Intelligence Community’s Biggest Challenge Is Restoring ‘Trust and Confidence,’ Biden’s ODNI Pick Says
Avril Haines also vowed to put more resources toward tracking Chinese espionage and foreign efforts to stir up domestic strife.
China is a “competitor” to the United States and an “adversary” to the Director of National Intelligence — but the intelligence community’s biggest challenge is restoring others’ “trust and confidence” in it, the Biden administration’s nominee to lead the community told her Senate questioners on Tuesday.
During her largely friendly confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Avril Haines promised to push more intelligence resources toward Chinese espionage. She also vowed to resume public hearings on worldwide threats and take other steps to restore public confidence in the IC — implicitly, because of four years in which President Trump repeatedly undermined it.
Haines’ hearing began with a testimonial on her behalf by Dan Coats, a former senator who held the IC’s top job under President Trump. It continued with mostly unchallenging questions from lawmakers of both parties.
Haines said the IC’s biggest challenge in the new administration is rebuilding the “trust and confidence necessary to protect the American people.” She said her top priorities are promoting transparency and shoring up the workforce, aligning work and resources toward major threats, and building partnerships with state and local governments, academia, and the private sector.
She said that even state and local governments faced a threat from China. Though she didn’t mention it, that threat became clear to many lawmakers with the December revelation that a Chinese intelligence operative had befriended and, in some cases bedded, local politicians.
She called for more money for the U.S. Treasury’s financial intelligence unit, which she called a “critical” asset in tracking the funding of threats.
Haines also promised a return to the public hearings on ODNI’s worldwide threat assessment. The Trump administration suspended the practice after the 2019 hearing in which Coats and other intelligence chiefs contradicted administration talking points about Russia and other threats. Haines promised that she would submit the CIA’s report on the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Kashoggi, which reportedly implicates the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and which the Trump administration has suppressed. She also promised to be in regular contact with lawmakers on issues related to the SolarWinds hack.
Haines said that she would look into the degree to which foreign powers were attempting to spark and shape strife on American soil, though she noted that domestic agencies have the lead on right-wing extremism.
On Iran, she noted that Biden is open to returning to the nuclear deal that Obama signed and Trump tried to scuttle, if Tehran would return to compliance with its terms. But, she said, “I think we’re a long ways from that,” since Iran now has ten times as much fissile material as it did when the United States withdrew in May 2018. “We have to also look at the ballistic missile issues” and “other destabilizing activities,” she said.