Mar 13, 2018, 12:04 PM ET

Haspel, first woman nominated to head CIA, controversial for 'black sites' role

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With CIA Director Mike Pompeo nominated to be the next secretary of state, career intelligence officer Gina Haspel will become, if confirmed, the first woman to head the CIA.

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Currently serving as the agency's deputy director, Haspel is well-regarded within the agency, but her historic nomination is likely to focus attention on her reported role in the CIA's "black sites" - the overseas prisons the agency used to hold top al Qaeda terrorists.

Haspel joined the CIA in 1985 and has held a series of high-ranking positions at the intelligence agency throughout her lengthy career. She has served as the agency's Deputy Director since Feb. 7, 2017.

According to her official CIA biography, Haspel "has extensive overseas experience and served as Chief of Station in several of her assignments."

Haspel has held several senior leadership positions within the agency's National Clandestine Service, which oversees the agency's spy operations overseas and its most covert operations programs.

She served as Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service, Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service for Foreign Intelligence and Covert Action, and Chief of Staff for the Director of the National Clandestine Service.

PHOTO: Gina Haspel is seen here at the 2017 William J. Donovan Award dinner, Oct. 21, 2017.OSS
Gina Haspel is seen here at the 2017 William J. Donovan Award dinner, Oct. 21, 2017.

A decorated CIA officer, Haspel has been awarded the George H. W. Bush Award for excellence in counterterrorism, the Donovan Award, and the Intelligence Medal of Merit. She is also a recipient of the Presidential Rank Award, the most prestigious award in the federal civil service.

While Haspel's nomination to be the first female CIA director is historic, her Senate confirmation hearings will likely shine a spotlight on her role in the agency's controversial rendition program in which top al Qaeda detainees were held in secret CIA "black sites" overseas.

Haspel reportedly headed the agency's "black site" in Thailand that, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA's rendition program, held senior al Qaeda operatives Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Raham al-Nashiri.

The report determined that Zubaydah was subjected to the controversial practice of waterboarding 83 times to gather intelligence about al Qaeda's operations. Waterboarding was among the "enhanced interrogation techniques" the CIA used on top al Qaeda detainees that human rights groups said amounted to torture.

According to the report, Zubaydah was also subjected to other "stress" techniques such as being slammed against walls, sleep deprivation and being placed in a coffin-sized box for up to 226 hours.

Human Rights Watch has pointed to her leadership positions during the timeframe that the CIA carried out its rendition program and "black site" prisons as a sign that she would have had direct knowledge of the controversial programs.

There have also been reports that she advocated for the destruction of video recordings of Zubaydah's interrogations conducted at the black site she ran in Thailand.

Those videos were destroyed by the CIA in 2005 and triggered an investigation that resulted in no charges.

Haspel’s nomination has strong backing among former colleagues in the intelligence community.

“She’s a great choice. She’s really, really solid leader,” said Richard Ledgett, the former deputy director at the NSA and an ABC News contributor. “I think that she will do a great job leading the agency.”

Ledgett does not think that Haspel’s links to the CIA detention program will slow down her confirmation.

“The fact that people disagree with the policy of that is their right, but I think that she executed correctly within the confines of the law and the guidance that she was given,” said Ledgett.

But influential Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona noted that Haspel's CIA career "has intersected with the program of so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on a number of occasions."

A victim of severe torture by North Vietnamese guards while a prisoner of war, McCain is seeking assurances from Haspel made by CIA Director Mike Pompeo during his confirmation hearing that the agency "would comply with the law that applies the Army Field Manual’s interrogation requirements."

"The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history," McCain said in a statement.

“Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process,” he added. “I know the Senate will do its job in examining Ms. Haspel’s record as well as her beliefs about torture and her approach to current law."

Christopher Anders, the deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office, demanded that the CIA declassify and release "every aspect of Haspel's torture record" before considering the nomination.

“Gina Haspel was a central figure in one of the most illegal and shameful chapters in modern American history," said Ander. "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.

He also raised questions about Haspel's independence if she is confirmed to lead the intelligence agency "since she has never left the agency."

In 2013, Sen. Dianne Feinstein blocked Haspel's promotion to be the head of the National Clandestine Service. Feinstein said Tuesday she will wait until Haspel's confirmation hearings to make a decision about her becoming the next CIA director.

Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters that since 2013 the two have “spent time together. We’ve had dinner together. We have talked. Everything that I know is that she has been a good deputy director of the CIA.”

“Hopefully the entire organization learned something from the entire Enhanced Interrogation program,” she added, “Right now, I’m waiting for the hearings.”

News - Haspel, first woman nominated to head CIA, controversial for 'black sites' role

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CComments

  • Prophet With Honor

    She is Irma Grese striving to become Rosa Krebs.

  • Rafterman00

    A lot of people got their hands dirty by the black prisons stuff. The Chump administration has so few experienced people, I don't see this as a big enough negative.

  • jon rhodes

    This women has been involved in the torture of detainees. There can NEVER be an acceptable reason to torture human beings. Any lawmaker that votes to confirm this person should never win another election or ever represent the American people.

  • spacerome

    “ … I think that she executed correctly within the confines of the law and the guidance that she was given,” said Ledgett. …”

    That is sickening.

