Communities

5 Things You Should Know About CIA Director Appointee Gina Haspel

by Tod Perry

March 19, 2018

The Trump administration had another massive shake-up on March 13, 2018, with President Donald Trump unceremoniously firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — who learned of his dismissal from Trump’s tweet — and replaced him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

And then to replace Pompeo, Trump selected CIA veteran Gina Haspel.

“After 30 years as an officer of the Central Intelligence Agency, it has been my honor to serve as its Deputy Director alongside Mike Pompeo for the past year,” Haspel said in a statement. “I am grateful to President Trump for the opportunity, and humbled by his confidence in me, to be nominated to be the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.”

Could be the first female CIA director

If confirmed by the Senate, Haspel will have risen to the top position in an agency dominated by men. Her appointment is a surprising move by Trump, who has assembled the most male-dominated federal government in nearly a quarter-century. 80% of nominations for top jobs in the Trump administration have gone to men.

Haspel was appointed by Pompeo as the first female CIA officer to be named deputy director on Feb. 2, 2017. In a career spanning four decades, she has won many awards, including the George H.W. Bush Award for excellence in counterterrorism, Donovan Award, Intelligence Medal of Merit, and Presidential Rank Award.

Positions in Washington

Haspel has spent much of her career undercover but has also held several senior positions in Washington, including deputy director of the National Clandestine Service and deputy director of the National Clandestine Service for Foreign Intelligence and Covert Action.

In 2017, James Clapper, Obama’s director of national intelligence was pleased with her promotion to Deputy CIA director, saying she’s “widely and deeply respected by the workforce.” 

Torture history

Haspel notoriously ran a CIA black site in Thailand in 2002 under the code name “Cat’s Eye.” While Haspel was in charge of the program, Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times and brought from the brink of death, only to be revived and tortured again. 

A ProPublica story claims Haspel “mocked” Zubaydah’s complaints and accused him of faking. His torture yielded no actionable intelligence because he was not a member of al-Qaida and had no knowledge of any plots against the United States. 

Destroyed interrogation tapes

In 2005, as chief of staff to the head of the CIA counter-terrorism operations, Haspel wrote a memo ordering the destruction of 90 videotapes documenting interrogations. Her boss, Jose Rodriguez, then the head of the agency’s clandestine service, ordered the destruction of the tapes although they had been ordered to be preserved as part of an ongoing investigation.

The Justice Department would later decide not to press charges against Haspel and Rodriguez. 

Will Haspel be confirmed?

With the Republicans holding a 51-49 majority in the Senate, a straight party-line vote would work in Haspel’s favor. But Republican Sen. John McCain may vote against her confirmation. McCain endured years of torture as a prisoner during the Vietnam War.

“The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history. Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process,” McCain said in a statement.

Libertarian-leaning GOP Sen. Rand Paul may also be a roadblock to an easy confirmation. “To really appoint the head cheerleader for waterboarding to be head of CIA, I mean, how could you trust somebody who did that to be in charge of the CIA,” he told CNN. “To read of her glee during the waterboarding is just absolutely appalling.”

Share image by Central Intelligence Agency/Wikimedia Commons and Global Panorama/Flickr.

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5 Things You Should Know About CIA Director Appointee Gina Haspel