Gina Haspel will become the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Haspel has made history by becoming the first female Director of the CIA. She has been considered a controversial pick over her role in a Bush-era torture program initiated by the CIA.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is a civilian foreign intelligence service of the United States federal government. The agency is in-charge of gathering, processing, and analyzing national security information from around the world. The CIA is known for using HUMINT (human intelligence) methods to gather data. Formed in 1947, the organization reports to the Director of National Intelligence and is primarily focused on providing intelligence for the President and Cabinet. In 2013, The Washington Post reported that in fiscal year 2010, the CIA had the largest budget of all IC agencies, exceeding previous estimates. The scope of CIA exponentially increased in wake of the 9/11 attacks in New York.
Since 2017, the Director of the CIA has also been a cabinet-level position. The Director of the CIA is nominated by the President of the United States. He or she can either be a member of the armed forces or a civilian. The appointment must be then confirmed by a majority vote of the Senate. There is no fixed term on how long the Director of the CIA can serve. Counter terrorism is the main agenda for the CIA.
Through its history, CIA has never had a woman heading the agency. In fact, it was only in 2010, when a woman, Letitia "Tish" Long, was appointed to head a major intelligence agency in the US (National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency).
US President Donald Trump on March 2018 announced that he was nominating Gina Haspel as the next Director of the CIA. The current CIA head Mike Pompeo, who was appointed in 2017, will likely become the nation’s next Secretary of State replacing Rex Tillerson. President Trump made this announcement through Twitter noting, “Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!”
Haspel has been with the agency since 1981 and is relatively low profile. Perhaps it is because she has spent much of her career undercover. She has received several awards, including the George H. W. Bush Award for excellence in counterterrorism and the Presidential Rank Award, the highest award in the federal civil service.
However, her service is not without its controversies. According to a report from the New York Times, Haspel had overseen the torture of two suspects at a secret prison in Thailand. These incidents reportedly took place in 2002. In addition, the report (published in 2017) also detailed that she had video tapes with incriminating evidence destroyed afterward. The report states that one of the detainees of this secret prison had been waterboarded 83 times. Waterboarding was a form of interrogation that makes the person being subject to it think they are being drowned. Experts have stated that this is similar to torture. In 2006, the Bush administration banned the use of waterboarding as a method of interrogating prisoners. These details are likely to make it difficult during Haspel’s confirmation hearings with the Congress.
In May 2018, Haspel was confirmed as the first female director of the CIA after getting a 54-45 vote with help from half a dozen Senate Democrats. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, called Donald Trump’s choice of Haspel to lead the agency “the right woman at the right time”. Critics of Haspel have stated that it wasn’t the right move to promote someone who supervised a “black site” in Thailand. Some US lawmakers also raised concerns over the fact that Haspel had not been forthcoming regarding some of the questions posed to her during the Senate confirmation hearings. Republican Senator John McCain, who has been away from Washington all year as he battles brain cancer, urged the Senate not to vote for Haspel. He himself had been subjected to torture after becoming a Prisoner of War during the Vietnam war.
However, Haspel has the support of some key Democrats as well. Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, noted, “I believe she is someone who can and will stand up to the President, who will speak truth to power if this President orders her to do something illegal or immoral, like a return to torture.”
Our assessment is that Haspel’s confirmation is likely to cause concern among those who fear her own personal opinions on extreme interrogation techniques. However, this should not deter from the historic nature of Haspel’s confirmation. It highlights the subject of women heading top intelligence agencies across the world. Even though women have successfully held such positions across the world, especially in UK’s MI-5, such cases are still rare. It should also be noted that through its history, women have proved to be adept at covert operations within the CIA and it is now time for a woman to head the agency.