Avril Haines, Biden's pick for top spy, to tell Senate she'll keep politics out of intel analysis

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Ken Dilanian
·3 min read
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WASHINGTON — Joe Biden's nominee to lead America's vast spying bureaucracy is expected to tell senators weighing her confirmation that she will protect whistleblowers, speak truth to power and keep politics out of intelligence analysis, according to excerpts of her prepared statement obtained by NBC News.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Tuesday to consider the nomination of Avril Haines, who was a national security official during the Obama administration, to become director of national intelligence. She would oversee 18 intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the National Security Agency.

Haines, who was deputy CIA director and deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration, will also tell lawmakers that she intends to prioritize countering China, bolstering cyber defenses and anticipating the next pandemic, according to the prepared remarks.

"We should provide the necessary intelligence to support long-term bipartisan efforts to out-compete China — gaining and sharing insight into China's intentions and capabilities, while also supporting more immediate efforts to counter Beijing's unfair, illegal, aggressive and coercive actions, as well as its human rights violations, whenever we can," she intends to say.

"At the same time, the DNI should see to it that the Intelligence Community's unique capabilities are brought to bear on the global Covid-19 crisis around the world, while also addressing the long-term challenge of future biological crises — enabling U.S. global health leadership and positioning us to detect future outbreaks before they become pandemics."

Haines would become the first woman in the job, which was created after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to better coordinate the sprawling American intelligence bureaucracy. She would succeed John Ratcliffe, a Republican former member of Congress from Texas who appears to have gotten the job because of his loyalty to President Donald Trump and because the acting occupant of the job, Richard Grenell, was deemed so unacceptable by Senate Democrats that they were willing to confirm Ratcliffe to be rid of him.

Among other things, the director of national intelligence oversees the presidential intelligence briefing process. But the director does not run covert operations ordered by the president — the CIA director retains that power.

The excerpts of Haines' testimony do not mention the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, but the issue of whether the FBI and other agencies have a handle on domestic extremism is likely to come up at the hearing. While the job of national intelligence director focuses mainly on spying abroad, it includes jurisdiction over the National Counterterrorism Center, which analyzes intelligence about both domestic and international terrorism, and last year it published a report noting that there is no "whole of government" effort aimed at domestic terrorism.

"If I have the honor of being confirmed, I look forward to leading the Intelligence Community on behalf of the American people — to safeguarding their interests, advancing their security and prosperity, and to defending our democracy, our freedoms and our values," Haines, who joined the government in 2008 as a State Department legal adviser, intends to say.

To be effective, she will add, "the DNI must never shy away from speaking truth to power — even, especially, when doing so may be inconvenient or difficult."

"To safeguard the integrity of our Intelligence Community, the DNI must insist that, when it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics — ever," she will say.

After Haines and other Biden nominees were introduced in November, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said on Twitter that Biden's Cabinet picks "will be polite & orderly caretakers of America's decline."