Biden Appoints Former C.I.A. Deputy to Return to Job

Biden Appoints Former C.I.A. Deputy to Return to Job

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. tapped David S. Cohen to return as deputy head of the C.I.A., placing an official who knows the agency well alongside the veteran diplomat he chose to lead it, the Biden transition team announced on Friday.

Mr. Cohen had been considered a top contender to become director of the agency, but Mr. Biden instead nominated William J. Burns, who has held a variety of prominent diplomatic posts. Because Mr. Burns has never worked for the C.I.A., bringing back Mr. Cohen gives him a deputy who is trusted inside the agency and could be a likely successor.

And because the deputy position does not require Senate confirmation, Mr. Cohen will be able to begin work as the acting C.I.A. director on Inauguration Day, while Mr. Burns’s nomination is under consideration.

In talks with transition officials, Mr. Cohen outlined an ambitious agenda for the C.I.A. to bolster its work in critical areas, including global climate change and health issues.

During the Obama administration, Mr. Cohen was involved in the C.I.A. assessment that Russia sought to intervene in the 2016 election to aid President Trump’s election.

Mr. Cohen told the Biden transition team that intelligence agencies must expand their examination of foreign interference in the United States. Mr. Cohen, according to people familiar with his views, believes the government must go beyond election interference to also scrutinize how foreign powers may be trying to provide support or influence extremist groups.

Mr. Cohen, 57, has a close working relationship with Avril D. Haines, Mr. Biden’s nominee to be director of national intelligence. Ms. Haines served as deputy C.I.A. director before Mr. Cohen, and the two worked closely together on the National Security Council “deputies committee.”

Ms. Haines’s confirmation hearing was to be held on Friday, but it was postponed as Republicans and Democrats debated over how to schedule a classified, in-person question-and-answer session amid safety concerns during the coronavirus pandemic.

The strong ties between them “will serve the agency exceedingly well,” said Adm. William H. McRaven, the retired former head of Special Operations Command. Mr. Cohen, Admiral McRaven added, “has the experience, the leadership skills, the temperament and the respect of the entire intelligence community.”

Current and former intelligence officials spoke warmly of Mr. Cohen’s first stint at the agency, noting both his advocacy for the C.I.A. inside the Obama administration and his ability to quickly win over colleagues.

“He is a great listener,” said John O. Brennan, a former director. “As soon as he arrived, he felt very much at home, and that was something people detected because he became an ardent supporter and defender of the agency.”

Mr. Cohen is also an enthusiastic table tennis player, dominating games at C.I.A. charity fund-raisers, according to an official.

More seriously, former officials said, Mr. Cohen showed a deft hand at dealing with the concerns of C.I.A. line officers. After the 2016 election, he gathered C.I.A. personnel from demographic groups that Mr. Trump had insulted during the campaign, including Muslim and Hispanic officers, telling them the agency would continue to value diversity and support their careers, according to former officials.

Before his first stint at the C.I.A., Mr. Cohen was the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence from 2011 to 2015. In that role, he presided over a 700-person team, traveled extensively and worked with diplomats and foreign intelligence officers to build support for the Obama administration’s sanctions against Iran.

His in-depth knowledge of the Islamic State’s attempts to smuggle oil in 2014 earned him the nickname “financial Batman” in the Obama White House.

“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 who 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.”

Mr. Cohen, along with Mr. Biden’s other intelligence picks, is expected to follow the recommendations of the House Intelligence Committee that called for a shift of resources to focus more on China. It is an area of bipartisan agreement: Republican House members have also pressed for more resources to counter China, and under John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, the Trump administration has directed new efforts to shore up information-gathering on the country.

Mr. Cohen is hardly well known beyond Washington, though after the end of the Obama administration, he made a cameo appearance as a bedraggled commoner in the HBO series “Game of Thrones.” When the C.I.A. posted a picture of his appearance on Twitter, Mr. Cohen joked, “Way to blow my cover!”

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