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Biden picks Avril Haines as director of national intelligence

Having served Obama as a national security lawyer and deputy CIA director, Haines has been playing a key national security role in the Biden transition.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Evaluates Trump Administration's Iran Policy
Avril Haines, former deputy national security advisor and former deputy director of the CIA, testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Jan. 14, 2020.Win McNamee / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden has selected Avril Haines, who held top national security jobs under President Barack Obama, to become director of national intelligence in his administration.

Having served Obama as a national security lawyer and deputy CIA director, Haines, 51, has been playing a key national security role in the Biden transition. She will become the first woman in the DNI job, which was created after the 9-11 attacks to better coordinate the sprawling American intelligence bureaucracy.

Among other things, the DNI oversees the presidential intelligence briefing process. But the DNI does not run covert operations ordered by the president — the CIA director retains that power.

The Biden transition team announced six Biden cabinet picks on Monday, including Haines, "all people who keep to his promise of making sure his administration looks like America." The other choices included Alejandro Mayorkas as head of the Department of Homeland Security, Antony Blinken as secretary of state, Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Jake Sullivan as national security adviser, and John Kerry as special presidential envoy for climate.

Former CIA deputy directors Michael Morell and David Cohen, who also have been advising the Biden transition, are under strong consideration for intelligence jobs, multiple people briefed on the matter told NBC News.

Haines served as deputy chief counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2007 to 2008, when then-Sen. Biden was chairman.

She joined the State Department as a legal adviser in 2008, and in 2010 became deputy assistant to the president and deputy counsel to the president for national security affairs at the White House.

She served as deputy CIA director from 2013 to 2014, and was the first woman to hold that office. In that role, she decided not to discipline CIA personnel who were involved in a dispute with the Senate Intelligence Committee, which had accused the CIA of improperly accessing the committee's computers.

She returned to the White House in 2014 to become deputy national security adviser.

In 2018, she spoke in favor of the nomination for Gina Haspel to be CIA director, even as some Democrats opposed it on the grounds that Haspel had run a secret CIA prison where al Qaeda detainees were tortured.

Haines's résumé also includes some quirky twists. In the mid 1990s, she owned an independent bookstore and café in Baltimore that hosted "erotica nights," as chronicled in a Baltimore Sun story at the time. The shop was named "Best Independent Bookstore" in 1997 by the Baltimore City Paper.

Previously, she spent a year during college in Tokyo, where she earned a brown belt in judo, according to a Newsweek profile.

Since leaving the Obama administration, Haines has been affiliated with Columbia University and the Brookings Institution, and has consulted for various companies, including the national security data contractor Palantir, according to a Brookings biography unearthed by the Intercept. A source familiar with her work for Palantir confirmed it to NBC News, saying she advised the firm on diversity and advancing roles for women in technology.

Carol E. Lee and Andrea Mitchell contributed.