Spy Chief Nominee Haines Vows ‘No Place for Politics’ Post-Trump

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President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as director of national intelligence pledged she’ll never let politics affect decision-making in the collection and use of intelligence, as critics said happened under Donald Trump.

“To be effective, the DNI must never shy away from speaking truth to power -- even, especially, when doing so may be inconvenient or difficult,” Avril Haines, who would be the nation’s first woman to oversee U.S. intelligence agencies, said at her confirmation hearing on Tuesday. “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.”

Haines also told the Senate Intelligence Committee that she wants to use intelligence to better support efforts to counter China’s “unfair, illegal, aggressive and coercive actions, as well as its human rights violations.” She said under questioning that the U.S. approach must evolve to meet the challenge of “the assertive and aggressive China that we see today.”

Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the panel’s acting chairman, agreed, telling Haines that China was spared from U.S. challenges by a “flawed bipartisan consensus for almost two decades.”

Spy Chief Nominee Haines Vows ‘No Place for Politics’ Post-Trump

Asked about domestic terrorism and the attack on the U.S. Capitol by right-wing extremists, Haines said intelligence agencies can play a crucial “supporting role” to the FBI and Department of Homeland Security by investigating any foreign ties to such groups. She said “there are some international connections” to white nationalists.

Biden said when he chose Haines for director of national intelligence in November that he expected her to help restore independence to intelligence agencies that were subjected to frequent attacks by President Trump, who often portrayed them as part of a “deep state” bent on undermining his presidency.

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee’s top Democrat, echoed that theme.

“Our intelligence professionals have been unfairly maligned; their expertise, knowledge, and analysis has often been ignored and even sometimes ridiculed by a president who seems oftentimes uninterested in facts contradicting his political interests,” Warner said in his opening statement. “Those who bravely spoke the truth were vilified, reassigned, fired or retaliated against.”

Trump chose enthusiastic Republican supporters in Congress for key intelligence posts, including Michael Pompeo, his first CIA director, and John Ratcliffe, his final director of national intelligence. Haines was introduced at Tuesday’s hearing by Dan Coats, a former Republican senator who held the director’s post under Trump but had a stormy relationship with him.

“To lead our intelligence community, I didn’t pick a politician or a political figure, I picked a professional,” Biden said in November.

Haines, 51, was the Central Intelligence Agency’s deputy director from 2013 to 2015 under President Barack Obama and was his deputy national security adviser from 2015 to 2017. She received a largely friendly reception from the Senate committee that will vote on her nomination.

Haines testified that intelligence agencies should apply their capabilities to help end the global coronavirus pandemic “while also addressing the long-term challenge of future biological crises -- enabling U.S. global health leadership and positioning us to defend and detect future outbreaks before they become pandemics.”

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