Joe Biden has nominated William Burns, a veteran of the Department of State, as his director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The President-elect and his Vice-Presidential pick, Kamala Harris, described Burns as the perfect candidate for to be an "apolitical" head of the spy agency. He is also the first career diplomat to take the post. Here is what you need to know about William Burns and the path he has taken which has led him to the top job at the CIA:
Burns was first mentioned as a probable main candidate to land the head of the Department of State post in 2016, in the presumed Clinton administration, and later in 2020 in Biden's Administration. However, Biden picked Antony Blinken for the job, apparently allowing himself to be swayed by the opinion of Melvin Goodman - the CounterPunch online media outlet's columnist and former CIA analyst - who recommended Burns as the new chief spy to Biden.
Goodman recommended the veteran diplomat on the grounds that he would be the perfect candidate to de-politicise the agency after Trump's presidency and the leadership of Gina Haspel, whom the Democrats repeatedly accused of defending torture methods presumably used by the CIA. The analyst further argued that as an official who had served abroad, Burns have a "deep understanding" of the CIA's role and importance.
Extensive Knowledge About Russia and Iran
Despite Goodman's assurances of Burns' understanding of the CIA's role, the diplomat rarely engaged in discussions regarding national security issues per se. He indeed held a post of Senior Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the US National Security Council between 2001 and 2005, but most of his 33-year-long career he worked as a diplomat.
In this capacity, Burns engaged in negotiating several crucial agreements with foreign governments. He was reportedly "in the driver's seat" of the US talks with Iran on limiting its nuclear programme in cooperation with Jake Sullivan, whom Biden had chosen as National Security Adviser. Burns also played a major role in convincing Libya to abandon its programme to build weapons of mass destruction in 1982.
The career diplomat was praised for having an "astute analysis" of Russian politics after some of his cables to the Department of State were leaked by WikiLeaks. Burns also took an active part in implementing the policy of "resetting" US-Russian relations: the effort launched by Hillary Clinton in 2009 was aimed at ending growing hostility in the relations between the two countries, but it was ultimately unsuccessful in achieving this goal. The "Reset" policy was officially scrapped not long before Burns' resignation after the US aided a government coup in Ukraine and groundlessly accused Moscow of allegedly triggering a civil war in the country's east.
Burns was also among few officials, who cautioned the George W Bush administration against toppling the regime in Iraq in 2002. He warned that such an event could prove disadvantageous for Washington, creating a "perfect storm" for the US interests in the region.
In the statement announcing William Burns' appointment, Biden and his transitional committee stressed his apolitical nature in the first place, but also pledged he was a man who was capable of responding to alleged threats purportedly emerging from Russia and China. However, it remains unclear how well Burns is prepared to face them, since he has little experience in national security affairs, and apparently no experience, even diplomatic one, of dealing with China. His nomination, however, is unlikely to face obstacles since after 20 January the Democrats will be in control of both chambers of Congress with the help of Vice-President Kamala Harris tipping the scales in the Senate.