Shortburst: President-elect Biden picks Avril Haines (a 2017 LENS luncheon speaker!) to be the Director of National Intelligence
In an exciting piece of news, the New York Times reports that President-elect Joe Biden has selected Ms. Avril Haines to be the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). I am thrilled to hear this as I think very, very highly of her.
I knew of her for years, but I think the first time we met was at the Aspen Security Forum in 2017. She was an engaging panelist, unpretentious yet really impressive. Indeed, it seems that everyone who meets her finds her amazing.
And, wow, her ‘life journey’ is truly fascinating. How fascinating? Here’s a sample from Daniel Klaidman’s must-read 2013 profile of her in Newsweek (“Avril Haines, the least likely spy“):
“While in school, Haines took a job working for an auto mechanic in Hyde Park. She’d always been remarkably adept mechanically. As a kid in New York, she’d lugged home discarded TV sets and rewired their insides. In Chicago, she helped rebuild Subaru engines and restored old car parts retrieved from the auto graveyard.”
That’s not all. This multi-talent woman later became a pilot (and married her flight instructor!). She was on her way to getting a PhD in physics–yes, physics–when her career took a sharp turn: Avril and her husband decided to open a book store/cafe in a gentrifying area of Baltimore. Becoming involved in the local community, “she had begun to notice that the activists who knew best how to pull the levers of reform were lawyers,” so she decided to become one.
Attending Georgetown Law, “she fell in love with international law and human rights.” After clerking for a federal judge, she began her career serving the State Department, and later worked in the Senate, served in the CIA and the White House Counsel’s office before becoming the Deputy National Security during the Obama administration.
At Aspen, she spoke about a number of issues, including prosecuting terrorists in Article III courts (the video is here). I knew Duke Law students would want to hear her, and she kindly agreed to be a guest speaker for the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security (LENS) luncheon series that fall.
Here’s what we said on Lawfire at the time (27 Sept 2017):
“This week Duke Law students lunched at the Washington Duke Inn with Avril Haines, who had been President Obama’s Deputy National Security advisor (the first woman to occupy that position). Ms. Haines described her typical day in the White House, and some of the complex legal issues she had to confront. She also shared with the students a lot of insights she had about government service in general, and why she found it so rewarding.”
Avril was very generous with her time, and stayed long afterwards to speak with students. I later crossed paths with her when we both worked with the ABA’s Standing Committee on Law and National Security. She’s not only a truly brilliant person, she also enjoys a solid reputation as a very genuine and authentically collegial person.
Of course, the DNI post is a phenomenally challenging one. Here’s just part of the ‘job description’ from the DNI website:
“The Director of National Intelligence serves as the head of the U.S. Intelligence Community, overseeing and directing the implementation of the National Intelligence Program and acting as the principal advisor to the President, the National Security Council, and the Homeland Security Council for intelligence matters related to national security. The President appoints the DNI with the advice and consent of the Senate.
The DNI works closely with a President-appointed, Senate-confirmed Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence to effectively integrate all national and homeland security intelligence in defense of the homeland and in support of U.S. national security interests.”
In terms of the law, what should we expect from her? Here’s what Klaidman said:
Haines is regarded by many as a liberal pragmatist when it comes to national-security law. On the one hand, she has tried not to unduly tie the hands of the operators who carry out missions. And yet as the staunchest—and most authoritative—voice for the relevance of international law in most national-security meetings, she is not uncommonly an advocate of military restraint. Those who know her best say that Haines is wary of what she sees as the inexorable momentum toward more force. She is fond of the aphorism “Everything is a nail and we’re a hammer.”
“Avril both has a deep respect for international law and the need to act in ways that are supported by international norms but also for the importance and efficacy of our counterterrorism operations,” says Rhodes, the deputy national-security adviser. “She understands that one doesn’t have to be at the expense of the other.”
I honestly cannot think of a better qualified person for the job. Period. This is one that ought to sail through Senate confirmation. America needs her on the job yesterday.