Exclusive: Spy Chief Gets Welcome Endorsement

In a letter obtained by The Cipher Brief this week, former CIA Directors and Acting Directors, including former Director Gina Haspel, endorsed CIA Director Bill Burns in his new role as DCIA.

The letter (below) was originally submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which oversaw Burns’ confirmation hearing last week, in a glowing show of endorsement.

“Bill Burns is the right person at the right time to lead the CIA,” former Director Leon Panetta told committee members last week,  “I trust Bill Burns to be a director who will have their backs.”

Burns is expected to focus Agency efforts on traditional threat actors including Russia, North Korea, Iran and China, as well as prioritizing other threats like climate change and cyber.

“It’s a world where familiar threats persist – from terrorism and nuclear proliferation, to an aggressive Russia, a provocative North Korea, and a hostile Iran,” Burns told the committee last week. “But it’s also a world of new challenges, in which climate change and global health insecurity are taking a heavy toll on the American people; in which cyber threats pose an ever-greater risk to our society; and in which an adversarial, predatory Chinese leadership poses our biggest geopolitical test.”

February 22, 2021

Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL)

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence United States Senate

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Warner, Vice Chairman Rubio, and Members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:

As former Directors of the Central Intelligence Agency under both Democratic and Republican Administrations, we write to endorse the nomination of William J. Burns for the position of CIA Director.

The CIA’s indispensable missions of collection, analysis, and covert action are as important today as they have ever been in CIA’s 73-year history given the multitude of global challenges facing the United States.

Ambassador Burns is one of our country’s most experienced and respected national security professionals, having served for 33 years as a foreign service officer, U.S. Ambassador, Assistant Secretary of State, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, and Deputy Secretary of State. He holds the highest rank in the Foreign Service – that of Career Ambassador — and was only the second serving career diplomat in history to become the Deputy Secretary.

During his long and varied career, he has worked alongside the men and women of the Intelligence Community, benefitting from their analysis and supporting those who served in the embassies he led as Chief of Mission. He entered government service during the Administration of President Reagan in 1982 and has served every President from then until 2014, Republican and Democrat alike. From 1998-2001, he served as Ambassador to Jordan, appointed by President Clinton. From 2005-2008, he served as President George W. Bush’s Ambassador to Russia. He has served in the White House and held multiple tours at Main State and received the highest civilian awards from the Defense Department and the Intelligence Community. For the last six years, he has led the oldest international think tank in the U.S., the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Ambassador Burns believes in the importance of CIA’s mission to U.S. national security decision-making and will uphold the time-honored tradition of presenting apolitical intelligence analysis to the President and other policymakers. He will defend the women and men of CIA against any effort to politicize their work. He will prioritize investments in innovative technology as a key element of CIA’s strategy to deal with global competitors, including China. And he will invest in, strengthen, and diversify the Agency’s workforce because he knows that espionage is a human endeavor, and that people are CIA’s greatest strength.

Above all, he will help the Agency focus on the most significant threats facing our country – an increasingly aggressive China, malign activities from Russia, the proliferation threats from Iran and North Korea, and the transnational threats of terrorism, cyber attacks, and narcotics trafficking. Ambassador Burns will be an excellent intelligence partner to our key allies and friends, leveraging a critical strategic asset in the fight for global security.

Few people could be better prepared for the job of CIA Director than Ambassador Burns.

We endorse his nomination and urge his swift confirmation.


(In Chronological Order of Service)

Judge William H. Webster, DCI, 1987-1991

Robert M. Gates, DCI, 1991-1993

John M. Deutch, DCI, 1995-1996

George J. Tenet, DCI, 1997-2004

John E. McLaughlin, Acting DCI, 2004

Porter J. Goss, DCI, 2004-2005; DCIA 2005-2006

General Michael V. Hayden, DCIA, 2006-2009

Leon E. Panetta, DCIA, 2009-2011

Michael J. Morell, Acting DCIA, 2011, 2012-2013

David H. Petraeus, DCIA, 2011-2012

John O. Brennan, DCIA, 2013-2017

Gina Haspel, DCIA, 2018-2021

Read also A Glimpse of Bill Burns’ CIA by veteran national security columnist Walter Pincus exclusively in The Cipher Brief

Read more expert-driven national security insights, perspective and analysis in The Cipher Brief

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