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Biden’s candidate for CIA director says China is a top priority

REUTERSBill Burns, the professional diplomat tapped by President Biden for running the CIA, told a Senate panel on Wednesday that his top priority as director would be combating China’s technological and economic power. In a remarkably friendly exchange with the Senate Intelligence Committee, where controversy over intelligence failure and abuse have marked nomination hearings for aspiring CIA directors since September 11th. Burns said the CIA must “relentlessly sharpen” its arsenal of digital weapons and its understanding of Beijing’s own. This and other aspects of Burns’ testimony received enthusiastic support from senators on both sides of the Intelligence Committee, who appear to have reached consensus that, as Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), vice chairman of the panel, put it, ” to replace the United States as the most powerful and influential nation in the world. “Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) considered that during the Cold War the US had an” organizational principle “that the current geopolitical competition with China provides. But Burns, former assistant secretary of state and ambassador to Russia, also said the US rivalry with China was dissimilar to “the competition with the Soviet Union in the Cold War”. Burns defined the competition between the US and China less as a “security and ideological” conflict than about economic and technological priority. He spoke less of possible covert action against China than of providing “the best possible information about the nature of Chinese information and capabilities.” Whether the US can avoid a cold war with an emerging world power is a central question of US foreign policy at the beginning of the Biden administration. Biden’s approach so far has been to pursue a “great power competition” without the Trump administration’s trade war and with the prospect of working together on climate change. But even in Washington there is an appetite for a far more aggressive confrontation. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) urged Burns not to “relieve” China in order to reach an agreement on the climate. Sasse, Bennet, and other lawmakers also focused on China to imply lowering the CIA’s priority on ongoing deadly counter-terrorism operations, which Biden is reviewing. During the two-hour hearing, there was virtually no discussion of the CIA’s counter-terrorism issues. Two senators who have been relentlessly critical of the abuse of the CIA counterterrorism, Democrats Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich, usually the dissidents of the agency nomination panel, cheered Burns. Wyden noted that Burns’ hearing became a “full-fledged bouquet-throwing contest”. “Financial Batman” in the leadership of Biden’s CIA In contrast to his predecessor Gina Haspel, Burns has no connection to the human rights violations of the CIA after September 11th. “I believe the CIA’s previous enhanced interrogation program involved torture,” Burns affirmed on a questionnaire for the committee. In particular, Burns did not turn to the CIA counter-terrorism page, saying only that he must balance emerging challenges with “the persistence” threat posed by terrorist groups 20 years after 9/11. “He said that those who were still at the agency and participating in the torture program would have no professional consequences. In the questionnaire, he no longer committed himself to providing Guantanamo defense lawyers representing individuals tortured by the CIA with the Senate classified torture test. Wyden lambasted US intelligence agencies’ purchase of commercially available data on Americans as the end of the Fourth Amendment. Burns promised “transparency” about the purchases – but did not promise to end them. Burns also stressed the restoration of respect for “courage” [and] Expertise “from intelligence officials after the Trump administration prosecuted whistleblowers, purged officials it believed were disloyal, and generally tried to put the intelligence apparatus on its agenda. He wasn’t Biden’s first choice for the job – former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon declined – but said Biden had told him to “provide information directly”. He also admitted that he won’t be Biden’s closest intelligence advisor; That will be the director of the National Intelligence Service, Avril Haines, whom he called “my longtime friend and colleague”. A foreign policy traditionalist during his three decades in diplomatic life, holding high-profile appointments among both parties, Burns was received as a signal of a restored status quo ante during a volatile period in American politics. His testimony followed the encomia of two foreign policy gray beards, George HW Bush’s Secretary of State James Baker and Obama CIA Director Leon Panetta. Baker called Burns’ nomination “a breeze for both parties”. While Burns was more of a consumer of information than a producer during his government career, he wrote one of the most forward-looking analyzes of the past generation. When the Bush administration was preparing to invade Iraq, Burns wrote the so-called “Perfect Storm” memo as Deputy Secretary of State for the Middle East. Burns accurately predicted in July 2002 that “a terrible wave of bloodshed and private vengeance” would result from a US occupation. It was a warning to Secretary of State Colin Powell at a time when the White House despised concerns such as infidelity or defeatism and discouraged the CIA from doing similar analysis. Still, Burns did not resign when Bush remembered: “He is not going to try to impose any particular formula on reform. He knows how to work with a professional workforce after a career in foreground duty. He is open to suggestions and initiatives from below, ”said Paul Pillar, who as Deputy Secretary of State of the CIA was the CIA’s senior Middle East analyst. “I think Ambassador Burns is an excellent candidate for director of the CIA. He brings the greatest experience to the work that US foreign policy needs most of the intelligence community: As a senior consumer at the State Department, he has an excellent sense of the kinds of questions the community needs to answer. “During the hearing, Burns alluded modestly to his 2002 memo. “It was imperfect. We got it half right and half wrong, ”he said. “But it was an honest effort to express our concerns … without that the political decisions suffer.” Read more at The Daily Beast. Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now! Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside delves deeper into the stories that matter to you. Learn more.