William J. Burns (diplomat)

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William J. Burns
CIA Director Burns.jpg
Official portrait, 2021
8th Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
Assumed office
March 19, 2021
PresidentJoe Biden
DeputyDavid S. Cohen
Preceded byGina Haspel
17th United States Deputy Secretary of State
In office
July 28, 2011 – November 3, 2014
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byJames Steinberg
Succeeded byAntony Blinken
United States Secretary of State
In office
January 20, 2009 – January 21, 2009[1]
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byCondoleezza Rice
Succeeded byHillary Clinton
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
In office
May 13, 2008 – July 28, 2011
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Barack Obama
Preceded byR. Nicholas Burns
Succeeded byWendy Sherman
United States Ambassador to Russia
In office
November 8, 2005 – May 13, 2008
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byAlexander Vershbow
Succeeded byJohn Beyrle
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
In office
June 4, 2001 – March 2, 2005
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byEdward S. Walker Jr.
Succeeded byDavid Welch
United States Ambassador to Jordan
In office
August 9, 1998 – June 4, 2001
PresidentBill Clinton
George W. Bush
Preceded byWesley Egan
Succeeded byEdward Gnehm
Executive Secretary of the United States Department of State
In office
January 16, 1996 – February 27, 1998
PresidentBill Clinton
Preceded byKenneth C. Brill
Succeeded byKristie Kenney
Personal details
William Joseph Burns

(1956-04-04) April 4, 1956 (age 66)
Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S.
Spouse(s)Lisa Carty
EducationLa Salle University (BA)
St John's College, Oxford (MPhil, DPhil)
Scientific career
ThesisEconomic Aid and American Policy toward Egypt, 1955-1981 (1985)
Diplomatic service
Allegiance United States
ServiceFlag of the United States Department of State.svg U.S. Department of State
Years of service1982–2014
RankCareer Ambassador

William Joseph Burns (born April 4, 1956)[2] is an American diplomat and career ambassador serving as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency since March 19, 2021.[3] He previously served as the United States deputy secretary of state from 2011 to 2014, and in 2009 he served as Acting Secretary of State before the Senate confirmation of Hillary Clinton. He retired from the United States Foreign Service in 2014 after a 32-year diplomatic career. From 2014 to 2021, he served as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.[4][5]

Burns previously served as ambassador of the United States to Jordan from 1998 to 2001, assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs from 2001 to 2005, ambassador of the United States to the Russian Federation from 2005 to 2008, and under secretary of state for political affairs from 2008 to 2011.[6]

In January 2021, President Joe Biden nominated Burns to become the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.[7] He was unanimously confirmed by voice vote on March 18, 2021, sworn in officially as director on March 19, 2021,[3] and ceremonially sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris on March 23, 2021.[8][9]

Early life and education[edit]

Burns was born at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 1956.[10] He is the son of Peggy Cassady and William F. Burns, who was a United States Army Major General, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the Department of State; and served as Director of the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in 1988–1989 in the Ronald Reagan administration and as the first U.S. special envoy to denuclearization negotiations with former Soviet countries under the legislation sponsored by Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar.[11][12][13]

He earned a B.A. in history from La Salle University and M.Phil. and D.Phil. degrees in international relations from St John's College, Oxford, where he studied as a Marshall Scholar. Burns was also a member of the Oxford University Men's Basketball Team.[14]


U.S. Foreign Service[edit]

Burns entered the Foreign Service in 1982 and served as Deputy Secretary of State from 2011 to 2014. He had served as under secretary for political affairs from 2008 to 2011. He was ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs from 2001 to 2005, and ambassador to Jordan from 1998 to 2001. He had also been executive secretary of the State Department and special assistant to Secretaries Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright, minister-counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, acting director and principal deputy director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff, and Special Assistant to the President and senior director for Near East and South Asian affairs at the United States National Security Council.[4]

In 1995, while serving as counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, he wrote that "hostility to early NATO expansion is almost universally felt across the domestic political spectrum here."[15]

In 2008, Burns was nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate as a Career Ambassador, the highest rank in the U.S. Foreign Service, equivalent to a four-star general officer in the U.S. Armed Forces. Promotions to the rank are rare.

