William J. Burns (diplomat)

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency since 2021

William Joseph Burns (born April 4, 1956) is an American diplomat serving as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the Biden administration since March 19, 2021. He previously served as the United States deputy secretary of state from 2011 to 2014, and in 2009 he served as Acting Secretary of State before the Senate confirmation of Hillary Clinton. He retired from the United States Foreign Service in 2014 after a 32-year diplomatic career. From 2014 to 2021, he served as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

William J. Burns (2021)

Burns previously served as ambassador of the United States to Jordan from 1998 to 2001, assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs from 2001 to 2005, ambassador of the United States to the Russian Federation from 2005 to 2008, and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2008 to 2011.

Quotes edit

  • Putin’s intimidating aura is often reinforced by his controlled mannerisms, modulated tone, and steady gaze. But he can get quite animated if he wants to drive home a point, his eyes flashing and his voice rising in pitch... “You Americans need to listen more,” President Putin said as I handed him my credentials as ambassador, before I had gotten a word out of my mouth. “You can’t have everything your way anymore. We can have effective relations, but not just on your terms.”
    It was 2005, and in the ensuing years I would hear that message again and again, as unsubtle and defiantly charmless as the man himself...Putin... seemed in many ways the anti-Yeltsin—younger, sober, fiercely competent, hardworking and hard-faced... he was determined to show that Russia would no longer be the potted plant of major-power politics.
    • How the U.S. -Russian Relationship Went Bad, by William J. Burns,  The Atlantic, April 2019
  • Early on in his Kremlin tenure, Putin had tested, with President George W. Bush, a form of partnership suited to his view of Russian interests and prerogatives. He imagined a common front in the post-9/11 War on Terror, in return for acceptance of Russia’s special influence in the former Soviet Union, with no encroachment by NATO beyond the Baltics and no interference in Russia’s domestic politics. But this kind of transaction was never in the cards.... Obama struggled to stay connected to Putin, whose suspicions never really eased.... We managed a string of tangible accomplishments: a new nuclear-arms-reduction treaty; a military transit agreement for Afghanistan; a partnership on the Iranian nuclear issue. But the upheavals of the Arab Spring unnerved Putin; he reportedly watched the grisly video of the demise of the Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi—caught hiding in a drainage pipe and killed by Western-backed rebels—over and over again.
    • How the U.S. -Russian Relationship Went Bad, by William J. Burns,  The Atlantic, April 2019
  • President Barack Obama first met with Putin in Moscow in July 2009, and I accompanied him... En route to Putin’s dacha... I suggested that Obama open the meeting with a question. Why not ask Putin for his candid assessment of what he thought had gone right, and what had gone wrong, in Russian-American relations over the past decade? Putin liked being asked his opinion... Maybe letting him get some things off his chest would set a good tone. The president nodded. Obama’s initial question produced an unbroken 55-minute monologue filled with grievances, sharp asides, and acerbic commentary.
    • How the U.S. -Russian Relationship Went Bad, by William J. Burns,  The Atlantic, April 2019
  • The overarching challenge for U.S. foreign policy today, it seems to me, is to adapt to an international landscape in which American dominance is fading. To put it bluntly, America is no longer the only big kid on the geopolitical block. That’s not meant to be a declinist argument. In fact, I’m still bullish about America’s place in the century unfolding before us. We can’t turn the clock back to the post–Cold War unipolar moment... There’s a compelling case for American diplomacy as our tool of first resort in this new and more competitive era, a case that can win more respect and support from our fellow citizens and attract a new generation of the best that our society has to offer.
    • The Diplomacy Imperative: A Q&A with William J. Burns, The Foreign Service Journal, May 2019
  • [His response to a question about his concerns regarding the “militarization” of foreign policy]
    We all ought to be concerned. Defense and military leaders are not shy about highlighting the debilitating tendency— across administrations of both parties—to invert the roles of force and diplomacy. We’ve all quoted Secretary of Defense Bob Gates’ line about the military having more musicians than we have Foreign Service officers, and Jim Mattis’ point about needing to “buy more ammunition” if we continue to underinvest in diplomacy. But that hasn’t made much of a dent, I’m afraid. Of course, we ought to ensure that our military is stronger than anyone else’s, that our tool of last resort is potent and durable. And of course, force or the threat of force has an important role to play in the conduct of diplomacy. We’ve all benefited from having the U.S. military focus the minds of those who sat across the table from us...
    But time and time again, we’ve seen how overreliance on military tools can lead us into policy quicksand. Time and time again, we’ve fallen into the trap of overusing—or prematurely using—force. That comes at much greater cost in American blood and treasure, and tends to make diplomacy a distorted and under-resourced afterthought.
    In the forever wars of the post-9/11 era, the “great inversion” [of force and diplomacy] also tended to thrust State Department professionals into nation-building roles that are beyond the capacity of American diplomats, or any other external power. While our colleagues served with courage and ingenuity, the fact remains that we’re the American Foreign Service, not the British Colonial Service.
    • The Diplomacy Imperative: A Q&A with William J. Burns, The Foreign Service Journal, May 2019

