President-elect Biden appoints David Cohen to return as CIA Director, putting an official who knows the organization well alongside the veteran diplomat.
David Cohen as the New CIA Director
Cohen was considered a top candidate to become director of the department. Still, William J. Burns, who held several influential diplomatic posts, was nominated by President-elect Biden instead. Since Burns has never worked for the C.I.A., Cohen's return gives him a deputy who is trusted within the department and maybe a potential successor.
Since the deputy position does not require confirmation by the Senate, Cohen will be able to begin work on Inauguration Day as the acting CIA Director, while the appointment of Burns is under consideration.
READ: Next COVID-19 Vaccines Should Be Accessible to 65 and Above, Says Operation Warp Speed Participants
A partner at WilmerHale, a law firm located in D.C., Cohen previously worked as the spy agency's deputy director from 2015 to 2017. Until earlier this week, when Biden revealed his intent to nominate former Ambassador William Burns for the position of CIA Director, he had been a candidate to lead the nation's premier intelligence agency under the new administration.
Cohen helped create a joint task force during his tenure at Langley that investigated Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential election. He was awarded the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the C.I.A.'s highest honor, before leaving the service.
More seriously, former officials said, Cohen showed a deft hand in answering C.I.A. line officers' concerns. He gathered C.I.A. employees from demographic groups that President Trump had mocked during the campaign, including Muslim and Hispanic officers, after the 2016 election, telling them the department, according to former officials, will continue to respect diversity and promote their careers.
ALSO READ: Why Intel CEO Bob Swan Is Stepping down His Position; VMware CEO, Pat Gelsinger to Replace Him
Cohen was the Secretary for Extremism and Financial Intelligence of the Treasury Department from 2011 to 2015, until his first term as the CIA Director. He chaired a 700-person team in that capacity, traveled extensively, and worked with diplomats and foreign intelligence officers to create support for sanctions against Iran by the Obama administration.
"He came across to officers both at Treasury and at C.I.A. as exceptionally smart, especially on issues having to do with terrorism and international money flows," said David Priess, a former C.I.A. officer. The latter is now at the Lawfare Institute. "And they also found he is just pleasant to brief, not at all a difficult personality to work with."
Cohen will follow the House Intelligence Committee's recommendations, along with Biden's other intelligence selections, which called for a transfer in resources to concentrate more on China. It is an area of bipartisan agreement: members of the Republican House have also called for more money to fight China, and the Trump administration has made new attempts under John Ratcliffe, director of national intelligence, to beef up the country's information collection.
READ MORE: Iran's Revolutionary Guard Navy Head Sends Warning for Future Aggressors, Celebrates US Sailors Capture Anniversary
Cohen as acting CIA Director proposed an ambitious vision for the C.I.A. in talks with transition officials to improve its work in crucial areas, including global climate change and health issues.
Cohen told the Biden transition team that intelligence services in the United States need to widen their foreign intervention analysis. According to people familiar with his beliefs, Cohen argues that the government must go beyond political interference to investigate how foreign powers can try to provide funding or infiltrate terrorist groups.