JOHN KIRIAKOU: The Dark Past of Biden’s Nominee for National Intelligence Director

There were three controversial areas where Avril Haines made a name for herself and for which she should have to answer in a confirmation hearing.

White House with 2020 holiday decorations. (White House, Flickr)

By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News

Former acting CIA Director Mike Morell, who has disingenuously argued for years that he had nothing to do with the agency’s torture program, but who continued to defend it, has taken himself out of the running to be President-elect Joe Biden’s new CIA director.

The decision is a victory for the peace group Code Pink, which spearheaded the Stop Morell movement, and it’s a great thing for all Americans.  Now, though, we have to turn our attention to Biden’s nominee to be director of national intelligence (DNI), Avril Haines.

Haines is certainly qualified on paper to lead the Intelligence Community.  A longtime Biden aide, she has the president-elect’s confidence.  But that’s not good enough.  Haines is exactly the kind of person who shouldn’t be in a position of authority in intelligence.  She is the kind of neoliberal intelligence apologist whom so many of us have opposed for so many years.  Don’t just take my word for it, though.  Look at her record.

Haines first began working for Biden when she served as deputy general counsel of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was its chairman.  When Biden became vice president in 2009, Haines moved to the State Department, where she was the assistant legal adviser for treaty affairs.  After only a year, she moved to the White House, where she became deputy assistant to the president and deputy counsel to the president for national security affairs, the National Security Council’s chief attorney.

Avril Haines, at center facing, with President Barack Obama at right, and other aides, July 13, 2015. (White House Flickr, Pete Souza)

That’s quite a position.  What it means was that her job was to legally justify President Barack Obama’s decisions on such intelligence issues as drone strikes and whether to release the CIA Torture Report.  She served there under CIA Director John Brennan.  Obama apparently liked the job she did for him because in 2013, he named Haines deputy director of the CIA (DD/CIA).

Haines was the first woman to be named DD/CIA, and she served again under Brennan, who proved time and again that he was no fan of congressional oversight.  Haines’s attitude was similar to Brennan’s:  The CIA was going to do what it was going to do, and she would make no apologies for it.

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There were three controversial areas where Haines made a name for herself and for which she should have to answer in a confirmation hearing:  The CIA’s refusal to release the Senate Torture Report and the decision to hack into the Senate Intelligence Committee’s computer system; the CIA’s decision to not punish those officers who carried out the hack and who killed and tortured prisoners beyond even what the Justice Department said was permissible; and the government’s drone program, in which hundreds, perhaps thousands, of civilians were killed.

Drone “pilots” launch an MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle for a raid in the Middle East. (U.S. military)

Haines’ Torture Cover-Up

You may recall that in December 2014, the Democratic staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a heavily redacted version of the executive summary of the committee’s torture report, the result of years of investigation using primary-source CIA documents.  The executive summary was about 525 pages long, just a fraction of the nearly 6,000-page complete report.  And the release of the 525 pages was the result of protracted negotiations between the committee and the CIA.

In the end, the public heard a few details of what the CIA’s prisoners underwent at secret prisons around the world.  But the full story was never made public.  It likely never will be.  And that’s thanks to Avril Haines.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2010. (Steve Jurvetson, Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons) 

Earlier that year, then-Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein took to the Senate floor in a very unusual display and accused CIA Director Brennan of spying on her committee’s staff members.  Specifically, Feinstein said that CIA officers had hacked into the Senate’s computers to see what it was that committee investigators were focusing on.

The hacking was unprecedented, and Feinstein referred it to the Justice Department for prosecution.  Attorney General Eric Holder, however, chose not to pursue the case.  Brennan took responsibility for ordering the hacking and he made no apologies for it.  But his top aide, his assistant, his legal adviser through the episode was Avril Haines.  She has never explained her decisions in support of the hack.

Furthermore, it was Haines who overruled the CIA’s inspector general and who decided not to punish those CIA officers who hacked into the committee’s computers, or those CIA officers who had gone over and above what the Justice Department had authorized in its “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” program, killing and maiming prisoners.

In the end, not only were no CIA officers punished, but the leaders and most prominent officers in the torture program were promoted, in some cases into some of the most sought-after positions in the CIA.  I know this to be true.  I worked for them.

