William Burns, a CIA spymaster with unusual powers

William Burns, a CIA spymaster with unusual powers

The New York Times reports:

To mark the 20th anniversary of the American-led invasion of Iraq, the C.I.A. director, William J. Burns, stood in the lobby of the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va., and sought to exorcise the ghosts of the prewar intelligence failures that haunt the building to this day.

Addressing some 100 C.I.A. officials on March 19, Mr. Burns acknowledged how the agency catastrophically blundered in its assessment that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. But he noted, according to two people present, that there was ample blame to go around. The culprits included a hubris-stricken Bush White House as well as the State Department — where Mr. Burns served at the time as a senior official — which he said had unwarranted confidence that it could derail the invasion plans.

Notably Mr. Burns added, “We’ve learned from that hard lesson.” The intelligence the agency and others collected on Russia’s plans to invade Ukraine, he said, “stands as a powerful example of that. It enabled us to provide strong, resolute and confident warning, to help the Ukrainians defend themselves and to help the president cement a strong coalition.”

The tableau was a reminder that Mr. Burns, 67, has for decades been a near-omnipresent if subdued actor on the American foreign policy stage, having served every Democratic and Republican president since Ronald Reagan, with the exception of Donald J. Trump. And yet the moment only hinted at how Mr. Burns, a key figure in the Biden administration’s support of Ukraine, has amassed influence beyond most if not all previous C.I.A. directors. [Continue reading…]

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