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A White House lawyer who advised President Barack Obama on "sensitive" intelligence operations will be the CIA's new deputy director, the first woman to hold such a senior post at the agency, officials said Wednesday.
Avril Haines, who worked as deputy assistant to Obama and legal adviser to the National Security Council, will replace Michael Morell, a veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency who had twice held the post of acting director.
Unlike her predecessor, the 43-year-old is a newcomer to the country's leading spy agency but has worked closely on intelligence issues with the CIA's new director, John Brennan, formerly Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser.
"She has participated in virtually every Deputies and Principals Committee meeting over the past two years and chairs the Lawyers' Group that reviews the agency's most sensitive programs," Brennan said in a statement.
"In every instance, Avril's command of substance, sense of mission, good judgment and keen insights have been outstanding."
Haines likely will be helping the new CIA director revise the guidelines for controversial drone strikes carried out by the agency, which Obama has promised to regulate more strictly.
Brennan is seen as an influential figure in the administration who is expected to try to move the CIA back to a more traditional role of intelligence gathering as opposed to "targeted killings" and other paramilitary action.
Before her tenure at the White House, Haines worked at the State Department as assistant legal adviser for treaty affairs, represented the United States in international negotiations and has published articles on the laws of war.
Just two months ago, Haines had been nominated to serve as legal counsel for the State Department but the Obama administration has withdrawn the nomination in an unusual move, choosing to move her to the CIA post.
Haines, who holds an undergraduate degree in physics and a law degree from Georgetown University, worked as an adviser for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry were members.
"She has a deep understanding of the intelligence community and she values the contributions of our nation's intelligence professionals," Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said.
John Bellinger, a former senior official and legal adviser at the State Department and White House during previous administrations, praised Haines as "widely respected" and "non-partisan."
"Having served at CIA (and as NSC legal adviser), I can attest that CIA does not adjust easily to outsiders," Bellinger wrote on the Lawfare blog.
"But I think Avril will be different and that CIA officials will quickly come to love and respect her."