On January 20, 2021, a few short hours after Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, the U.S. Senate confirmed Avril Haines, his pick for Director of National Intelligence, in an 84-10 vote.
No stranger to Washington, Haines’ ties to D.C. go back almost two decades. Before becoming the new DNI, Haines, 51, spent the last three years in the lucrative world of strategic consulting and governmental affairs, working with Palantir, a data-mining firm with controversial ties to ICE. Haines also consulted with WestExec, founded by Antony Blinkin, Biden’s new Secretary of State, and Michele Flournoy, who Biden seriously considered for US Secretary of Defense. WestExec is a firm familiar with the revolving door between public service and businesses that take in large amounts of government cash. The firm’s clients include Google’s Jigsaw, Israeli AI company Windward, the defense industry, private equity firms, and hedge funds.
In addition to consulting, in Oct. 2019, while a Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University and a Senior Fellow at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Haines was one of the “Players” in Event 201. The event (sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The World Economic Forum, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) was a pandemic tabletop exercise that simulated a series of dramatic, scenario-based facilitated discussions, confronting difficult, true-to-life dilemmas associated with response to a hypothetical, but scientifically plausible, pandemic. In the video clip below, Haines speaks about infectious diseases as a national security threat (and worldwide pandemic threat) at the Camden Conference in 2018.
Haines, who received a B.A. in Physics from the University of Chicago and a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, began her government career in 2002, where she clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati, OH. In 2003, she took a job as a lawyer in the State Department legal advisor’s office, where she worked, among other issues, against doping in sports, and on international treaties at the State Department, first in the Office of Treaty Affairs and then in the Legal Advisor’s Office of Political-Military Affairs, where she became immersed in the international laws of war.
In 2007, Haines joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a two-year stint as deputy chief counsel to the Majority. In this role, she became acquainted with the committee chair Joe Biden, then a senator from Delaware. After Biden became Obama’s Vice President, Haines followed him to the White House, working from 2010 to 2013 as the president’s top lawyer on the National Security Council in a role that put her squarely in the center of the government’s law, security, and the most sensitive military and counter-terrorism operations, including drone strikes and classified Pentagon operations.
Although she had never worked at the CIA, then-Director John Brennan (with alleged ties to the CCP according to a CNBC 2013 article), appointed Haines CIA Deputy Director, the number two job at the spy agency, a position she held from 2013 to 2015. In this role, Haines would authorize drone strikes in the greater Middle East to carry out Brennan’s targeted extrajudicial assassinations on citizens of any country, including the United States. For her part, Haines told a Senate panel during her confirmation hearing that she sees the Chinese Communist Party as a “global competitor,” refusing to call Beijing an “adversary.”
In Brennan's Private Sector Stint, a Chinese Connection http://t.co/EFX6Ly3o
— CNBC International (@CNBCi) February 7, 2013
In speaking of Haines, CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, who exposed the Bush-era torture program and was the only one connected to it to serve jail time, said, “It was Avril that decided whether it was legal to incinerate someone from the sky. We know that in almost all cases, she said it was legal to put these names on the kill list, and people were subsequently killed by drone, including American citizens.” While some contend Haines was perhaps a leading voice inside the Obama administration for restricting the drone campaign, according to Kiriakou, she regularly approved the drone bombings that killed not only suspected terrorists but also entire families, including children, who died as collateral damage.
When human rights groups condemned the Obama administration’s rash use of extrajudicial killings, including the belief that all military-age males in the strike zone were suitable targets because they were “enemy combatants,” Haines was enlisted to co-author a new “presidential policy guidance,” issued on May 23, 2013, to toughen the regulations. However, this new “guidance” continued to blur the line between civilians and combatants, normalizing targeted assassinations and effectively negating the “presumption of innocence” that has been the foundation of civilian law for centuries. Under the guidelines, the CIA and other agencies involved in the drone program are not required to notify the President about who will be killed in a drone strike unless they cannot agree on the target or if the targeted individual is a U.S. citizen.
It is worth noting that even though U.S. law gives Congress the sole authority to authorize military conflict, the proliferation of drone killings under Obama violated that law. Obama’s legal team, which included Haines, bypassed the law by insisting that these military interventions fell under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), the law Congress passed to target Afghanistan after 9/11. According to the Congressional Research Service, this misleading argument justified the out-of-control abuse of that 2001 AUMF, which has been relied on to defend U.S. military action at least 41 times in 19 countries.
In 2014, with Haines as CIA Deputy Director, CIA agents illegally hacked computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee to obstruct the Committee’s investigation into the spy agency’s detention and interrogation program, euphemistically known as “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The torture included repeated waterboarding, rectal feeding and rehydration, sleep and food deprivation, forced nudity, threats, and beatings. Haines overruled the CIA’s own Inspector General, refusing to discipline the agents involved in hacking the Senate computers. In fact, not only did Haines shield the hackers from accountability, but she also awarded them the Career Intelligence Medal. Some believe Haines’s actions went beyond protecting sources and methods; they secured her own career advancement while avoiding CIA embarrassment. Haines was also part of the team that redacted the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,000-page, five-year groundbreaking report to a 500-page, heavily blacked-out summary.
In late 2014, Haines became the Deputy National Security Advisor in the Obama administration, replacing Antony Blinkin (also with questionable ties to China), who moved to Deputy Secretary of State. She remained in this role until Trump took over in 2017.
In speaking before Haines’ confirmation hearing, former Sen. Mark Udall said, “If our country is going to turn the page on the dark chapter of our history that was the CIA’s torture program, we need to stop nominating and confirming individuals who… helped cover it up.”