Gina Haspel, a career clandestine officer with the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) and former station chief in London, is the agency’s newest director. Haspel was confirmed by the Senate in May 2018, and she has led the agency since then.
While it is still to early to tell whether Haspel’s tenure as CIA Director will be a successful one, her appointment itself represents a major achievement for the agency. That’s because Haspel is not only the first career employee-turned Director since 1976, she is also the first female director of the CIA.
Gina Haspel just recently replaced Mike Pompeo as director of the CIA. Pompeo was promoted to Secretary of State after Donald Trump fired Rex Tillerson in April. Despite the fact that she was appointed as a replacement, however, Haspel is no second fiddle.
She has been working for the CIA for over 32 years, and she’s earned high praise from top national security leaders like former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director Michael Hayden.
As a result of her extensive service for the agency, Haspel claims to know “the CIA like the back of [her] hand.” To many, this makes her a clear choice for the Director position. However, her appointment was far from cut-and-dried.
Most agree that Gina Haspel is exceptionally qualified for her new job as Director of the CIA. However, her past participation in certain enhanced interrogation tactics raised some concern about whether she would take the agency in a more arcane direction.
As Paul Pillar, a 28-year veteran of the CIA and fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies, explained, “due to the nature of her work, the public has only an opaque picture of how exactly Haspel operates.”
However, her known work history includes some activities that many considered politically untenable. Prior to Haspel’s confirmation, the CIA declassified some information about her work history at the agency. This declassified information revealed that Haspel had a role in controversial enhanced interrogation – what some would call torture – methods used by U.S. intelligence agencies during the George W. Bush administration.
As one would imagine, Haspel’s role with in enhanced interrogations were brought into question during her confirmation hearing. Specifically, the Senate Intelligence Committee was concerned about Haspel’s work in Thailand.
Advanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation, were utilized at this blacksite while Haspel was in charge. And, what’s worse, videotapes of interrogations that took place at the blacksite in 2005 had been destroyed, leading many to question whether she had led a cover-up.
Haspel pushed back against pointed questions. “After 9/11 … I stepped up,” she explained to the Senate at her confirmation hearing.
“I was not on the sidelines, I was on the frontlines in the Cold War and I was on the frontlines in the fight against Al Qaeda,” she continued. Despite concerns surround Haspel’s past, however, she was confirmed as by a 54 to 45 vote.
Haspel was confirmed by the Senate along a party-line vote, indicating substantial support from the Republican majority. That being said, her allegiance to the Trump Administration was called into question directly following her swearing in.
Following Haspel’s appointment, many of President Trump’s supporters accused her of being a part of the “deep state.” Specifically, President Trump’s supporters were concerned whether she knew of the FBI’s interview of an Australian diplomat in London, which occurred while Haspel was the CIA London Station Chief.
The degree to which she was involved in what Trump supporters see as the ongoing “witch hunt” against President Trump. In a letter to her, Senator Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, even directly asked her whether the CIA had been involved in “spying” on President Trump or if the agency had cooperated with foreign intelligence services to monitor President Trump in the years prior to his election.
Despite the concerns of his constituents, President Trump remains in full support of Haspel and has, in fact, congratulated her on becoming the first woman to lead “the most elite intelligence professionals on the planet.”
However, this is expected to change since President Trump’s comments at the Helsinki Summit, inarguably further undermining the U.S. Intelligence community. In fact, former CIA Director John Brennan has warned that she will “need to be on top of their game now and speak the truth to power.”
How this political turmoil will unfold remain anyone’s guess. However, for the time being, her appointment represents an important step forward for women in leadership. This is a particularly proud achievement for the CIA, which has been working hard to boost opportunities for women at the agency.
Women are underrepresented in leadership across the world, and the U.S. is no exception. In fact, the U.S. was recently ranked 100th out of 193 world governments for women’s representation in national politics.
As a result, the appointment of the first female leader of the nation’s top intelligence agency represents a major step forward in solving issues of gender inequality in national governance.
The working group leading the initiative published a report showing that, despite the fact that nearly half of all CIA employees were female, women still faced unconscious biases that maintained frustrating glass ceilings.
One of the lead authors of the report shared her own experiences as a woman working for the CIA. “In my 30+ years here, I never experienced what I would consider outright discrimination per se,” she said.
“But early in my career, I had managers who made comments like, ‘That was really well done. Good girl!’ or someone on a performance review one time wrote, ‘She’s as good an employee as she is a new mother.’
I don’t think that would happen today. People would really be called out on it. But back then, that was [acceptable].”
Haspel may have been a controversial appointment, but she remains an important historical milestone in the CIA’s history. Under President Trump, the CIA is being led by it’s first-ever female director. For the nation’s sake, we’re all hoping that her career will continue to be a great success.