While Donilon is said to be the front-runner at the moment, Michael Morell, who has previously led the CIA on an acting basis, remains a top competitor. Both men offer experience under intense pressure and familiarity with the national security bureaucracy at the highest levels. But each man has some baggage: Morell has been accused of defending the CIA’s past use of torture, which has earned him the opposition of influential Democatic senators. Donilon has some detractors as well, including former staff members who say he can be an unusually tough boss who demands an excessive amount of work for little clear purpose.
Another name being floated for CIA is Jeh Johnson, the former Obama-era Homeland Security secretary. Johnson, a former federal prosecutor, served as the Pentagon’s general counsel during Obama’s first term — trying, but failing, to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay. It’s not clear how serious his standing is in the CIA hunt, however, and he’s also being mentioned for other posts, including defense secretary and attorney general. Johnson is on Lockheed Martin’s board of directors, a fact that does not endear him to progressives, who want Biden to cut defense spending.