As the Biden administration officially starts on Wednesday, the President-elect has already chosen a bulk of the senior staff Cabinet positions to oversee global and domestic intelligence. A clear pattern has emerged in Biden’s choices: he often chooses career officials and recognized experts whom he already trusts. This includes many former Obama administration officials. While many of his choices are deemed non-scandalous, most will still likely still face a polarized Senate-confirmation process.
Although Biden’s picks may be viewed as “safe”, his team will hit some historic milestones for the intelligence community if confirmed: Gen. Lloyd Austin III as the first Black Defense Secretary, Avril Haines as the first woman Director of National Intelligence, and Alejandro Mayorkas as the first Latino and immigrant to serve as the Homeland Security Secretary.
Key Intelligence Positions
To help get you up to speed, here are Biden’s selections so far for key intelligence positions. Deputy Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Homeland Security, and Director of National Intelligence all have a Senate confirmation hearing today.
1. Secretary of State – Antony Blinken
Antony Blinken was deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration. He has served in several foreign policy positions during Democratic administrations, including as a member of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration. He also served as staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair of the panel and later was then-Vice President Biden’s national security adviser.
2. Deputy Secretary of State – Wendy Sherman
Wendy Sherman served as the under secretary of state for political affairs, the fourth-highest post at the State Department, during the Obama administration where she served as the lead U.S. negotiator on the nuclear deal with Iran. If confirmed, she will be the first woman to be the deputy secretary of state.
3. Secretary of Defense – Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin
Retired four-star Army Gen. Lloyd Austin was appointed to lead the Department of Defense. Austin previously led the military’s Central Command, where he oversaw all American troops in the Middle East. Austin served in the military for 41 years, ultimately retiring in 2016. Because he is less than seven years removed from active duty, he will require a waiver from Congress to hold the position. If confirmed, Austin will be the first African American secretary of defense.
4. Secretary of Homeland Security – Alejandro Mayorkas
Mayorkas is a former deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, serving under the Obama administration. Mayorkas, who arrived in the U.S. as a refugee from Cuba with his parents and sister, will be the first immigrant and first Latino nominated to head the agency if confirmed. Following a career as a lawyer, he joined the Obama administration in 2009 as director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, where he implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
5. Director of National Intelligence – Avril Haines
Avril Haines will lead the intelligence community across 17 agencies and organizations, and advise the president on national security issues. Haines is a former deputy director of the CIA and served as the White House deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration. If appointed, Haines will be the first woman to head national intelligence.
6. CIA Director – William Burns
William Burns spent 33 years working at the State Department under Republican and Democratic presidents, including serving as a former ambassador to Russia and Jordan. Burns rose through the ranks to serve as the deputy secretary of state from 2011 to 2014 before retiring to run the think tank, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
7. Deputy CIA Director – David Cohen
David Cohen will return as deputy CIA director after previously holding the same position from 2015 to 2017 during the Obama administration. During his first stint as deputy CIA director, Cohen oversaw the intelligence agency’s strategic modernization and led foreign intelligence collection. In 2017, he received the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the CIA’s highest honor. Cohen will start following Biden’s inauguration on January 20, as the deputy director is not subject to Senate confirmation.
8. Ambassador to the United Nations – Linda Thomas-Greenfield
Linda Thomas-Greenfield is a career diplomat with 35 years of foreign service experience in four continents. A former ambassador to Liberia, Thomas-Greenfield has served as director general of the foreign service and oversaw the Bureau of African Affairs during the Obama administration. Biden plans to elevate the position of U.N. ambassador to Cabinet level.
9. National Security Adviser – Jake Sullivan
Jake Sullivan served as the national security adviser to Biden during the Obama administration. He also served as deputy chief of staff to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Sullivan also was a lead negotiator in talks that led to the Iran nuclear deal. Sullivan will start his role once Biden takes his oath of office, as the position does not require Senate confirmation.