Joe Biden will appoint lawyer David Cohen as deputy director of the CIA, a transition team official told NBC News. It’s a job Cohen held for two years in the Obama administration and one he will he able to assume Wednesday, because it doesn’t require Senate confirmation.
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The choice may signal that Biden wants the perspective of someone who isn’t a career CIA official. Cohen was a top national security official at the Treasury Department before he joined the spy agency in 2015, and before that he was a lawyer in private practice for two decades.
After he left the CIA in 2017, Cohen rejoined his law firm, WilmerHale — the firm that employs former FBI director and special counsel Robert Mueller — and he spent time as an NBC News national security contributor.
Biden this week named a career diplomat, William Burns, to be the CIA director, a pick that drew wide praise. The appointment requires Senate confirmation.
Biden’s pick for director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, was deputy CIA director from 2013 to 2015. Like Cohen, Haines was new to the intelligence community when she joined the CIA as deputy director.
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Biden’s decision to appoint Cohen after having named Burns, who would be the first career diplomat to run the CIA, is likely to ruffle a few feathers at the spy agency, CIA veterans said, because usually one of the people in those jobs has long experience at the CIA.
“Not a lot of success when both the director and the deputy are from outside,” an agency veteran said.
John Brennan, who was CIA director when Cohen was deputy, said he didn’t share the concern.
“During his two years as deputy director, David embraced CIA’s mission and became intimately familiar with its capabilities, authorities, and global activities,” Brennan said. “He is widely respected within agency ranks, and he and Bill Burns will make an outstanding leadership team.”