Biden's pick for CIA head William Burns promises tough line on Iran and China

Former ambassador receives strong bipartisan support from powerful Senate Intelligence Committee

William Burns, nominee for Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director, testifies during his Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Reuters. 
William Burns, nominee for Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director, testifies during his Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Reuters. 

The US Senate Intelligence Committee backed veteran diplomat William Burns to become President Joe Biden's CIA director, committee chairman Mark Warner said on Tuesday.

Mr Burns served as deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration and was the US ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008.

"The overwhelmingly bipartisan vote in ambassador Burns’ favour is a testament to the nominee’s unquestioned qualifications for the role, long experience in matters of national security and laudable commitment to public service," said Mr Warner, a Democratic senator from Virginia.

He said he hoped the Senate would confirm the appointment of Mr Burns "without any unnecessary delay".

At a confirmation hearing last month, Mr Burns said he considered competition with China – and countering its "adversarial, predatory" leadership – as vital to US national security.

Mr Burns said that if he was president of a US college or university, he would recommend shutting down Confucius Institutes – Beijing-funded cultural centres that many members of Congress believe to be propaganda tools.

"After meeting ambassador Burns, I believe he understands the nature of the Chinese threat and the others facing our nation," said Marco Rubio, the committee's top Republican and a senator for Florida.

At his hearing, Mr Burns told the panel that Russia, North Korea and Iran also posed persistent threats to the US.

He also said climate change, global health issues and cyber threats risked national security.

Among the Russia-related issues Burns and other intelligence chiefs are expected to deal is an investigation into recent hacking attacks of US government and private and local government data networks.

A US official said Mr Biden's director of national intelligence, Avril Haines would lead a broad review of intelligence issues facing US agencies.

Those will include the role Moscow may have played in the SolarWinds hack of US targets and accusations that Russia paid bounties to Taliban fighters who killed American and allied troops in Afghanistan.

Updated: March 3, 2021 05:50 PM

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