The White House has nominated an agency outsider and the first woman to be the CIA's No. 2 after career intelligence officer Mike Morell, passed over for the top job earlier this year, resigned.
Avril Haines, a White House lawyer who has been a deputy counsel at the NSC and focused on national security issues, will replace Morell Aug. 9, CIA Director John Brennan announced Wednesday. Haines was nominated two months ago to be legal counsel at State but will now go to help lead an intelligence agency in which she has never before worked.
In a statement, Brennan said that at the White House, Haines has worked on some of the agency's most sensitive programs, participating in most of high-level meetings over the past two years. "In every instance, Avril's command of substance, sense of mission, good judgment, and keen insights have been outstanding," Brennan said.
The 43-year-old Haines has enjoyed a meteoric rise from Senate staffer to now the second most powerful position at the agency. On the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she was known for being an effective operator, clearing many treaties that had been stalled in committee by working closely with members of the GOP.
Haines's appointment could be seen as another example of the White House putting more of its people in key national security jobs. Mark Lippert's appointment as chief of staff at the Pentagon under Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, after a long stint at the NSC, suggested to some outsiders that the White House was pushing its people out to key agency jobs. Sending Haines to the second most important job at CIA seems like another such example to some. But the Center for Strategic and International Studies's David Berteau, who tracks national security appointments, doesn't think filling these jobs in this way smacks of a White House asserting its control.
"I don't see that this appointment presents a threat to the operational integrity of the agency," he said, adding that giving principals the discretion to hire who they want leads to their ultimate success. "The real question here is, is this the person who John Brennan wants and needs?"
Berteau pointed to the nomination of Leon Panetta to CIA, which initially raised eyebrows because he was not steeped in intelligence. It didn't take long before those critics began to sing his praises. "By all accounts, Leon Panetta turned out to be a superior director of the CIA," he said.
When David Petraeus left the agency directorship abruptly after his affair with biographer Paula Broadwell, it was Morell who stepped in as acting director -- the second time in his career. Many from inside the intelligence community wanted to see Morell be given the job permanently. They cited his long history in the intelligence world and hoped his nomination to be director could be a sign of the agency returning to its roots of intelligence collection and analysis. In the end he was passed over for John Brennan, who has expressed interest in pursuing a similar agenda.
Morell will leave a field in which he's been for 33 years. In a memo to staff, Morell said Brennan made the decision both tougher and easier for him. Morell said he believes the agency is in good hands but at the same time said he wished he could watch the agency "accomplish great things" under Brennan's leadership. But Morell said he was leaving to spend more time with his family -- the "real reason" he's leaving, he said. "Whenever someone involved in the rough and tumble of Washington decides to move on, there is speculation in various quarters about the 'real reason,'" he said in the memo. "But you all know me, so you know that when I tell you that it is time for my family, nothing could be more real than that."
DNI Jim Clapper issued a statement saying Haines was an "excellent choice" to replace Morell. Haines, he said, has "distinguished herself" in key national security positions. "She has a deep understanding of the intelligence community and she values the contributions of our nation's intelligence professionals," Clapper wrote.
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