WASHINGTON – The Senate approved William J. Burns as director of the C.I.A.
Mr. Burns was unanimously approved in the Senate without a roll-call vote.
Former Ambassador to Russia and Jordan and a senior foreign ministerial official, Mr. Burns, 64, is the only professional diplomat appointed to direct the C.I.A. (George Bush had served as the United Nations ambassador and top diplomat in China before becoming director of the agency.)
During his long career, Mr. Burns has earned a reputation for carefully analyzing national security and foreign policy problems. This talent led President Biden to choose him for the C.I.A. Post.
But strong ties to Mr. Biden and his team could be the most important attribute of Mr. Burns. Former C.I.A. Officials say other outsiders with little experience in direct information gathering but close ties to the White House, such as Leon Panetta, have been effective directors. A “close and trusting relationship with the president” helps a C.I.A. The director will win the president’s ear, said John McLaughlin, a former deputy director of the agency.
Mr Burns won unanimous, bipartisan support from both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee, but a confirmatory vote through the full Senate vote was delayed after Republican Senator Ted Cruz kept the nomination unrelated. Mr. Cruz is seeking tougher sanctions against companies involved in a project to build a pipeline between Russia and Germany. He lifted this grip on Foreign Minister Antony J. Blinken on Thursday issued a statement stating that “every company affected” in the pipeline project should stop this work or risk American sanctions.
China dominated much of Mr. Burns’ confirmation hearing last month. Identifying it as the agency’s most pressing foreign policy challenge, he said he would invest in new technology to enhance news gathering and language training for more C.I.A. Officers.
Mr Burns said the Chinese government was controversial and predatory, but it was important not to think about competing with China with the Cold War in mind. While the clash with the Soviet Union was primarily ideological and security policy, competition with China involved technological and economic ties.
China’s technological power and the authoritarian nature of the government make information gathering so difficult. The local informant network of C.I.A. was crippled a decade ago and many were captured or killed. Since then, the United States has relied heavily on British intelligence for insights into Beijing.
China’s ubiquitous surveillance, powerful artificial intelligence, and biometric controls make it difficult for the C.I.A. Sending agents in and around the country. Increased technological investments are required if the C.I.A. Hopes are rebuilding its ability to develop human resources within the country, former officials said.
During the Obama administration, Mr. Burns was instrumental in the secret diplomatic talks that eventually led to the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear deal.
From his new place in the C.I.A. many friends and colleagues say that they do not expect him to resume his secret diplomacy. Instead, he will focus on building the C.I.A. In order to provide the best information about Iran, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is examining the possibility of new agreements with Tehran. Mr. Burns’ in-depth knowledge of Iran will be vital in advising Mr. Biden and the National Security Council.
However, former intelligence officers also noted that the director needed diplomatic skills.
“Most people don’t realize there is a diplomatic element, the C.I.A. director,” said McLaughlin. “We have relationships with foreign intelligence agencies around the world, some friendly and some not so friendly.”
In many countries where espionage services play an oversized role, such as Pakistan, Egypt or Turkey, a C.I.A. The director can do a lot to strengthen ties, said John Sawers, the former head of UK foreign intelligence agency MI-6.
“It’s not about conducting secret negotiations, but about using high-level meetings in these countries to do more than just do close agency business,” he said.
While Mr Burns described Russia as a declining power in his confirmation hearing, the challenges from Moscow are likely to remain on the nation’s intelligence agenda. The Office of the Director of the National Intelligence Service is investigating intelligence matters related to Russia, including a major computer hack of state computer networks.
Mr. Burns has also pledged to seek evidence of what he believed to be attacks on C.I.A. Officers and diplomats around the world. While he hasn’t named countries he believes may be responsible, current and former intelligence officials have said Russia is the most likely culprit, an indictment the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.
In his memoir, Mr. Burns told about his meetings with and analysis by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Mr Burns argued that Mr Putin misunderstood American politics and was at least partially driven by his resentment. “Putin has a remarkable ability to store trifles and grievances and put them together to fit his narrative of the West trying to keep Russia in check,” Burns wrote.
Mr Burns’ understanding of complex geopolitical issues, according to former agency officials, will serve him well with a president who, since the elderly Mr Bush, has had more foreign policy issues than any other commander in chief.
“If you have demanding clients, your game needs to improve significantly,” said George Tenet, a former agency director who worked with Mr. Burns as Ambassador to Jordan. “And I think this is where we work best when the pressure on you is enormous every day.”
Catie Edmondson Contribution to reporting.