Avril Haines, a deputy director of Columbia World Projects, is slated for the role of director of national intelligence, announced President-elect Joe Biden alongside his intended nominations for five other key cabinet positions today.
Haines, who will be the first woman to hold the national intelligence position, has served on the Biden transition team’s national security and foreign policy departments since June. While in the Obama administration, she served as the deputy director of the CIA before transitioning to principal deputy national security adviser to the President,
Haines, a native of the Upper West Side, is currently on a leave of absence from Columbia World Projects, an initiative spearheaded by University President Lee Bollinger to connect the University’s scholars and visiting practitioners with global challenges. In May, Bollinger announced that Haines would succeed Nicholas Lemann as the director of CWP on July 1, but those plans were reworked after Haines announced in June that she would begin working with the Biden campaign.
Biden’s cabinet announcement also included Antony Blinken, Law ’88, whose appointment as secretary of state follows roles in the Barack Obama administration as the U.S. deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser.
Haines’ work with CWP largely focused on the intersection of cybersecurity and foreign policy, advocating for the need to adopt international norms regarding cyber warfare and the violation of domestic civil liberties. Before taking leave, she led several projects regarding digital identity, bringing together computer scientists and legal scholars to develop national identification systems in Africa. Haines also served as a lecturer at Columbia Law School, holding fellowships at the Human Rights Institute and the Institute for Security Policy and Law at Syracuse University.
Her appointment to the Biden cabinet does not come without some lingering controversy from her time in the Obama administration and in her consulting roles with for-profit national security companies. While serving as the deputy CIA director, Haines declined to discipline CIA personnel who had illicitly spied on Senate Intelligence Committee members’ computers during their investigation of the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
When Gina Haspel was nominated by President Donald Trump in 2018 to serve as the CIA director, Haines vocally supported the appointment, despite Haspel’s involvement in running CIA black sites where detainees were tortured.
Haines’ nomination has been met with an outpouring of support from top experts in national security and intelligence, praising her reputation as a kind and unassuming policymaker and diverse background as a physicist, independent bookstore owner, and pilot.
“The project of restoring trust in the intelligence community will be immensely difficult and immensely important,” Susan Hennessey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a CNN national security and legal analyst, tweeted Monday afternoon. “Avril Haines is the very best of the best.”