    If Richard Ledgett is right, then Nazis are right, too. Because they executed correctly within the confines of their law and the guidance that they were given.

    =====

    “… Gina Haspel… “She’s a great choice. She’s really, really solid leader,” said Richard Ledgett, the former deputy director at the NSA and an ABC News contributor. “I think that she will do a great job leading the agency.”

    Richard Ledgett, ABC News contributor ….

    ABC, Are you proud of Richard Ledgett? And,

    GOP, ... Pitch this pick into a toilet bowl.

  • Ima Knut

    Ah, I see Rosa Klebbs is back. Watch those shoes!

  • reality25

    Also:

    "In 2017, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights called on the Public Prosecutor General of Germany to issue an arrest warrant against Haspel over claims she oversaw the torture of terrorism suspects."

    Gina Haspel= Evil Woman and a proud Trumpette.
    Perfect fit within the Trump Administration.

  • paul miller

    She's a 21st century version of Irma Grese and should not be confirmed to head the CIA

  • ChungLingSoo

    She's obviously very qualified. Hopefully, they won't be going back to torture as a means to get information anymore. Studies by various government services (I believe specifically by the FBI) show that actually talking with the prisoner or detainee is the best way to get accurate information out of them. We want to, maybe need to feel that horrible pain and suffering put upon the detainee gets good info. I mean it works great in all the movies and we get a sense of revenge from it. But what it actually ends up with is getting them saying anything they think you want to hear in order for the pain to stop. Alot of it ends up being inaccurate and unusable.

    What I fear though is that our President will be all in on the Hollywood image of torture and that it works. He may put the policy back in.

  • drathvedar

    Another snake in the swamp.

  • OliverWendellSr

    Torture? tRumpus likes it that way. As do trumpettes.
    They'll gladly look askance and say "nobody cares, that's what the CIA does."
    Ask someone with standing, such as Duckworth and McCain:
    she "needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA's interrogation program" during her confirmation.

  • Nowthatsinteresting

    If the ACLU and McCain are against her I'd say she's a good choice.

  • Concerned Brit

    Like trump - she's an advocate of torture. This is seriously scary stuff. trump is turning the U.S. into a police state.

  • Mike H

    Haspell is obviously qualified, and the article says that she is also well-regarded.
    Having both of those plus being the first woman makes her confirmation almost certain.
    The "black sites?" Most people either approve or don't care enough about that to make any difference. Besides, when you're looking for a CIA director, you're not looking for an angel, and those sites were not her doing, anyway.

  • kritikosman

    No parking space needed, just a broom closet.

  • Billy Bob Smith

    Great. Just great. "Hey, I've got an idea...Let's put the CIA's No. 1 torturer in charge of the CIA. It'll be just like the good 'ol days!"

  • QuestionAuth

    'Deep State' ok, if it's the deep torturing state?
    Why are RWers so stooooooopid?

  • Prophet With Honor

    Google Irma Grese.

  • Nick

    From her resume, it sounds like the title "High Inquisitor" is more fitting than CIA director.

  • Loue Whose

    this is a conundrum - the appointee is a woman, so any question of qualification
    will be labeled White Male Power immediately, with full backing of The MSM
    but - and this is huge :
    she may have been mean to terrorists
    I will not stand for anyone in government who doesn't love terror & it's purveyors
    #LIAMD

  • MickC

    The article acts as if she instituted waterboarding on her own. Certainly, she was too experienced and wise enough that she only applied torture after being instructed from higher-ups to do so.

  • MickC

    "Waterboarding was among the "enhanced interrogation techniques" the CIA used on top al Qaeda detainees that human rights groups said amounted to torture."
    Human rights groups? EVERY group in free nations considered waterboarding torture: the USA executed Japanese men for doing it to our captured pilots, labeling it as "torture."
    Then G W Bush - or his boss Cheney - decided to do it, even though history has shown it doesn't result in the gain of intelligence.
    Bush and Cheney caused the recruitment of many thousands of al-Qaeda, Taliban, and ISIS members by providing examples of bad men to be opposed.

  • Sarah Levine

    She may not be hottie in Trump's books but she won him over with the water boarding!

  • Paulie

    She could be the new torturer-in-chief.

  • bobhope1

    OK - Trump really is sucking up those from the absolute bottom of the swamp. However, this is a result of Obamas complete failure to hold those consciously responsible for breaches of international and US law ( torture etc etc ) accountable - as he had promised. In so doing he failed to reset the US moral compass, and he entrenched such reprehensible characters as winners. Bottom line - nothing learnt from the Nuremburg tribunal, and the dems who supported this should beware, as individuals who have acted in this way will probably only amp up their activities as they consider themselves untouchable by any and all law, and have no internal constraints on behavior.

  • Prophet With Honor

    She will have a tough time getting confirmed. Although she has experience her activities in the extraordinary rendition program will raise issues and much of her history is highly classified so answers may be inadequate.

  • Dennis Anderson

    Sounds very well qualified.

  • Verity Pendelton

    I give her about three months. That's about the time it will take for Donny to call her honey, sweetie, dollface or even grab her you-know-what.