The transition official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an appointment that has not yet been formally announced.
Cohen became the deputy director in 2015, replacing Avril D. Haines, who went to the White House as deputy national security adviser. Biden has nominated Haines as the next director of national intelligence, overseeing all intelligence agencies. Her nomination must be confirmed by the Senate.
Cohen, 57, and Haines worked closely together in the Obama administration, interacting frequently at deputy-level meetings, according to people who know and worked with them. Biden wants Haines to have a prominent role as the leader of the intelligence community, and it was important to him that the CIA director and the DNI work well together, according to people involved in the selection process.
Biden has nominated William J. Burns, a longtime diplomat and former deputy secretary of state, to be the CIA director.
Before joining the CIA in 2015, Cohen served in a senior position at the Treasury Department, where he was the principal architect of the Obama administration’s sanctions effort on Russia and Iran. As undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, he also worked on efforts designed to disrupt the flow of funding to terrorist groups, and he oversaw the government’s efforts to combat financial fraud and money laundering.
Cohen’s move from Treasury to the CIA was unusual in that the deputy director position has traditionally been held by an insider who knows the culture of the agency and helps oversee its day-to-day running. But Cohen had routinely taken part in senior meetings at the White House on Syria, Ukraine, Iran and a range of other security threats.
Cohen will return to the agency with more experience. Burns has not held a senior role in an intelligence agency, but he was a regular consumer of intelligence, serving more than three decades in the Foreign Service and as ambassador to Jordan and Russia.
During Cohen’s tenure, he helped John Brennan, then the agency’s director, implement a major reorganization — what Brennan called a “modernization” — that rankled some officers, particularly in the clandestine service, which manages the global network of human agents who gather intelligence and spy in foreign countries.
In an interview in 2019, Cohen described the CIA as “very, very good at providing both collection and analysis on the critical issues of the day. Where I think the agency could do better . . . is to look over the horizon to understand challenges, really significant challenges that are coming but that have not yet fully ripened into a crisis to alert policymakers to that at a time when there can be policy changes that can avert a big problem down the road,” Cohen said on the “Intelligence Matters” podcast.
Cohen is currently a partner at the law firm WilmerHale in Washington, where he advises clients on anti-money laundering and financial and trade sanctions, the portfolio of issues he handled at the Treasury Department.
Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.