In 2008, Burns wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: "Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all redlines for the Russian elite (not just Putin). In more than two and a half years of conversations with key Russian players, from knuckle-draggers in the dark recesses of the Kremlin to Putin’s sharpest liberal critics, I have yet to find anyone who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests."[15]

A cable that Burns signed as ambassador to Russia in August 2006, released by WikiLeaks, provided a detailed eyewitness account of the lavish wedding organized in Makhachkala by Russian State Duma member and Dagestan Oil Company chief Gadzhi Makhachev for his son. The wedding lasted for two days, and its attendees included Chechnya′s Ramzan Kadyrov. An FSB colonel sitting next to the cable's authors tried to add "cognac" to their wine until an FSB general told him to stop.[16][17] In 2015, Burns told Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times that the cable had been "largely written by his colleagues", with Rachman remarking that the telegram had gained a reputation of "a minor classic of comic writing, its tone very much not what one might expect of a diplomatic cable".[18] In June 2013, Andrew Kuchins remarked about Burns′ stint in Moscow, "It was a period when the relationship was deteriorating very significantly, but he was personally respected by Russian authorities as a consummate professional diplomat".[19]

In 2013, Burns and Jake Sullivan led the secret bilateral channel with Iran that led to the interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1 and ultimately the Iran nuclear deal.[20][21] Burns was reported to be "in the driver's seat" of the American negotiating team for the interim agreement. Burns had met secretly with Iranian officials as early as 2008, when President George W. Bush dispatched him.[22]

In a piece published in The Atlantic in April 2013, Nicholas Kralev praised him as the "secret diplomatic weapon" deployed against "some of the thorniest foreign policy challenges of the US".[23]

Burns retired from the Foreign Service in 2014, later becoming president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.[3]

In November 2020, as Burns′ name was being cited by press as one of several possible candidates to be nominated by Joe Biden for Secretary of State, Russia′s broadsheet Kommersant's sources "in the state structures" of the Russian Federation agreed that his candidacy would "be the most advantageous for Moscow of all the five cited" in the media.[24]

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency[edit]

William Joseph Burns sworn in as CIA Director by Kamala Harris

On January 11, 2021, Joe Biden announced he planned to nominate Burns as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, saying that Burns shared his belief "that intelligence must be apolitical and that the dedicated intelligence professionals serving our nation deserve our gratitude and respect."[25][26]

On February 24, his nomination was well-received in the confirmation hearing in the Senate.[27] On March 2, the Senate Intelligence Committee unanimously approved Burns' nomination, setting him up for a final floor vote.[28] On March 18, Burns was confirmed to the role with unanimous consent after Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) lifted his hold on the nomination.[29] He was officially sworn in as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency on March 19, with a ceremony performed by Vice President Kamala Harris on March 23, 2021. [3][8]

In his confirmation hearing before the Senate, Burns said, "an adversarial, predatory Chinese leadership poses our biggest geopolitical test".[30] He said China was working to "methodically strengthen its capabilities to steal intellectual property, repress its own people, bully its neighbors, expand its global reach and build influence in American society."[31]

Burns sitting with President Joe Biden, Harris, and the U.S. national security team, August 18, 2021

In April 2021, Biden announced his intention to withdraw all regular U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 2021. Burns told the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee on April 14, 2021, that "[t]here is a significant risk once the U.S. military and the coalition militaries withdraw" but added that the U.S. would retain "a suite of capabilities."[32]

On August 23, 2021, Burns held a secret meeting in Kabul with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, who returned to Afghanistan from exile in Qatar, to discuss the August 31 deadline for a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.[33][34]

On March 31, 2022, Burns tested positive for COVID-19, a day after meeting with President Biden during a socially distanced meeting at the White House while wearing an N 95 mask.[35]

In April 2022, Burns warned that Vladimir Putin's "desperation" over Russia's failures in Ukraine could result in the use of tactical nuclear weapons or "low-yield nuclear weapons."[36] That same month, Burns traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with the Saudi crown prince, asking him to increase the country’s oil production. They also discussed Saudi weapons purchases from China.[37]


His memoir, The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal, was published by Random House in 2019. It was published in conjunction with an archive of nearly 100 declassified diplomatic cables.[38] International Relations scholars who reviewed the book were mostly positive.[39][40][41]

Burns’ dissertation was published in 1985 as Economic Aid and American Policy Toward Egypt, 1955—1981.[42]


Burns is the recipient of three Presidential Distinguished Service Awards and several Department of State awards, including three Secretary's Distinguished Service Awards, the Secretary's Career Achievement Award, the Charles E. Cobb, Jr. Ambassadorial Award for Initiative and Success in Trade Development (2006), the Robert C. Frasure Memorial Award (2005), and the James Clement Dunn Award (1991). He also received the Department of Defense Award for Distinguished Public Service (2014), the U.S. Intelligence Community Medallion (2014), and the Central Intelligence Agency's Agency Seal Medal (2014).[citation needed]

In 1994, Burns was named to Time's lists of "50 Most Promising American Leaders Under Age 40" and "100 Most Promising Global Leaders Under Age 40".[43] He was named Foreign Policy's "Diplomat of the Year" in 2013.[44] He is the recipient of Anti-Defamation League's Distinguished Statesman Award (2014),[45] the Middle East Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award (2014), and the American Academy of Diplomacy's Annenberg Award for Diplomatic Excellence (2015).[46]

