Gina Haspel, who is set to become the first-ever female director of the CIA, had a “leading role” in the torture of two terrorism suspects – and later helped secure an order to destroy videotapes documenting the interrogations.
US President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday that Haspel would become the new head of the intelligence agency, after he made the shock announcement that her boss, Mike Pompeo, would become Secretary of State.
The reshuffle came after Trump unilaterally fired Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, announcing the move on Twitter.
So who is the woman Trump has picked to set a “historic milestone” in the CIA’s history?
A DARK PAST
Haspel, who joined the CIA in 1985, is alleged to have run a “black site” prison in Thailand where suspects were waterboarded after 9/11.
Suspected al-Qaida members Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri were tortured in 2002 at the site, codenamed Cat’s Eye, according to reports that surfaced after CIA cables on the interrogation of Zubaydah were declassified in January 2017.
Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in a month, was deprived of sleep, kept in a “large box”, had his head slammed against a wall, and lost an eye during his time there.
He was later deemed not to have been in possession of any useful intelligence.
Commenting on the appointment, director of Reprieve Maya Foa, called Haspel one of former US President George Bush’s “torturers-in-chief” and said she was “simply not fit to hold an office that requires, at its very heart, a commitment to uphold the values of the Constitution”.
Foa added: “This is another example of Donald Trump’s backward-looking reliance on people and methods that have failed. The bright ideas of the CIA during the ‘War on Terror’ – from Guantánamo and black sites to torture and rendition – did nothing to make America safer. Promoting the people responsible for that failure of strategy shows weakness and not strength from the President.
“This appointment should be a warning to allies of the US in the UK, Europe and around the world to rethink their cooperation with an administration which has refused again and again to show respect for the values we all share.”
Haspel was also said to have helped carry out an order that the CIA destroy its waterboarding videos.
The CIA has maintained that it was Haspel’s then boss, Jose Rodriguez, who ordered the destruction of the tapes, the New York Times reported.
Years later, when the CIA wanted Haspel herself to run the National Clandestine Service for the CIA, Senator Dianne Feinstein, then the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, blocked the promotion due to her role in destroying the tapes, the New York Times added.
When asked if her appointment to the director role would see a return to the use of “black sites,” a CIA spokesperson told CBS News:
This appointment is simply about putting in place the best person for the job.”
According to the NYT, Haspel has spent most of her career undercover and played a key role in the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition program”.
Under the programme, captured militants were handed to foreign governments and held at secret facilities where they were tortured by agency operatives.
Haspel was made acting deputy director of the National Clandestine Service – which carries out covert missions worldwide – in 2013, under then director John Brennan, but was denied the position permanently due to criticism about her involvement in the interrogation programme.
COMING UP TRUMPS
In February 2017 Trump made her the deputy director of the CIA despite several members of the Senate intelligence committee reportedly urging him to reconsider.
Director Pompeo said at the time: “Gina is an exemplary intelligence officer and a devoted patriot who brings more than 30 years of Agency experience to the job. She is also a proven leader with an uncanny ability to get things done and to inspire those around her.
“We are fortunate that someone of her intellect, skill, and experience will be our Deputy Director. I know she will do an outstanding job, and I look forward to working with her closely in the years ahead.”
Christopher Anders, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office, said in February that he was “gravely concerned” about Pompeo’s decision to choose Haspel as his deputy.
According to CBS, he said: “Pompeo must explain to the American people how his promotion of someone allegedly involved in running a torture site squares with his own sworn promises to Congress that he will reject all forms of torture and abuse.”
Haspel is the recipient of the George HW Bush Award for excellence in counterterrorism, the Donovan Award, the Intelligence Medal of Merit and the Presidential Rank Award.
During more than three-decades in the CIA, Haspel has held several senior positions in Washington, including her role as deputy director of the National Clandestine Service for Foreign Intelligence and Covert Action.
The 61-year-old also served as the agency’s top representative in London.
PLEASED WITH HER NEW GIG
“After 30 years as an officer of the Central Intelligence Agency, it has been my honor to serve as its Deputy Director alongside Mike Pompeo for the past year,” Haspel said in an official statement.
“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.”