White House lawyer to be CIA's new deputy director

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A White House lawyer who has advised President Barack Obama on covert operations has been named the CIA's new deputy director, the first woman to hold such a senior post at the agency, officials said on Wednesday.

Ms Avril Haines, 43, 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 held the post of acting director twice.

Unlike her predecessor, Ms Haines 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 counter-terrorism 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," Mr Brennan said in a statement.

"In every instance, Avril's command of substance, sense of mission, good judgment, and keen insights have been outstanding." Ms Haines will likely be helping the new CIA director revise the guidelines for controversial drone strikes carried out by the agency, which Mr Obama has promised to more strictly regulate.

Mr 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, Ms 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, Ms Haines had been nominated to serve as legal counsel for the State Department but the administration chose to move her to the CIA post.

Ms 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.