WEST PALM BEACH, FL, June 15, 2013 — CIA workers met news this week that Director John Brennan named Avril Haines as his deputy with stunned silence.
Only months after Brennan officially took over as head of the intelligence organization, deputy Michael Morell announced he was retiring. The 54-year-old intelligence professional started his 33 year career at the Agency in 1980 as an analyst and has held numerous high-ranking intelligence positions, including twice acting as head of the CIA.
Over the last few months, Morell has come under fire from Congress for his role in drafting the Benghazi talking points that omitted any reference to al Qaeda in the Obama administration’s initial explanation of the attack. However, he says his decision to leave had nothing to do with Benghazi and everything to do with his family.
The Agency veteran was not wildly popular with some sections inside the organization, but was well-respected by all.
Most Agency employees saw the Brennan-Morell team as good for Agency, giving the CIA a strong, well-balanced management team.
Haines, however, is something else entirely.
The 43-year-old Haines is a lawyer and a White House official, two qualifications that strike terror in the hearts of many at the CIA. She has been deputy counsel for national security affairs since 2010 and previously worked at the State Department and on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Haines also has a physics degree and has a reputation in Washington as extremely intelligent and capable.
Haines, however, has no intelligence experience.
When announcing his selection of Haines as his deputy, Brennan noted he has worked closely with her over the last several years in his role as counterterrorism adviser to President Obama. He also said she has regularly participated in meetings and reviews concerning the CIA’s most sensitive programs.
Agency employees hoped Brennan would name a replacement from inside the Agency, or select a former intelligence officer for the post.
CIA officials have little knowledge of Haines, but are cautious about her appointment. They question Brennan’s motives and are highly skeptical both about her legal background and her ties to the White House.
The CIA has often found itself the center of scandal and the political scapegoat thanks to lawyers and politicians.
“Two groups that traditionally have hurt us are lawyers and political appointees,” explained one intelligence officer, “so it’s hard to understand why he picked someone who is both.”
Some hope the appointment means Brennan wants a deputy who will create new alliances with the executive and stand up for the CIA with Congress. One current employee posited, “Maybe Brennan’s signal is saying ‘Hey, we need PR help with the Administration and we need someone to fight for us legally when the vultures descend.’ Maybe he will handle the internal CIA stuff and she will deal with the rest of Washington.”
Others are less optimistic, however, worrying the appointment signifies a shift in CIA policies. “It sure sounds to me like the CIA is on its way to being the next State Department,” says one CIA employee, “politically affiliated and always coloring between the lines. Good bye creativity, good bye intelligence, good bye what is left of our pitifully inadequate covert action program.”
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