Haines and Drones

One area in which Haines has not received a great deal of media coverage has been her role in the drone program.  When Haines was the National Security Council’s top lawyer, Brennan was the keeper of the so-called kill list.  It was Haines who took phone calls in the middle of the night asking her for legal authority — permission — to launch missile attacks from drones.  She has never answered for her actions.

Now is the time for Americans to put down their collective foot on Biden’s national security appointees.  Morell was utterly inappropriate for a senior position in the Biden national security apparatus.  Haines is, too.  She has, very simply, committed crimes against humanity.  I’m under no illusions that Biden is a progressive or that he will differ greatly from previous Democratic presidents on national security.

But I do believe that wrong is wrong.  Avril Haines is exactly the kind of person we don’t want running the Intelligence Community.  This is the moment for opponents of her nomination to lobby senators on the Intelligence Committee. There’s still time to defeat her.

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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6 comments for “JOHN KIRIAKOU: The Dark Past of Biden’s Nominee for National Intelligence Director

  1. Cadogan Parry
    December 30, 2020 at 21:51

    The Intercept (26-June-2020) reported Haines’ consulting for controversial data-mining firm Palantir. Palantir co-founder Peter Thiel is also an investor in Carbyne, co-owned by the late Jeffery Epstein and members of the Israeli political and intelligence establishment. Ties between Palantir and Carbyne were cemented when it opened a center in Israel in 2013. Hamutal Meridor, Palantir Israel’s current head, served as senior director of Verint, with deep ties to Unit 8200. Verint was previously implicated in being one of two companies hired by the NSA to put a backdoor into US telecommunication systems and popular applications, ensuring it’s immediate access.

  2. Peter Janney
    December 30, 2020 at 06:32

    I can always depend on JK (JOHN KIRIAKOU) to cut to the chase and expose all the other bullshit for what it is . . . And once again, he does it here in terms of letting us know who the real Avril Haines is and why it is so important to acknowledge her past history.

    Thank you JK . . . .

  3. Bernadene Zennie
    December 29, 2020 at 22:29

    Thank you Mr Kiriakou. We need you and Medea et al to keep screaming bloody murder for us. If even one less person is tortured or killed or maimed due to your efforts, it matters, it makes s difference to THAT PERSON. God bless. Keep faithful, we are here with you, more than you may know.

  4. robert e williamson jr
    December 29, 2020 at 22:04

    Garbage garbage garbage. Same ole’ Same ole, ‘nothing here should surprise anyone, that is unless of course that individual still doesn’t grasp the enormity of the problem the current two party system poses to our democracy.

    All of these people are wasting time none of us have time to waste. The richer they get the greater our chances for not surviving to live at least a bearable life style become.

    This is what this means to the two thirds of the 99% . Survival! The longer this grotesque charade lingers the worse the King Trump Flu gets as it ravages the weakest among us. This happens often in third world countries and I don’t see enough Americans who are tough enough to handle this crisis.

    Pointing out of course that it will not be” handled” by militias, sheriffs and state police killing each other while idiots in D.C. seek out russian hackers.

    So here we are, stuck with a stark raving lunatic in the White House while the stark raving madman in the Senate plays him for all he worth, worth that is to the madman in the senate.

  5. December 29, 2020 at 21:21

    I urge all who have read this article to watch “Silenced”, a James Spione film about John Kiriakou, Thomas Drake and Jesselyn Radack — whistleblowers who paid a very high price for their honesty and integrity (hXXp:// Mr. Kiriakou gave up a lucrative job and almost two years with his family for sharing the truth. His voice needs to be heard now . Avril Haines’ record of ignoring tremendous human rights violations makes it clear that she should not hold a position of power in the intelligence community of the upcoming administration.

  6. Anonymot
    December 29, 2020 at 19:31

    Mr. Biden is a male clone of Mrs. Clinton who is a mouthpiece for the CIA/MIC/WallSt. She is still the person who controls the Democrat National Committee (DNC) via Tom Perez and they control and advise old Joe. Joe is merely the puppet at the end of the inner organization’s strings. They are all yes-men/women in the service of the shadow’s mindset.

    We will have another Obama puppet show.

    After 4 years of the unique societal insanity ward that destroyed a maximum of the little remaining democracy, including the directorship and key personnel of every Washington bureau, there is little improvement to expect under the Biden Harris clone team. In the stupid intelligence area that Trump damaged even more deeply than is publicly known, Brennan and Clapper are back as Biden advisors.

    Once again, the eagles have died, replaced by beagles sniffing out more war, more oil, and more empire.

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