It is time to operate in the world of facts.
Avril Haines, President-elect Joe Biden
’s nominee for director of national intelligence, may be among his least controversial picks. Introduced by Dan Coats, President Trump’s former DNI, at her confirmation hearings on Tuesday, Haines received praise from both Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), who noted her deep experience and academic prowess in national security.
As the hearing began, one could sense a return to some level of normalcy in the operations of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Facts, it turns out, can be unifying. Both Warner and Rubio, who serve as vice chair and acting chair respectively, acknowledged that the bipartisan consensus on China — economic liberalization would bring political liberalization — was wrong. Both expressed hope for nonpolitical intelligence analysis.
Haines, in her opening remarks and in her responses to initial questions, said nothing that should or did raise concerns from either side. In the post-Trump world, neither side is going to quibble with her observations that “to be effective, the DNI must never shy away from speaking truth to power — even, especially, when doing so may be inconvenient or difficult. To safeguard the integrity of our Intelligence Community, the DNI must insist that, when it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics — ever.”
Likewise, her tough description of our challenges with China seemed to be in sync with the committee’s views. She promised to “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 more immediate efforts to counter Beijing’s unfair, illegal, aggressive and coercive actions, as well as its human rights violations, whenever we can.” Asked whether she viewed China as an “adversary,” she explained that Biden overall saw China as a “global competitor,” but in areas such as espionage and trade, it was certainly an “adversary.”
Warner, while acknowledging that white supremacy is not in the intelligence community’s direct purview, asked how she saw her role in combating domestic terrorists. She said the intelligence community will have “an important role” in uncovering connections to any foreign groups.
She also promised to provide the committee with an assessment of QAnon, which the current administration did not, and called waterboarding torture, and hence illegal.
As for Iran, Haines told Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that while Biden did want to reenter the Iran nuclear deal “if Iran came back into compliance,” she said we are a “long ways from that” happening. She also cautioned that in moving back into the nuclear deal, we would need to look at Iran’s missile development and “other destabilizing” actions. The assumption by Republicans that Biden was simply going to capitulate to Iran for the sake of restarting the deal appears to have been off-base.
The level of tone of the questions, the demeanor of the questioners and the tenor of answers Haines provided were best described as subdued. And that perhaps is the best one can hope for in the realm of intelligence. A devotion to facts, a recognition of who our enemies actually are and a professional dedication to unbiased analysis — all missing in the four years of the current, chaotic administration — are now back in fashion. That is the best news one could hope for coming out of this hearing.