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Photo: Ben Hider via Getty Images

President-elect Biden's selection of William Burns, a retired top diplomat, as his nominee for CIA director marks a potential pivot point for the agency.

Why it matters: Burns’ background is in statecraft, not subterfuge. His appointment may offer an unusual opportunity to better integrate the CIA’s intelligence-gathering, analysis and covert action capabilities with larger U.S. foreign policy aims.

What they’re saying: The pick “means [Biden] intends for American intelligence to serve American diplomacy in a way unseen since the Dulles brothers led those forces in the 1950s. That’s an urgent and monumental mission,” writes Tim Weiner.

Catch up quick: Burns, who currently heads the Carnegie Endowment, was something of a surprise pick.

  • Insiders had believed front-runners for the job included former CIA deputy director David Cohen and former senior CIA official Darrell Blocker.
  • Another well-known CIA hand, former acting director Michael Morell, earlier asked to be removed from consideration for the job after some Senate Democrats signaled their opposition to him over his past statements on torture.

Background: Burns, who retired in 2014 as deputy secretary of state, is a widely respected 33-year veteran of America’s diplomatic corps.

  • He was deeply involved in the Obama administration’s Iran strategy, including leading backchannel negotiations surrounding the Iran Deal.
  • He was also previously the U.S. ambassador to Russia.

Of note: Although some former CIA heads, like Richard Helms and George H.W. Bush, were later appointed to diplomatic posts, Burns would be the first career diplomat to ascend to the top CIA post.

Yes, but: Burns’ diplomatic background doesn’t necessarily mean he will eschew the harder-edged aspects of spy work. After all, under the Obama administration, the CIA undertook a concerted covert action campaign to degrade Iran’s nuclear program while also pushing for a negotiated suspension of Tehran’s activities.

Go deeper

Jan 20, 2021 - World

Iran lays out "road map" for nuclear talks with Biden

Khamenei earlier this month. Photo: Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty

Iran has been accumulating bargaining chips and laying out its strategy for engagement with Joe Biden, who arrives in office promising to return the U.S. to the 2015 nuclear deal if Iran returns to compliance.

Why it matters: Recent statements from Iran's leaders indicate that they're willing to strike such a deal. But the sides differ over who will have to make the first move, and when.

11 mins ago - Health

CDC panel recommends Pfizer boosters for high-risk individuals, people 65 and up

Photo: Marco Bello/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A key panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday recommended the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus booster shots for people 65 years old and older, as well as those at high risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: The approval is the near-final step in making the booster shots available to tens of millions of Americans, and comes a day after the FDA approved Pfizer boosters for the two groups. CDC director Rochelle Walensky is expected to accept the recommendation.

DHS temporarily suspends use of horse patrol in Del Rio

U.S. Border Patrol agents watch as Haitian immigrant families cross the Rio Grande from Mexico into Del Rio, Texas on Sept. 23, 2021. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday temporarily suspended the use of horse patrol in Del Rio, Texas a DHS spokesperson confirmed.

Why it matters: The suspension comes after images showing border patrol agents whipping at and charging their horses at migrants surfaced earlier in the week, prompting widespread criticism of the Biden administration's handling of the crisis at the border.