JOHN KIRIAKOU: Biden’s Nominee for CIA Director

If there must be a CIA, I feel better with Bill Burns being in charge of it.

William Burns in 2014 as U.S. deputy secretary of state. (State Department)

By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News

President-elect Joe Biden has finally named a new CIA director, one of the final senior-level appointees for his new administration.  Much to the surprise of many of us who follow these things, he named senior diplomat Williams Burns to the position.  Burns is one of the most highly-respected senior U.S. diplomats of the past three decades.  He has ably served presidents of both parties and is known as both a reformer and as a supporter of human rights.

Burns is currently the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an important Washington-based international affairs think tank.  He served as deputy secretary of state under President Barack Obama and was ambassador to Russia under President George W. Bush and ambassador to Jordan under President Bill Clinton.  He was instrumental in the negotiations that led to the Iran Nuclear Deal and spent much of his career focused on the Middle East Peace Process.  Burns joined the Foreign Service in 1982.

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When he made the announcement of Burns’ appointment, Biden said,

“Bill Burns is an exemplary diplomat with decades of experience on the word stage keeping our people and our country safe and secure.  He shares my profound belief that intelligence must be apolitical and that the dedicated intelligence professionals serving our nation deserve our gratitude and respect.  The American people will sleep soundly with him as our next CIA Director.”

The message from Biden is clear:  The CIA will not be led by a political hack like Mike Pompeo, a CIA insider like John Brennan, or someone associated with the CIA’s crimes of torture, secret prisons, or international renditions like Gina Haspel.  Instead, the organization will be led by someone with experience engaging across a negotiating table with America’s enemies, someone experienced in solving problems, rather than creating new ones, someone who has dedicated much of his career to promoting peace, rather than to creating war.

Rank & File Response

The question, though, is what will be the response from the CIA’s rank-and-file to Burns’ appointment?  I can tell you from my 15 years of experience at the CIA that there will be two reactions.  At the working level, analysts, operators, and others will continue their same level of work no matter who the director is.  Most working level officers don’t even care who the director is.  It doesn’t matter to them.  They never encounter the director and policies made at that top level generally don’t impact them on a day-to-day basis. 

At the senior levels, the leadership levels, CIA officers will be of two minds.  Some will welcome Burns and his professionalism.  They’ll welcome a director who doesn’t attract adverse press because of a past history of committing war crimes or crimes against humanity.  (Even if they supported those crimes when they were being committed, press attention is always unwelcome.)  They’ll welcome a director who didn’t head secret prisons overseas.  They’ll welcome a director who wasn’t in charge of Guantanamo.  They’ll welcome a director who wasn’t in charge of maintaining a secret “kill list.”

Others will resent Burns, though, as they resented an earlier outsider, Admiral Stansfield Turner.  Turner had been appointed by President Jimmy Carter to “clean up” the CIA.  Turner then fired fully a third of the CIA’s operations officers, some just months away from qualifying for retirement.  He was universally reviled after that, and he never regained the trust of agency personnel.

That’s not Burns’ style.  He’s not a military officer who demands fealty.  He’s a diplomat, a negotiator.  The CIA has to be cleaned up.  Its policies have to be reformed.  If there must be a CIA, I feel better with Bill Burns being in charge of it.  At the very least, we should give him enough time to at least get started.

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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16 comments for “JOHN KIRIAKOU: Biden’s Nominee for CIA Director

  1. January 13, 2021 at 06:21

    I liked Jack’s ides ihn te early 60’s. A million pieces scattered in the wind! Will the deep state & shadow gubmint still pull the strings?

  2. Tom Kath
    January 12, 2021 at 22:52

    Secret services from the German SS to the CIA, FBI, MI6, MOSSAD et al, have always been FEARED, but never RESPECTED. They are most disgusting manifestation of human conspiracy ever to blight humanity and should be abolished, prohibited, and exposed as the cancerous slime bags that they are. I would pardon whistleblowers for realising this, as long as they do.

  3. January 12, 2021 at 18:24

    lesser evilism, the american form of crippled democracy, would seem to rule with burns playing polio to pompeo’s cancer, the way biden is an improvement on trump which, as some internet poet put it, is like falling into a cesspool and then changing your shirt. we neeed far more than new crew members of the titanic!

  4. January 12, 2021 at 15:49

    “He was instrumental in the negotiations that led to the Iran Nuclear Deal” All we need to know about this guy!!!

