Biden's national security team still has significant gaps


As a outcome, the candidates for defense secretary are going through elevated scrutiny over whether or not they have the political chops to minimize defense spending, as some in Congress need, whereas nonetheless funding modern future expertise and prioritizing the challenges posed by Russia and China — all whereas sustaining army deterrence towards Iran, North Korea, and ISIS.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat and adorned fight veteran, is not getting a severe look, folks accustomed to the matter mentioned, given Biden’s reluctance to create any vacancies in the Senate.

Flournoy, a veteran Pentagon official, was as soon as broadly thought-about a lock for the place and remains to be very a lot in the combo, folks accustomed to the matter informed NCS, however her exclusion from a flurry of barrier-breaking selections in Biden’s first wave of Cabinet picks underscored an rising uncertainty surrounding her candidacy.

Some progressive teams have mobilized in current days to oppose Flournoy’s nomination, although the delay might also be due to the difficult puzzle Biden is assembling as he tries to fulfill his promise of constructing a Cabinet that displays the variety of America — a potential issue in the President-elect’s delay in naming a CIA director as nicely.

Biden's national security team still has significant gapsBiden's national security team still has significant gaps

Critics have raised issues about Flournoy’s potential conflicts of curiosity, questioning how her help for former President Barack Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan and the continued sale of arms to Saudi Arabia aligns with the enterprise pursuits of Booz Allen Hamilton, a Pentagon contractor the place she served on the board of administrators.

They have additionally pointed to Flournoy’s function as co-founder of WestExec Advisers, whose major enterprise helps US firms with international footprints navigate geopolitical danger, as a concern. Flounroy based the consulting agency with Biden’s choose for secretary of state, Antony Blinken.

“In Flournoy’s case, the seeming alignment between the interests of her clientele and her stated policy positions — such as her desire to continue selling arms to Saudi Arabia as late as 2019, which is out of step with Biden and essentially all congressional Democrats, is especially worrisome,” David Segal, co-founder and government director of the group Demand Progress, informed NCS.

A spokesperson for Flournoy pushed again on that assertion, telling NCS, “Michele’s private sector experiences do not influence her policy views or work.” The spokesperson additionally famous that Flournoy “has no involvement in contracting or business development with any client, including the US government” as a member of Booz Allen’s board of administrators.

A WestExec spokesperson informed NCS that the agency undertakes “an intensive client vetting process to ensure that the companies with which we work and the nature of the work we do for them meet our strict ethical standards.”

Candidates face scrutiny over ties to defense contractors

While serving on the board of a defense contractor is taken into account a battle and sometimes requires a cooling off interval earlier than anybody could be nominated as defense secretary, others in the place have had related backgrounds.

Other candidates Biden is contemplating for the put up even have ties to defense contractors.

Johnson is on the board of administrators for defense big Lockheed Martin Corp., whereas Austin is on the board of administrators for one more weapons contractor, Raytheon Technologies.

Johnson served as basic counsel on the Pentagon, in addition to secretary of Homeland Security.

Austin, a retired Army basic who led Central Command in the course of the Obama period, would want a congressional waiver to be confirmed for the civilian put up as a result of he retired from active-duty service solely 4 years in the past.

Progressives turned out for Joe Biden. Now they want a big role in his administration.Progressives turned out for Joe Biden. Now they want a big role in his administration.

Johnson and Austin, who’re African American, could be historical past making nominees as the primary Black secretary of defense. So, too, would Flournoy, as the primary girl to run the Pentagon.

Those components, the criticism and the significance of the put up create a fine-tuned political problem for Biden involving Congress and allies — making their views on the nominee essential to think about.

Some Democrats on the Senate and House Armed Services Committee have voiced public help for Flournoy in current days.

“Michele Flournoy has a deep understanding of the existing DOD bureaucracy and the future of our defense. That’s a rare combination. I would love to see her nominated for Secretary of Defense,” Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat who served in the Marines and is on the House Armed Services Committee, wrote in a tweet final week.

A Democratic Senate aide informed NCS final week that senior members of the panel additionally consider Flournoy could be a sensible choice however mentioned there was little direct contact with the Biden transition and lawmakers stay largely in the darkish as to who the President-elect will in the end nominate.

In a letter to Biden earlier this month that didn’t title Flournoy, however was broadly considered as pushback on her potential nomination, Democratic Reps. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Barbara Lee of California, two main House progressives, requested “that the next Secretary of Defense have no prior employment history with a defense contractor.”

Here's who could serve in top roles in the Biden administrationHere's who could serve in top roles in the Biden administration

For her half, Flournoy sought to deal with a few of these issues in a current name with progressive overseas coverage teams, two sources — together with one on the road for the dialogue — informed NCS.

“She is interested in understanding the views of progressive groups, and that’s why she has met with them. To hear, firsthand, their perspective. And to clarify any misperceptions that exist about her positions,” mentioned one other supply accustomed to the dialog and Flournoy’s view of the state of affairs.

“I expect that if she is nominated that these conversations will continue,” the supply added.

A supply accustomed to Flournoy’s considering informed NCS that her curiosity in serving on the board of personal firms is, in half, to study. “How can you hold industry accountable and conduct good oversight of acquisition if you don’t understand it?” they mentioned.

Asked if Flournoy will reveal her purchasers if nominated for the defense secretary job, her spokesperson mentioned: “As always, Ms. Flournoy will fully comply with the law and any disclosure requirements.”

The announcement in regards to the Pentagon’s subsequent chief remains to be anticipated quickly — maybe later this week or subsequent — however the precise timing is contingent on a remaining choice that as of late Sunday night had not been reached, folks accustomed to the matter mentioned.

Biden weighs choices for CIA director

The Defense Department opening will not be occurring in a vacuum.

Biden can also be nonetheless trying to find somebody to lead the Central Intelligence Agency — and Johnson can also be believed to be at the very least into account for that put up, folks accustomed to the matter mentioned.

Former CIA Acting Director Mike Morell additionally stays a contender, as NCS has previously reported, but his status as a frontrunner has been tested with a barrage of assaults from Senate Intelligence Committee Democrat Ron Wyden, who has accused him of being a “torture apologist.”

Since Wyden’s assaults, senior transition officers have spoken with different Democratic senators, together with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to focus on doable candidates to lead CIA.

Key Democrat warns Biden not to nominate Mike Morell as CIA director Key Democrat warns Biden not to nominate Mike Morell as CIA director

In addition to Morell, Sue Gordon, a former principal deputy Director of National Intelligence, can also be a contender, folks accustomed to the matter informed NCS, as is Vincent Stewart, a former chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Marine basic. He, too, would require a congressional waiver to serve in the civilian put up.

The Intelligence Committee is the primary gauntlet on the trail to affirmation and Gordon “would be very popular if nominated,” one of many aides informed NCS, suggesting she might have a neater time being confirmed than Morell if he begins taking extra hearth from progressives.

“I would always serve my country,” Gordon informed NCS on Monday. “If asked I would serve.”

Former senior Obama adviser Lisa Monaco and former CIA deputy director David Cohen are additionally in the working, a number of sources accustomed to the discussions say.

Tom Donilon, a former nationwide safety adviser to Obama who had been among the many top contenders to lead the CIA, is no longer under consideration for that post, NCS reported Sunday.

A transition official mentioned the bulletins for Pentagon and CIA could be made when Biden reaches his selections, dismissing any strategies of a delay. Nominations for each posts, in addition to others in the Cabinet, are anticipated in December.