The vow to restore the DNI’s role as an nonpartisan provider of intelligence and head of the 18-member clandestine community comes after four tumultuous years that saw President Donald Trump alternate between wielding intelligence as a political cudgel against his enemies and publicly ridiculing agencies whose work he did not trust — dating back to the community’s assessment that Russia interfered on his behalf in the 2016 election.
This weekend, Trump moved to leave his fingerprints on the spy community by pushing to have a loyalist and former GOP operative appointed as the NSA’s top lawyer. Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller ordered NSA chief Army Gen. Paul Nakasone to install Michael Ellis as general counsel after he had been selected for the job in November.
The spy agency said in a statement on Sunday that it is “moving forward” with the employment process, setting up Ellis — who served as chief counsel to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), one of the president’s biggest Capitol Hill defenders, when Nunes chaired the House Intelligence Committee — to begin work Tuesday, the day before Biden’s inauguration.
On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to Miller requesting that he “immediately cease plans to improperly” install Ellis. Civil service rules make it difficult to immediately fire Ellis, but the new administration could reassign him to another position.
Haines’ promise to be apolitical will likely find a receptive audience among Democrats on the Intelligence panel, including Mark Warner of Virginia, who will receive the committee gavel this week when the winners of Georgia’s Senate run-offs are sworn in.
“The dedicated women and men of the intelligence community have been through a lot over the last four years,” Warner says in his opening statement, excerpts of which were shared with POLITICO.
“Our intelligence professionals have been unfairly maligned; their expertise, knowledge, and analysis has often been ignored and ridiculed by a president uninterested in facts contradicting his political interests,” he will add. “Those who bravely spoke the truth were vilified, reassigned, fired, or retaliated against. Ms. Haines, it will be your task to ensure that the IC recovers from this dark chapter.”
Warner will urge Haines to “inspire a workforce hollowed out by years of firings,” demonstrate to the country that the intelligence community “deserves their utmost confidence as a source of truth and insight” and “assure allied intelligence services around the world that America is a reliable partner” on a host of security fronts.
“This is no small task. But we will be your partner in this endeavor,” he will say.
Haines, 51, served in a variety of national security roles during the Obama administration, beginning in 2010 as a legal adviser. She then served as a deputy CIA director before she returned to the White House as the deputy national security adviser.
Her nomination last year raised concerns among progressive groups over her role in the drone strike program under Obama and her work with Capitol Hill lawmakers investigating the CIA’s interrogation program but drew praise from career intelligence officials, especially following the brief but controversial tenure of John Ratcliffe, a former Republican congressman and Trump devotee.
He has sparked clashes with analysts over the scope of Russia and China’s interference, or attempted interference, in the 2020 election, as well as his role in declassifying intelligence — over the objections of the heads of NSA and CIA — that Trump thought would provide proof of a “deep state” conspiracy to undermine his presidency. The released information did not buttress those claims.
In her testimony, Haines will say the nation’s spy chief must “prioritize transparency, accountability, analytic rigor, facilitating oversight and diverse thinking — not as afterthoughts, but as strategic imperatives that bolster our work and our institutions.” And in order to be trusted, she will say, the office must “uphold our democratic values and ensure that the work of the intelligence community, mostly done in secret, is ethical, wise, lawful, and effective.”
For example, agencies should provide the necessary intelligence to “support long-term bipartisan efforts to out-compete China — gaining and sharing insight into China’s intentions and capabilities,” while also supporting efforts to counter Beijing’s belligerence, Haines will say.
In addition, the DNI should ensure that the clandestine community’s “unique capabilities are brought to bear on the global COVID-19 crisis around the world, while also addressing the long-term challenge of future biological crises — enabling U.S. global health leadership and positioning us to detect future outbreaks before they become pandemics.”
On the homefront, Haines will say the U.S. must “strengthen our cybersecurity, safeguard our critical infrastructure” — a reference to the massive SolarWinds digital espionage campaign, which intelligence agencies have tentatively linked to Russian operatives.
Haines will also voice her support for inspectors general and protection of whistleblowers, both of which became political lightning rods during the Trump administration, including when the president pushed out watchdogs at five departments in the weeks following his first impeachment trial.