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In The Job For A Month, Haines Oversees All 18 U.S. Intelligence Agencies

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It has been a challenging time. Those are the words of the new director of national intelligence reflecting on the past four years for U.S. intelligence agencies under the president they were serving then. Avril Haines took over as DNI last month, President Biden's choice. It is now her job to run an intelligence community that Trump had at times undermined and attacked. Last Friday, in her first high-profile move, Haines declassified and released a report saying the crown prince of Saudi Arabia approved the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The same day, she sat down for her first interview as DNI with our colleague Mary Louise Kelly, who's on the line. Good morning.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Didn't you sit down with the director just as this report was coming out?

KELLY: Literally within seconds. (Laughter) And I would like to say we planned it that way. We got lucky. We had been working weeks to get this on the calendar with no idea when the report might come. And as it happened, yes, we had driven out. We were already at the DNI's. We'd had to surrender our phones 'cause you can't take them into a secure facility. The report still had not dropped, still had not dropped. In the end, they handed me a copy moments before Haines stepped into the room. And luckily, it was a short report, so I could read it quickly and then sit down and ask her about it.

INSKEEP: Yeah, and we heard something about that on All Things Considered Friday.

KELLY: Yes.

INSKEEP: But you also had an opportunity to ask more broadly about where the intelligence community goes after four years of what was seen as politicized intelligence. What did she have to say?

KELLY: Well, that was where I wanted to spend most of my time with her because, as you noted, there has been so much turnover. We have seen five acting or permanent DNIs during Trump's four years as president. There has been so much tension. You may recall, among other moments, in Helsinki, Trump seeming to take Vladimir Putin's word above that of the leaders of his own intelligence agency. So we talked about that, about whether integrity and independence of intelligence had been damaged.

In your view, was it? Was intelligence politicized?

AVRIL HAINES: I think - it certainly looked to me from the outside - and again, it's always hard to tell exactly what's happening, you know, the inside - but it looked to me from the outside as if there were political pressures being put on the intelligence community and, ultimately, you know, political leaders putting it aside in a way that was quite dismissive.

HAINES: So yeah.

KELLY: What are the consequences of that?

HAINES: Yeah...

KELLY: Does the bad blood just go away?

HAINES: Clearly not.

KELLY: So, Steve, that is one of the tasks she has inherited - is how to rebuild trust, how to rebuild morale.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about another task. We've reported on this program about domestic terrorism, about whether the government has really set up to fight it. And the indication has come back, really, no. They're better set up for international terrorism. What'd she have to say about that?

KELLY: Right. This is tricky. Her entire job - her post, the office of the director of national intelligence, as you know, was set up after 9/11 in response to 9/11 to fight al-Qaida. And now they are looking at this very different threat. And the legal challenges, the intelligence challenges are very different when you're wrestling a domestic threat. So let me - I want to play you one bit of that part of our interview. And you can hear it is very much a work in progress.

Do you think domestic terrorism is now a greater threat than international?

HAINES: I try to resist comparing them, to be honest, but I think there is no question that the domestic terrorism threat continues to be just increasing challenge for us. And, certainly, the racially and ethnically motivated violence that we're seeing is increasing. And we've seen that from the intelligence community over the last few years - I think quite some jarring reports that demonstrate that. And I think trying to understand that and understand how we're going to manage that over the next few years is going to be a particularly challenging - yeah - effort.

KELLY: So we talked about that. We talked about January 6 and what intelligence failures may have occurred there, what needs to be done to fix that. And then I asked her about being the first woman. She's the first woman to serve as director of national intelligence. And she - it was very interesting hearing her talk about how important it is for young women to see someone who looks like them at the helm, especially when intelligence has been so male-dominated since forever.

INSKEEP: Mary Louise, thanks.

KELLY: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mary Louise Kelly talking about her interview with the new director of national intelligence. And you'll hear more of that on the program she hosts, All Things Considered, today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.