As principal deputy national security adviser, Blinken, 51, runs the heavyweight interagency group known as the deputies committee, the forum where deputies from the Pentagon, the intelligence community, and other agencies meet to discuss security and foreign policy issues and determine options to take up the chain to their principals and the president. "It's the engine room of the interagency process," says Michele Flournoy, a former Defense undersecretary for policy. She adds that Blinken, who previously served as Vice President Joe Biden's national security adviser, was known to "take in all the information, listen to the conversation, and then ask the penetrating question that went to the heart of the matter, or prevented people from getting into groupthink and maybe look at the issue from a different angle." Blinken was Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff director for about six years, until 2008, and held key positions on the National Security Council staff from 1994 to 2001, including overseeing European and Canadian affairs. He also did a stint as a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Blinken graduated from Harvard and Columbia Law School and then pursued an active private-sector life, practicing law in New York City and Paris and reporting for The New Republic. Known to keep long hours, he "manages to stay a mensch under stress," Flournoy says.