  5. robert e williamson jr
    January 12, 2021 at 15:08

    Well the way I got it figured if John is okay with this that alone is a start. My take doesn’t make one damn bit of difference either way. However, call me a cynic or what ever but the CIA needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. Corrupt to it’s very gills and dragging the DOJ with it.

    That said it would be hard to find any individual worse for the job than Dulles, Helms, Bush 41, McCone or the counter intelligence head JJ Angleton who never caught a spy and who just happened to be CIA desk for Israel during the time entire history of the nasty events that happened at NUMEC. The counter intelligence head who for years seemed to have the drop on everyone else at CIA.

  6. Daniel Fry
    January 12, 2021 at 13:12

    You can put a lipstick on a pig. It is still a pig the cliché somehow goes. Kiriaku just does not get it, or doesn’t want to.

  7. David Otness
    January 12, 2021 at 11:10

    Hope in such a dark hour as the clock winds down? I appreciate your take, John, and will abide by your encouraging words. Burns’ working knowledge should provide a trust, that is a reservoir from which to draw that is vital for these rocky times ahead. Enough to deflect from the influence of dark hearts like Nuland / Kagans? And Blinkens? One can only hope, especially after the contemptible and odious Mike Pompeo.

    Best regards to you, and to all of us in this year 2021.

  8. Mark
    January 12, 2021 at 10:58

    John, forgive my ignorance and kindly enlighten me about the first paragraph under “Rank & File Response”. It seems to say that working-level CIA people are essentially independent of both the directorship and its policies. If that’s true, then how could any director change things? I must be missing the point. Help.

    • John Kiriakou
      January 12, 2021 at 11:27

      Hi, Mark. What I meant was that at the “rank and file” level, people are so low-level that who the director is has no impact on their jobs. If person A is a paper pusher, he or she will continue to push paper or process accounting or answer phones or whatever. I remember being shocked when one secretary told me in 1990 that she didn’t even know who the director happened to be. (It was Judge Webster.)

      • January 12, 2021 at 19:23

        I don’t get it. Why would you name a career diplomat as the director? He’s going to change the CIA into a diplomatic enterprise? Why not just get rid of the black Ops division and keep the analysts? Perhaps it will become clearer as time proveeds.

  9. ML
    January 12, 2021 at 09:59

    If John Kiriakou feels better about it, then so do I. Thanks, John. Maybe a tiny ray of light gets through all these cracks, as the saying goes.

  10. bobLich
    January 12, 2021 at 09:29

    Some paragraphs found in this article.


    As a top-level State Department official through the administrations of Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama, Burns is implicated in virtually every crime of US imperialism over the past three decades, including the war in Iraq, the US-NATO attack on Libya, the military coup that drowned the Egyptian Revolution in blood, and the US intervention in Syria.

    After such a career, as the saying goes, Burns knows where all the bodies are buried. Now he is assigned to head an agency that is probably responsible for more killing, torture and mass suffering than any other on the planet: the CIA.

    A preview of what to expect from a Burns-led CIA was given during an interview with National Public Radio’s Mary Louise Kelly on “US Global Leadership” held June 19, 2019 at the Truman Center for National Policy in Washington, DC. In the extended conversation, Burns defended the US and NATO-led coup in Libya which ended with the grisly murder of Muammar Gaddafi, followed by an ongoing civil war, the torture and killing of refugees and the return of slave-markets.

    “It was right to act in Libya in the way that we did,” Burns said. While the US government might have “got some assumptions wrong,” he expressed no regrets, saying that he still thought Obama’s “decision to act was unavoidable.”

    • Anne
      January 12, 2021 at 14:15

      I would agree with your estimation…some one, anyone who can think, believe, say etc… that what we did in Iraq, Libya (I don’t doubt Serbia), Syria is “rightful” has a heinously distorted mind (pretty much everyone in DC, in the MICIMATT)…And Biden has revealed himself – again – as a subject of the corporate-capitalist-imperialist plutocratic ruling elites (and one with his hand forever stuck out)…

  11. A. Dechend
    January 12, 2021 at 09:17

    Kiriaku ought to read the World Socialist Web Site’s critique of Burns.

    • January 12, 2021 at 22:31

      In addition:


      Scott Ritter and Melvin Goodman seem to agree with John:



    • jo6pac
      January 13, 2021 at 13:00


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