Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
Gina Haspel, who was named CIA director Tuesday, comes to the job with an unusual mix of credentials.
Haspel is the first woman to head the clandestine service in its 71-year history. She is the first director in 30 years to come from the ranks of the agency. She has a track record of involvement in the agency’s since-discontinued torture program, and she has received strong support from some of President Trump’s most vociferous critics.
The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins reported last year that:
“Haspel was a senior official overseeing a top-secret C.I.A. program that subjected dozens of suspected terrorists to savage interrogations, which included depriving them of sleep, squeezing them into coffins, and forcing water down their throats. In 2002, Haspel was among the C.I.A. officers present at the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, an Al Qaeda suspect who was tortured so brutally that at one point he appeared to be dead.”
Later, Haspel ordered the destruction of videotapes of Zubaydah’s torture, according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
But Haspel’s participation in the torture program was the norm for the upper ranks of the CIA during the Bush and Obama administrations, notes one former senior intelligence official who spoke to AlterNet on condition of anonymity.
John Brennan, who later became CIA director under President Obama, served as deputy executive director in the mid-2000s, and “he heard all the same reports on the black sites and the destruction of tapes,” the former official said, adding, “She was not the intellectual author of the program.”
From the Ranks
Haspel joined the agency as an analyst in 1985. She later switched to the agency’s operational wing, the National Clandestine Service, where she made her mark as chief of staff to operations chief Jose Rodriguez. Brennan sought to appoint her to deputy director in 2013, but Feinstein objected and someone else got the job.
When Haspel was named deputy director in February 2017, she was endorsed by a host of former officials, some of whom have been harshly critical of President Trump.
Former CIA director Michael Hayden called her a “wonderful choice.” Former acting director Mike Morrell, who worked closely with Haspel from 2006-2013, described her as “simply exceptional. … She gets things done in a quiet, yet effective way, and she is calm under fire.”
“She’s one tough cookie,” said former CIA counterterrorism officer John Kiriakou in an interview with AlterNet. Kiriakou, author of Doing Time Like a Spy, served a two-year jail sentence for denouncing the CIA’s torture program to a reporter.
In a piece for Reader Supported News last year, Kiriakou wrote:
“It was Haspel who was Rodriguez’s handpicked warden of the first secret prison the CIA created to handle al-Qaeda detainees. It was Haspel who oversaw the staff, including discredited contract psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the notorious pair who came up with the torture techniques and who actually carried out torture on prisoners. It was Haspel who videotaped the torture of Abu Zubaydah. And it was Haspel who carried out her master’s instructions to destroy the tapes, despite being specifically told by the White House Counsel to preserve them.”
Jefferson Morley is AlterNet’s Washington correspondent. He is the author of The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (St. Martin’s Press).