Washington 13 March 2018 (USA TODAY)
Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee to become the first woman to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, made her career in covert action, but her involvement in interrogations already provoked opposition in the Senate to her confirmation.
Haspel, who joined the CIA in 1985, earned high-level awards during her career and was sworn in as deputy director of the CIA on Feb. 7, 2017, among the first officials in the Trump administration. In that post, she assists managing intelligence collection, analysis, covert action and counterintelligence.
Trump announced Tuesday he was removing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replacing him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The Senate must vote on Haspel’s confirmation to succeed Pompeo.
Trump said in a statement that Haspel’s appointment would be “a historic milestone.” He said she and Pompeo “have worked together for more than a year, and have developed a great mutual respect.”
As he left the White House for California, Trump heaped more praise on Haspel: “Gina, by the way, who I know very well, who I’ve worked very closely with, will be the first woman director of the CIA,” he said. “She’s an outstanding person.”
Haspel said in a statement that after 30 years at CIA, it was an honor to serve with Pompeo during the past year.
“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,” Haspel said. “If confirmed, I look forward to providing President Trump the outstanding intelligence support he has grown to expect during his first year in office.”
Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, opposed Haspel to head the CIA.
“Ms. Haspel’s background makes her unsuitable to serve as CIA director,” Wyden said. “If Ms. Haspel seeks to serve at the highest levels of U.S. intelligence, the government can no longer cover up disturbing facts from her past.”
Haspel served overseas as chief of station in several assignments for the agency. In Washington, she became deputy director of the clandestine service, deputy director of the clandestine service for foreign intelligence and covert action and chief of staff for the service’s director.
She received the George H.W. Bush Award for excellence in counterterrorism, the Donovan Award, the Intelligence Medal of Merit and the Presidential Rank Award, the most prestigious award in the civil service.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who had been rumored as a candidate for CIA director, called Haspel “an excellent choice” and a “true professional.”
But other senators are expected to raise questions about her nomination, because of her history with the agency.
The month she became deputy director, Wyden and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., raised questions about Haspel drafting the cable that called for destruction of taped CIA interrogations. They’re still waiting.
“Her nomination must include total transparency about this background, which I called for more than a year ago when she was appointed deputy director,” Wyden said.
Haspel also reportedly ran a secret prison in Thailand in 2002 where terrorism suspects were waterboarded and subjected to other so-called enhanced interrogations.
Christopher Anders, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office, called Haspel the “central figure in one of the most illegal and shameful chapters in modern American history.”
“She was up to her eyeballs in torture: both in running a secret torture prison in Thailand, and carrying out an order to cover up torture crimes by destroying videotapes,” Anders said. “One man held at the secret prison she ran was waterboarded 83 times, slammed against walls, sleep deprived, and locked in a coffin-like box. After she was promoted to a position back at CIA headquarters, she worked to destroy evidence of the torture crimes committed at the prison she ran.”
The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights filed a legal intervention with German prosecutors last year calling for an arrest warrant for Haspel for her role in torturing detainees in Thailand.
“Those who commit, order or allow torture should be brought before a court — this is especially true for senior officials from powerful nations,” Wolfgang Kaleck, the group’s general secretary, said in filing the documents in June 2017. “The prosecutor must, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, open investigations, secure evidence and seek an arrest warrant. If the deputy director travels to Germany or Europe, she must be arrested.”