8 Shocking Things You Should Know About Gina Haspel, CIA’s First Female Director
Blink and you’ll miss the rapid-fire changes going on at the White House. On March 13, President Donald Trump unceremoniously fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson via Twitter, promoting outgoing CIA director Mike Pompeo to serve in his place. The president then tapped deputy CIA director Gina Haspel, 61, as the first woman to lead the CIA, pending confirmation. Some of the facts coming out about her may surprise you — and some could even prevent her from getting the job.
1. She spent much of her long CIA career undercover
While Haspel has worked at the CIA for 33 years, she has remained undercover and overseas for a lot of that time. Her resume includes serving as the agency’s top representative in London, as well as the acting head of the National Clandestine Service and as part of the Counterterrorism Center, according to the CIA.
Haspel has also received several awards in her career. Those include the Presidential Rank Award, the most prestigious award a federal civil servant can earn.
Next: She ran a seriously shady division at the agency.
2. Haspel oversaw a black site in Thailand
While running a CIA prison in Thailand, dubbed a “black site,” Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects, according to The New York Times. One of the suspects, Abu Zubaydah, got waterboarded 83 times in a single month. The prison held Zubaydah following his capture in Pakistan. Operatives also locked him in a coffin, slammed him against walls, and deprived him of sleep, according to a congressional report on the CIA’s torture program.
Only after months of torture did CIA agents realize their mistake: He did not have the al-Queda status they thought. Zubaydah currently resides at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Next: Haspel also played a role in this disturbing practice.
3. She worked to destroy evidence of CIA torture
When torturous interrogation methods came to light and their legality received further scrutiny, Haspel drafted a missive demanding destruction of videotapes that showed those interrogation sessions.
At the time, Haspel served as chief of staff to the head of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center, Jose Rodriguez, who ordered the destruction. Rodriguez wrote in his memoir that Haspel “drafted a cable” ordering the tapes’ destruction in 2005. He said he “took a deep breath of weary satisfaction and hit ‘Send.’”
Next: Trump has defended these actions.
4. CIA professionals do not agree with torture but Trump does
The CIA defends those who participated in those interrogations, even while vowing not to undertake them ever again. Nevertheless, Trump has said repeatedly that he thinks torture works. Pompeo also said that waterboarding and other techniques do not constitute torture. He even praised as “patriots” those who used those methods, including Haspel.
Next: She received broad support from some of her colleagues.
5. Many intelligence community members support her
One former CIA official told CNN that Haspel’s promotion is “good for both places,” both the CIA and State.” The former CIA official added, “Haspel is a pro’s pro.” She has run the day-to-day operations at the CIA while Pompeo spent time at the White House, so she already maintains a solid presence at the CIA headquarters.
Next: Some government officials do not feel the same way.
6. Her nomination may come under fire from several officials
Democrats Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Ron Wyden of Oregon both told CNN they did not support Haspel’s promotion. Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine also intend to question her past activities. McCain said she “needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program” during her confirmation.
Wyden added that her background presents a serious problem. “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,” he said.
Next: Some activists also take issue with Haspel.
7. At least 1 human rights organization expressed concern
Not everyone celebrated Haspel’s nomination. The American Civil Liberties Union, for one, harbors serious concerns. Jameel Jaffer, formerly deputy legal director of the ACLU, tweeted that Haspel is “quite literally a war criminal.” The organization has called on the CIA to declassify “every aspect of Haspel’s torture record before considering the nomination.”
Next: One former coworker pointed out a potential pitfall.
8. She has not cultivated close ties to Trump, so far
The White House does not exactly rank well in job security, and Haspel has not buttered up her boss. Former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. endorsed Haspel but warned she may find herself forced to choose between protecting the integrity of the CIA and catering to Trump. And we all know what happens when the president feels slighted.
“I think Gina will be excellent as director, as long as she is ready to be fired at a moment’s notice,” Clapper told Cipher Brief. Whatever Haspel’s qualifications may be, that could come as her biggest pitfall.
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