senior executives of the agency.
“Based on his long experience of supporting his staff at the State Department, Burns can quickly regain the confidence of the workforce by making this issue a priority,” Marc Polymeropoulos, a former military officer. CIA, which believes it was targeted by a Russian attack, wrote recently.
The chairman of the committee, Senator Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Noted that the committee had included provisions in previous intelligence budgets to support health care for victims.
Burns was asked about past controversies at the agency that took place while in senior positions at the State Department, including the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists.
“I believe waterboarding constitutes torture under the law,” Burns said of the most controversial tactic. And he said that as long as he was in charge of the CIA he would ensure that “these improved interrogation methods are never used again.”
But he said intelligence officers who were involved in the interrogation and detention program should not face actions that “would damage their careers,” because at the time they were acting under direction. of the President and CIA leaders.
Burns never held a position in the intelligence community, but his career in the foreign service placed him at the center of major foreign policy decisions and delicate negotiations for decades, and he regularly interacted with officials of the intelligence. Current and former intelligence officers have greeted the appointment with enthusiasm.
Robert Richer, former No. 2 in the CIA Underground Service, served with Burns in two overseas assignments, including in the Middle East.
“I saw a multidimensional man, a man who listened, including opposing opinions, and who was able to gather multiple inputs of information and process them,” Richer said upon Burns’ appointment. Burns “knows the building,” Richer said, referring to the CIA headquarters.
Burns retired in 2014 after a 33-year career in the Foreign Service.
Lawmakers encouraged Burns to aggressively confront Russia, which intervened in the US election and is accused of a massive breach of US computer systems.
Burns also has extensive experience with Iran, playing a key role in the Obama administration’s efforts to secure a nuclear deal that was abandoned by Trump.
Along with Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser in the White House, Burns helped lead the sideways conversations with Iran that led to the 2015 agreement signed with the United States, Britain, the France, Russia, China and Germany.
Burns told senators that Iran should never be allowed to own a nuclear weapon.