Nov 25, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Biden's pick for intelligence chief is familiar with cyber challenges

Avril Haines. Photo: Mark Makela via Getty Images
Avril Haines. Photo: Mark Makela via Getty Images

Avril Haines, Biden’s pick for director of national intelligence, has a long history of working on critical cybersecurity and digital challenges facing the intelligence community.

Why it matters: A deep understanding of cyber issues is of great value in the position, including as the Biden administration seeks to restore faith in a role that has faced accusations of politicization in the Trump era.

Catch up quick: Haines served as CIA deputy director from 2013 to 2015 and deputy national security adviser from 2015 to 2017.

  • During Haines’s tenure at the CIA, the agency initiated what became a major — and at times controversial — organizational transformation, known internally as the “reorg.” One of the main catalysts for this shakeup was CIA leaders’ desire to integrate cyber operations and new digital cybersecurity and intelligence-gathering practices across the agency.
  • The CIA must “embrace and leverage the digital revolution and innovate across our missions,” wrote then-CIA Director John Brennan in a 2015 announcement of the reorganization. “We must place our activities and operations in the digital domain at the very center of all our mission endeavors.”

Haines was also deeply engaged in discussions at the CIA about the broader challenges that the digital era was presenting to intelligence tradecraft.

  • It “was a major issue, even before I arrived at the agency,” Haines told me in 2019. “One way to frame our approach to the many challenges posed by technology was to ‘do less, but do it better,’ which meant focusing on what was most important and then spending the time and resources needed to keep it secret.

Meanwhile: Haines currently co-chairs the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Technology and Intelligence Task Force.

Go deeper