CIA nominee William Burns pledges ‘politics must stop where intelligence works begin’

President Biden's first 100 days

William Burns testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on his nomination to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Tom Williams/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the director of the CIA told lawmakers on Wednesday that he would keep politics out of the job and saw competition with China as the key to U.S. national security.

The comments from William Burns, 64, a former career diplomat who worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations, were given during testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Burns was introduced at the hearing by bipartisan foreign policy heavyweights — former Secretary of State James Baker and former CIA director Leon Panetta.​

A former ambassador to Jordan and Russia as well as holding three senior State Department positions, Burns outlined his top four priorities as “people, partnerships, China and technology.”

Out-competing China will be key to our national security in the days ahead,” Burns said at his confirmation hearing, calling the country “a formidable, authoritarian adversary” that the U.S. must counter. Its “adversarial, predatory” leadership is strengthening its ability to steal intellectual property, repress its people and expand its reach and influence.

William Burns is sworn in before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on his nomination to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Tom Williams/Pool via AP)

Burns committed to deliver “unvarnished” intelligence to politicians and policymakers, saying the president “wants the agency to give it to him straight, and I plan to do just that and to defend those who do the same.”

“I’ve learned that politics must stop where intelligence works begin,” Burns said. “That is exactly what President Biden expects of CIA.”

Burns acknowledged that he would be returning to government at a time of diverse international security threats including familiar threats, including from China, Russia, North Korea and Iran. He also said climate change, global health issues and cyber threats pose great risks.

Russian aggression is a constant concern, especially its involvement in U.S. elections and the recent SolarWinds hack that penetrated government agencies and the private sector and that U.S. officials have blamed on Russian hackers.

He said that intrusion was a “very harsh wake-up call about the vulnerabilities of supply chains and critical infrastructure” and that the CIA had to work even harder to detect and prevent cyberoperations from abroad, to help attribute blame and to develop its own capabilities.

The Biden administration offered last week to sit down with the Iranians and other parties to the 2015 pact to see if there is a way to return to the agreement, after the Trump administration withdrew in 2018.

Burns and Jake Sullivan, who is now Biden’s national security adviser, led secret talks with Iran in 2013 that helped pave the way for the international nuclear deal that has been blasted by Republicans.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this article. All reporting by Eric Tucker/AP, Patricia Zengerle/Reuters and Mark Hosenball/Reuters.

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