President Donald Trump’s choice to be the first female director of the CIA, Gina Haspel, is a career spymaster who once ran an agency prison in Thailand where terror suspects were subjected to a harsh interrogation technique that the president has supported.
Trump tweeted Tuesday that he would nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and that he has selected Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo.
Haspel, 61, the current deputy CIA director, also helped carry out an order that the agency destroy its waterboarding videos.
That order prompted a lengthy Justice Department investigation that ended without charges.
Her nomination is already drawing opposition from Democrats, due to her role overseeing the torture of two terror suspects at a secret CIA prison in Thailand.
President Donald Trump’s choice to be the first female director of the CIA is career spymaster Gina Haspel, who is the agency’s deputy director and who oversaw torture at a secret CIA prison in Thailand
Simulation: Some of the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ used at the CIA ‘black site’ run by Trump’s pick to direct it were shown on Zero Dark Thirty, the movie about the hunt for bin Laden
Protest: CIA leaker Edward Snowden tweeted his disgust from Moscow, where he is in exile to avoid charges for stealing the agency’s dark secrets
Real-life: Gina Haspel’s clandestine career will inevitably see her compared to Claire Danes’ Homeland character Carrie Mathison but it will be her oversight of the detention of Abu Zubaydah when he lost an eye and was waterboarded 83 times in a month which will dominate her confirmation hearing
Haspel, who has extensive overseas experience, is likely to be compared by supporters to Carrie Mathison, the CIA spy playedon hit Showtime series Homeland by Claire Danes for her clandestine career.
But the role which may dominate her future is when she briefly ran a secret CIA prison where terror suspects Abu Zubayadah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri were waterboarded in 2002, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
She also played a role in ‘extraordinary rendition’ where terror suspects were handed over to foreign governments.
Both policies were extremely controversial during the George W. Bush administration, and became issues during her confirmation.
Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 time during his interrogation.
Later, her name was on the order to carry out the destruction of videotapes of the interrogation, the New York Times reported, although the agency said her superior, Jose Rodriguez, head of the clandestine service, had made the decision.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden called her an ‘unsuitable’ nominee immediately after Trump announced his decision.
The president called her by her first name Tuesday morning in comments to reporters, and praised her.
‘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,’ Trump said. ‘She’s an outstanding person.’
‘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.’
‘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,’ Trump said as he departed the White House Tuesday
‘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.’
Former NSA leaker Edward Snowden also blasted the choice.
‘The new CIA director was a key part of the torture program and its illegal cover-up. Her name was on the Top Secret order demanding the destruction of tapes to prevent them being seen by Congress. Incredible,’ Snowden wrote on Twitter.
But former CIA director John Brennan, who served during the Obama administration, defended her integrity in carrying out the program.
‘She was the acting director for operations when I arrived, and she has a wealth of experience and background, and she has more than three decades experience abroad as well as at headquarters,’ said Brennan, saying she enjoyed ‘tremendous respect’ in the agency.
‘Gina Haspel has a lot of integrity,’ told MSNBC. ‘She has tried to carry out her duties at the CIA to the best of her ability even when the CIA was asked to do some very difficult things in very challenging times.’
More than a decade after waterboarding was last used, the CIA is still haunted by the legacy of a tactic that the U.S. government regarded as torture before President George W. Bush’s administration authorized its use against terror suspects. There is no indication that Trump’s pick signals a desire to restart the harsh interrogation and detention program.
Haspel, who joined the CIA in 1985, has been chief of station at CIA outposts abroad. In Washington, she has held several top senior leadership positions, including deputy director of the National Clandestine Service and deputy director of the National Clandestine Service for Foreign Intelligence and Covert Action.
When she was picked as deputy CIA director, her career was lauded by veteran intelligence officials, including former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who recently retired.
But it also upset the American Civil Liberties Union and other rights advocates who found it unsettling that Trump would choose someone who was involved in the harsh interrogation program.
‘No one who had a hand in torturing individuals deserves to ever hold public office again, let alone lead an agency,’ Human Rights First’s Raha Wala said Tuesday.
‘To allow someone who had a direct hand in this illegal, immoral and counterproductive program is to willingly forget our nation’s dark history with torture.’