Burns holds four honorary doctoral degrees and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[47] He is also an honorary Fellow, St. John's College, Oxford (from 2012).[48]

Foreign government decorations[edit]

Personal life[edit]

Burns is married to Lisa Carty, a former diplomat and current UN OCHA senior official,[54] and has two daughters. He speaks English, French, Russian, and Arabic.[55]


  1. ^ "Biographies of the Secretaries of State: Condoleezza Rice (1954–)". U.S. Department of State – Office of the Historian. Retrieved March 29, 2021. Under Secretary for Political Affairs William J. Burns served as Acting Secretary of State, January 20–21, 2009.
  2. ^ Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum (September 26, 1988). "Appointment of William J. Burns as a Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs". Retrieved April 6, 2022.
  3. ^ a b c d "About CIA - Director of the CIA". www.cia.gov. Archived from the original on April 1, 2021. Retrieved April 6, 2021.
  4. ^ a b "Ambassador William J. Burns Named Next Carnegie President". National Endowment for Democracy (NEFD). October 28, 2014. Archived from the original on January 11, 2021. Retrieved July 26, 2016.
  5. ^ "US Senate confirms Biden's health and CIA chiefs". www.aljazeera.com. March 18, 2021. Retrieved April 6, 2021.
  6. ^ "William Burns to retire". POLITICO. Associated Press. Archived from the original on January 11, 2021. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
  7. ^ "Durbin Meets With William Burns, Biden Nominee For CIA Director". Retrieved January 21, 2021.
  8. ^ a b "Harris calls Boulder shooting 'absolutely tragic'". The Hill. March 23, 2021. Retrieved March 23, 2021.
  9. ^ "Bill Burns Sworn in as CIA Director - CIA". www.cia.gov. Archived from the original on April 6, 2021. Retrieved April 6, 2021.
  10. ^ "Appointment of William J. Burns as a Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs". reaganlibrary.gov. September 26, 1988. Retrieved January 11, 2021.
  11. ^ "Nomination of William F. Burns To Be Director of the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency". The American Presidency Project. January 7, 1988.
  12. ^ Major General William F. Burns (Ret.) (July 8, 2005). "Arms Control Today". The Arms Control Association.
  13. ^ Pyotr Cheryomushkin (April 27, 2008). "Ядерный дипломат". Коммерсантъ. Kommersant.
  14. ^ "Burns, William J." United States Department of State. June 4, 2008. Retrieved January 11, 2021. Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Department of State.
  15. ^ a b "Ukraine war follows decades of warnings that NATO expansion into Eastern Europe could provoke Russia". The Conversation. February 28, 2022.
  16. ^ "Wedding in the Caucasus: The US Ambassador Learns that Cognac Is Like Wine". Der Spiegel. Archived from the original on January 11, 2021. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
  17. ^ "US embassy cables: A wedding feast, the Caucasus way". The Guardian. December 1, 2010. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  18. ^ "Lunch with the FT: Bill Burns". Financial Times. November 6, 2015.
  19. ^ "U.S. Taps Kerry's Deputy as Point Man With Russia on Snowden". The Moscow Times. June 13, 2013. Retrieved January 25, 2021.
  20. ^ Gordon, Michael (April 11, 2014). "Diplomat Who Led Secret Talks with Iran Plans to Retire". New York Times. Archived from the original on January 11, 2021. Retrieved June 30, 2014.
  21. ^ Barnes, Julian E.; Verma, Pranshu (January 11, 2021). "William Burns Is Biden's Choice for C.I.A. Director". The New York Times. Retrieved January 11, 2021.
  22. ^ Taylor, Guy. "Career diplomat William Burns steered the Iran talks quietly though rounds of negotiations". The Washington Times. Archived from the original on January 11, 2021. Retrieved June 18, 2020.
  23. ^ Kralev, Nicholas (April 4, 2013). "The White House's Secret Diplomatic Weapon". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on January 11, 2021. Retrieved June 30, 2014.
  24. ^ "Джо Байден в первых лицах: Что ждать России от внешнеполитической команды будущего президента США". Kommersant. November 9, 2020. Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  25. ^ "For CIA director, Biden taps veteran diplomat William Burns". POLITICO. January 11, 2021.
  26. ^ Gramer, Jack Detsch, Amy Mackinnon, Robbie (January 11, 2021). "Biden Taps Career Diplomat William Burns as CIA Director".
  27. ^ "William Burns, Biden's CIA pick, vows "intensified focus" on the competition with China".
