The surprise move gives Brennan an ally in the CIA’s executive suite who helped him with the revision of drone-campaign rules that was recently announced by Obama. Unlike an agency insider, Haines has no direct investment in any of the counterterrorism programs that Brennan has indicated he will seek to rein in.
In a message to the CIA on Wednesday afternoon, Brennan emphasized that Haines, 43, has worked closely with senior national security officials. “She has participated in virtually every Deputies and Principals Committee meeting over the past two years and chairs the Lawyers’ Group that reviews the Agency’s most sensitive programs,” the statement said.
Obama nominated Haines just two months ago as legal counsel for the State Department, where she worked previously as a lawyer. Brennan said he spoke to Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who has been slow to fill a number of vacant diplomatic jobs, about the change. Haines also worked as deputy counsel for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when both Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden were members of that panel.
The highly regarded Morell, a 33-year CIA veteran who twice served as acting director, said in an interview that he decided last month to retire because “I want to and I need to devote more attention to my family.” Morell has three college-age children.
In a series of high-powered jobs, Morell delivered the President’s Daily Brief to George W. Bush. He said he was “probably the only person on the planet” at the side of U.S. presidents during both the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and “when we brought Osama bin Laden to justice.”
Brennan and Morell spoke of their professional and personal closeness — they both started at the CIA in 1980 — and emphasized that the retirement was Morell’s choice. Each said he had recommended the other as Obama’s new CIA director before Brennan’s nomination early this year.
Brennan and Morell both joined the CIA in 1980; Brennan left after 25 years for the private sector and reentered government in 2009 as Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser. As director, he has moved to counteract the CIA’s expansion into what the agency calls “direct action,” including drone strikes, and reinvigorate its core functions of intelligence gathering and analysis.
Brennan said he turned toward Haines based on her performance at the White House, where “I spent a lot of time on matters involving the law” and “noticed similarities between the intelligence and legal professions.” Both, he said, need to make sure “facts are correct and distinguish between facts, analysis, assessments and inference. Avril epitomizes those qualities.”