Avril Haines: Biden’s intelligence chief pick promises to ‘tell the truth to power’ in Trump era

“You know I have never hesitated to speak the truth to power. And it will be my responsibility as Director of National Intelligence. I have worked for you for a long time and I accept this appointment knowing that you will never want to. me to do otherwise, “Haines said Tuesday.” And that you appreciate the point of view of the intelligence community. And that you will do it even when what I have to say may be embarrassing or difficult, and I assure you there will be times like that. ”

Some progressives have questioned Haines’ record on sensitive issues, criticizing his role in the Obama administration’s drone program, which human rights groups say has killed hundreds of civilians, and the accusing of complicity in the use of torture by the CIA or “improved interrogation techniques” after 9/11.

But several elders Intelligence and national security officials who previously worked with Haines told CNN that she had been an ordinary speaker throughout her career, including during her tenure as a senior CIA official and deputy adviser to the national security under President Barack Obama.

“She’s someone who has the will to speak up and speak out if she sees something that needs to be said, so she’s not someone who hesitates to be upset if necessary,” said former Haines boss, CIA director John Brennan.

Former Deputy Director of Intelligence Susan Gordon also praised Haines, telling CNN that she is “a wonderful choice, trusted by the President-elect, a smart whip and – even better – a great representative. of the crafts and humans of the intelligence committee. “

“I expect great things from her,” added Gordon.

Biden officially introduced Haines as his candidate for the top intelligence post at an event Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware, where he praised her as “brilliant” and “humble,” while highlighting her vast life experience. as an asset to the new administration.

“I know this because I’ve worked with her for over a decade,” Biden said, adding that Haines could “talk about literature and theoretical physics, fix cars, fly airplanes and run a cafe in a bookstore. , in one conversation – because she finished it all. “

“Especially, if she learns that a threat is coming to our shores – like another pandemic or foreign interference in our elections – she won’t stop sounding the alarm until the right people act,” he said. he adds.

A different path

While many of Haines’ predecessors were career intelligence officials before taking on the role of DNI, she took a different path.

At the University of Chicago, she pursued studies in physics, but took time to study aviation, learning from an instructor who would later become her husband.

The couple opened a bookstore in Baltimore, which occasionally hosted erotic literature readings before Haines went to law school at Georgetown University.

His unique background also gives him a unique perspective that will serve him well as a DNI, according to Brennan.

Main lines of the unveiling of Biden's main national security and foreign policy team

“Avril will bring to the position of DNI a unique blend of national security experience from her time in the White House, the CIA, the National Security Council and the State Department,” he told CNN.

“His eclectic and even bohemian background really reflects his great intellectual curiosity for so many things – whether it be physics or the law, running a bookstore or flying an airplane,” Brennan told CNN.

“Avril just wants to experience all aspects of life, and I think that experience really, I think, gives her a great perspective on the role the Director of National Intelligence has to play in this very complex and complicated world of ours.” , he added.

Haines has worked with Biden for over a decade in various roles in national security, but now seeks to take control of an intelligence community that has been repeatedly maligned and sidelined by Trump throughout. his four years in power.

“To our intelligence professionals: the work you do, often under the most austere conditions imaginable, is simply essential,” she said on Tuesday.

After Haines was first announced as Biden’s choice for the DNI post on Monday, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee immediately relied on his fellow Republicans to quickly confirm it.

“Avril is smart and knowledgeable, with experience that will serve him well as the director of national intelligence,” said Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. “While I expect her to face some tough questions from senators on both sides of the aisle, the sooner we can get a confirmed DNI to start repairing the damage than the past four years. have caused our intelligence agencies, the better. “

Persistent concerns

But while Biden’s decision to appoint Haines has garnered praise from some Democrats and former officials who have worked with her on the National Security Council and the CIA, the choice has also drawn backlash from some. progressives, who accuse him of having a questionable stance on a variety of issues, including torture.

While serving as Deputy Director of the CIA from 2013 to 2014, Haines decided not to punish agency staff who were accused of improperly accessing the computers of the Senate Intelligence Committee during his investigation into the CIA’s use of improved interrogation techniques – a dispute that drew criticism from Democrats on the panel.

She also expressed support for Trump’s current CIA director Gina Haspel when she was nominated for the post in 2018 and was criticized for her involvement in carrying out CIA interrogation programs. of the George W. Bush era, including those led to the “black site” prison she allegedly ran.

At the time, Haines’ support for Haspel put her at odds with many Democrats on the panel, and that remains a sticking point for some within the party.

“Haines has an unfortunate record of repeatedly covering up torture and torturers. His push for the maximalist drafting of the torture report, his refusal to discipline CIA personnel who hacked the Senate, and his loud support to Gina Haspel – who has even been touted by Trump’s White House as Democrats almost unanimously opposed the candidate for the head of the CIA – should be questioned during the confirmation process, “a David Segal, co-founder and executive director of Demand Progress Group, told CNN.

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