  28. ^ Matishak, Martin, “Senate Intel unanimously approves Burns to be CIA director: Timing for the final confirmation vote remains unclear” (March 2, 2021). Politico. www.google.com/amp/s/www.politico.com/amp/news/2021/03/02/senate-approves-burns-cia-472685. Retrieved March 3, 2021.
  29. ^ Jeremy Herb. "Senate confirms William Burns to be next CIA director after Cruz lifts hold". CNN. Retrieved March 18, 2021.
  30. ^ "China's 'adversarial, predatory' leadership on radar: Burns". Financial Review. February 25, 2021.
  31. ^ "CIA Nominee William Burns Talks Tough On China". NPR. February 24, 2021.
  32. ^ Putz, Catherine (April 15, 2021). "Biden Announces Plan for US Exit from Afghan War, Urges Attention to Future Challenges". The Diplomat. Archived from the original on April 19, 2021.
  33. ^ "CIA director met Taliban leader in Afghanistan on Monday -sources". Reuters. August 24, 2021.
  34. ^ "CIA chief secretly met with Taliban leader in Kabul: Report". Al-Jazeera. August 24, 2021.
  35. ^ Macias, Amanda (March 31, 2022). "CIA Director William Burns tests positive for Covid after meeting with Biden, but is not considered a close contact". CNBC. Retrieved March 31, 2022.
  36. ^ "Sen. Mitt Romney suggests 'NATO could engage' in Ukraine, 'potentially obliterating Russia's struggling military' if Putin used nuclear weapons". Business Insider. May 22, 2022.
  37. ^ "Inside the Secret Meeting Between the CIA Director and Saudi Crown Prince". The Intercept. May 13, 2022.
  38. ^ Axios (March 11, 2019). "New book "The Back Channel" from former U.S. ambassador reveals warnings about Russia". Axios. Retrieved May 8, 2022.
  39. ^ Colbourn, Susan; Goldgeier, James; Jentleson, Bruce W.; Lebovic, James; Charles, Elizabeth C.; Wilson, James Graham; Burns, William J. (December 17, 2019). "Roundtable 11-8 on The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal". H-Diplo | ISSF. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  40. ^ Gavin, Francis J. (December 12, 2019). "Bill burns and the lost art of diplomacy". Journal of Strategic Studies: 1–9. doi:10.1080/01402390.2019.1692661. ISSN 0140-2390. S2CID 213144471.
  41. ^ "Blame It on the Blob? How to Evaluate American Grand Strategy". War on the Rocks. August 21, 2020. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  42. ^ SUNY Press. www.sunypress.edu/p-193-economic-aid-and-american-polic.aspx. Retrieved March 3, 2021.
  43. ^ "What Happened to the 'Future Leaders' of the 1990s?". Time. Archived from the original on March 31, 2020. Retrieved March 11, 2020.
  44. ^ "Bill Burns Honored as Diplomat of the Year". foreignpolicy.com. Foreign Policy. Archived from the original on January 11, 2021. Retrieved June 30, 2014.
  45. ^ "Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns Presented with ADL Award". www.adl.org. Archived from the original on January 11, 2021. Retrieved June 30, 2014.
  46. ^ "Walter and Leonore Annenberg Excellence in Diplomacy Award". The American Academy of Diplomacy. Archived from the original on January 11, 2021. Retrieved March 11, 2020.
  47. ^ "William J. Burns". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Archived from the original on January 11, 2021. Retrieved March 12, 2020.
  48. ^ "RAI in America". www.rai.ox.ac.uk. Archived from the original on June 15, 2014. Retrieved June 30, 2014.
  49. ^ French Embassy U.S. [@franceintheus] (March 7, 2018). "Today, we are here to honor one of the greatest diplomats of our time" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  50. ^ a b c Redaksi, Tim (January 11, 2021). "Ini Profil William Burns, Direktur CIA Pilihan Joe Biden". Voice of Indonesia (in Indonesian). Retrieved April 7, 2021.
  51. ^ "受章者(その3止)". mainichi.jp (in Japanese). April 29, 2018. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  52. ^ "The Marshall Medal - Marshall Scholarships". www.marshallscholarship.org. Archived from the original on January 11, 2021. Retrieved March 12, 2020.
  53. ^ "GAZZETTA UFFICIALE" (in Italian). May 10, 2017. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
  54. ^ Burns, William (February 9, 2021). "Questionnaire for Completion by Presidential Nominees" (PDF). Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Retrieved May 23, 2021.
  55. ^ Dorman, Shawn (May 2019). "The Diplomacy Imperative: A Q&A with William J. Burns". American Foreign Service Association. Retrieved May 23, 2021.

Further reading[edit]

  1. ^ Online version is titled "An interview with Ambassador William J. Burns on Iranian-American negotiations".

External links[edit]