Home / News / Gina Haspel Has the Experience to Run the C.I.A., and That May Be Her Biggest Problem

Gina Haspel Has the Experience to Run the C.I.A., and That May Be Her Biggest Problem

Ms. Haspel’s opponents said the Senate should not approve her nomination until questions about her record are answered. “If Gina Haspel were to be confirmed with these allegations unanswered and the truth obscured by secrecy and obstruction, it would be yet another demonstration of the U.S. government turning a blind eye to torture committed in the program,” Amnesty International USA said Monday in a statement.

Friends and supporters said Ms. Haspel understood that she was in for a rough ride this week. “It’s going to be a living hell,” said Michael V. Hayden, a C.I.A. director under President George W. Bush.

But he added that he participated in a “murder board” session last week in which she rehearsed for the hearing and she handled herself well. “We were coming at her with every stupid question we could think of,” he said. “She was calm, collected, fact-based and what I would say is at peace with herself and her personal history.”

A 33-year C.I.A. veteran, Ms. Haspel currently serves as the agency’s deputy director and has the support of former directors and acting directors from the administrations of both parties, including Mr. Hayden, George J. Tenet, John O. Brennan, Leon E. Panetta, John E. McLaughlin and Michael J. Morell, as well as the former director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr. — most of them unstinting critics of Mr. Trump.

Critics, however, are focused on the period after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when Ms. Haspel ran a secret “black site” C.I.A. prison in Thailand where detainees were subjected to brutal interrogation techniques. She was also involved in approving the destruction of videotapes of interrogation sessions at the Thailand prison. The agency has since closed such prisons and renounced the techniques, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and confinement in boxes.

Among the materials handed over to the Senate are logs of internal chats from a C.I.A. instant messaging system in which Ms. Haspel appeared to raise no objections to the interrogation program or the methods employed against Qaeda suspects, according to an American official, who like others declined to be identified discussing confidential matters.

The official said Ms. Haspel seemed completely comfortable with what was being done to the prisoners. Her allies said she hardly relished the task but was carrying out a program approved by policymakers and lawyers.

Although the Senate has had the chat logs for some time, the White House appeared to learn of them only late last week. Meeting with Ms. Haspel at the White House on Friday, some officials appeared unsatisfied with how she planned to address questions about the interrogation program and the destruction of videotapes, according to current and former officials.

The officials asked pointed questions and appeared skeptical that Ms. Haspel would be able to rebut critics on the Intelligence Committee. Ms. Haspel left the meetings concerned that the administration might not vigorously defend her and that the C.I.A. as a whole was at risk of being abandoned by a president who has previously excoriated the nation’s intelligence agencies.

She was acutely aware of what happened to Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, the White House physician who withdrew his nomination for secretary of veterans affairs amid allegations about his workplace conduct, the current and former officials said.

Ms. Haspel did not want to be the next performer ushered onto the set of the Trump show, humiliated and then sent packing, they said. She agreed to the nomination out a sense of loyalty to the institution, they added, but would be just as happy to step back into her role as deputy.

She recommitted to the nomination after several White House officials, including Marc Short, the legislative director, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary, rushed to C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va., on Friday to make clear they would defend her. Mr. Trump also called to pledge his support. Officials said Ms. Haspel underwent another murder board on Sunday that went well.

Ms. Haspel ignored questions from reporters on Monday on Capitol Hill, where she met with senators on the Intelligence Committee.

“Looking forward to Wednesday,” Ms. Haspel said as she ducked into a meeting with Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, a senior Democrat who has been one of the most persistent critics of the C.I.A.’s use of torture.

Ms. Sanders seemed to obliquely confirm Monday that Ms. Haspel had briefly entertained second thoughts. “She wants to do everything she can to make sure the integrity of the C.I.A. remains intact, isn’t unnecessarily attacked,” she said. “If she felt that her nomination would have been a problem for that and for the agency, then she wanted to do everything she could to protect the agency.”

“At the same time,” Ms. Sanders added, “she wants to do everything she can to protect the safety and security of Americans, which is why she is 100 percent committed to going through this confirmation process and being confirmed as the next leader of the C.I.A.”

One factor working in Ms. Haspel’s favor is who would be nominated if she were rejected, a question weighing on Democrats who fear a more political choice. Mr. Hayden, the author of a new book called “The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies,” said Ms. Haspel was an independent voice who could say no to a volatile president and should not be sacrificed over past decisions made above her pay grade.

“I’m worried about the now. I’m worried about tomorrow,” Mr. Hayden said. “And who else are you going to get who’s going to have the character and the experience that Gina has?”

Democrats, though, pressed for more of an accounting. The C.I.A. has slowly declassified materials about Ms. Haspel’s career. The latest cache came on Monday in a single cardboard box.

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, wrote to Ms. Haspel on Monday calling the lack of transparency “unacceptable” and urging her to use her declassification authority as acting director to make public additional information about her career.

Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, accused the administration of overseeing a “cover-up from A to Z” of Ms. Haspel’s career by selectively declassifying only information favorable to the nominee.

“At every step of the way, the administration has tried to stonewall and kind of cloud this debate with something extraneous,” he said in an interview. “I’m really concerned about the prospect of this setting a precedent for what amounts to secret confirmations. Because if they can continue to do what they have done so far, this won’t be the last secret confirmation you’ll see.”

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News credit : Nytimes