About edit

  • Few American diplomats have had as distinguished and varied a career as has Burns. His lucid and panoramic memoir draws a sharp contrast between what he sees as the peak of U.S. diplomatic success during the George H. W. Bush administration and the more confused and discouraging scenes of recent years. Back then, the triumphal conclusion of the Cold War, the extraordinary success of U.S. military force and diplomacy in the Persian Gulf War, and the hope of a future of peaceful democratic progress gave the United States a prestige and influence that no nation can command today. The book describes the serial failures by Democratic and Republican presidents that, in Burns’ judgment, contributed to the United States’ current distress. A final, forward-looking chapter offers Burns’ thoughts about rebuilding U.S. diplomacy. His suggestions, including pruning back what he sees as an overgrown National Security Council and building public support for diplomacy, deserve careful attention.
    • The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal By William J. Burns (2019, 512 pp.), Reviewed by Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2019
  • Sen. Ted Cruz has held up President Biden’s nomination of William Burns for director of the Central Intelligence Agency until the administration acts tougher to stop a liquid natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany... “I’ll release my hold when the Biden [administration] meets its legal obligation to report and sanction the ships and companies building [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s pipeline,” Mr. Cruz said when announcing the hold.  Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, blasted Mr. Cruz’s efforts on Monday, saying the “country needs a Senate-confirmed CIA director.”   “Ambassador Burns’ nomination came out of the Intelligence Committee with unanimous bipartisan support and there is no rational reason to delay his confirmation,” Mr. Warner told The Washington Times.
    •  Ted Cruz blocks CIA director nominee William Burns’ confirmation until pipeline is stopped  By Haris Alic - The Washington Times , March 8, 2021  
  • Burns’ reverence for public service came in part from his father, a two-star Army general and director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. In his memoir, Burns mentions how his father once wrote to him: “Nothing can make you prouder than serving your country with honor.”  ... Burns, who has degrees from La Salle and Oxford universities, has more diplomatic experience than the current secretary of State, Antony Blinken. But the two have similar temperaments and get along well, people who know them say, brushing off whispers of Burns being a 'shadow secretary of State.'   “They are legitimate friends. They’re not just Washington friends,” a senior Biden administration official said.  It often makes more sense for Burns instead of Blinken to act as the president’s envoy, U.S. officials say. The CIA director’s travel is usually secret, whereas Blinken almost always takes reporters with him.
    • The Putinologist: CIA chief’s long history with Putin gives him special insight,  Politico,  May 30, 2022
  • Even as Burns and his agency try to outmaneuver the Kremlin, the CIA director continues to believe China is the greater long-term geopolitical threat to the United States. The Asian giant, led by Xi Jinping, is “in many ways the most profound test that CIA has ever faced,” Burns told an audience at Georgia Tech in April.  The communist-led country’s advances in artificial intelligence, economic entanglement with the United States and cyber activity that, among other things, has threatened U.S. federal employee data, are just some of the many reasons the CIA is racing to counter Beijing. It’s harder than ever; the CIA has reportedly seen Beijing identify many of its undercover operatives, on top of earlier executing many of its sources in China.
    • The Putinologist: CIA chief’s long history with Putin gives him special insight,  Politico,  May 30, 2022
  • At the time, the CIA was directed by William Burns, a mild-mannered former ambassador to Russia who had served as deputy secretary of state in the Obama Administration. Burns quickly authorized an Agency working group ... the source explained, “There was no longer a legal requirement to report the operation to Congress. All they had to do now is just do it..." ...The Agency working group members had no direct contact with the White House, and were eager to find out if the President meant what he’d said—that is, if the mission was now a go. The source recalled, “Bill Burns comes back and says, ‘Do it.’” 

External links edit

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