Breaking News: William Burns pledged to guard intelligence work against political influence
WASHINGTON – The United States must prepare its spies and intelligence analysts to deal with growing threats from China and Russia, President Joe Biden’s nominee for CIA director told lawmakers.
He called the competition with Beijing “the biggest geopolitical challenge” the U.S. has faced. At the same time, he described Russia as “a power in decline,” which, however, should not be underestimated.
Former Ambassador William Burns, a career diplomat who has served in Russia and the Middle East, shared these categorical assessments with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee at his confirmation hearing.
Burns warned that the new era of competition with Beijing may be unparalleled in American history.
“Competition with China will be key to our national security in the coming decades,” Burns said, calling China’s leadership hostile and predatory.
“China’s evolution under [Chinese President] Xi Jinping over the last six to seven years has been a very clear wake-up call,” he added. – It’s the same aggressive, unconcealed ambition and assertiveness that I think has made the nature of the adversary and the rival with whom we are dealing very clear.”
If confirmed, Burns, 64, would be the first career diplomat to head the CIA.
He told lawmakers that his contacts with the intelligence agency while serving in the State Department taught him to appreciate the work of CIA officers and analysts.
“The good intelligence that comes out of honest and principled work is an important basis for sound policy decisions,” he said.
“[President Biden] said that he wants the department to bring it to him in an undistorted way, and I have promised that it will, and that I will defend those who do the same,” Burns added.
In addition to China, Burns outlined threats to America’s digital supply chain, calling the Russian hacker attack on Texas-based software company SolarWinds “a very sharp wake-up call” that warns of “supply chain and critical infrastructure vulnerabilities.”
Burns also cautioned against underestimating Russia.
“While in many ways Russia may be a power in decline, it can at least be as disruptive under [President Vladimir] Putin’s leadership as rising powers like China,” he told lawmakers.
“As long as Vladimir Putin is the leader of Russia, we will operate in a pretty narrow range of possibilities, from very tough competition to very unpleasant hostility,” the former American ambassador said.