President Trump’s nominee for CIA director, Gina Haspel, is set to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. As a strong supporter of her nomination, I expect she will do very well.
Despite her opponents’ attempts to paint her as an ideological zealot, Haspel is a consummate professional whose record of accomplishment, bipartisan support, and clear love of country make her an excellent choice to lead our nation’s top intelligence agency.
Unlike many nominees in recent years, Haspel isn’t the representative of a political faction. She’s a career intelligence officer with over 30 years of experience.
Haspel joined the CIA in 1985, working as a case officer for several years in both Africa and Europe. Over time, she rose up the ranks, serving as deputy director of the National Clandestine Service and chief of staff for the director of operations.
In addition, Haspel served as chief of station – that is, the agent responsible for overseeing all of the CIA’s work in a foreign country – four times. If confirmed, she would be the first CIA director in decades who has spent her entire career at the agency – as well as the first woman to lead the agency.
Having served under six different presidents from both parties, Haspel is far from an ideologue. She’s an institutionalist who has put in so many years of work that she commands respect throughout the rank and file at the CIA.
Haspel’s opponents have tried to use a small sliver of her career against her by arguing, essentially, that she was just too tough on Al Qaeda for this country to bear. But I’d argue that her willingness to serve in what was a highly stressful post only enhances the case for her confirmation.
In the early 2000s, as the fight against Islamist terrorism heated up, Haspel asked to be reassigned to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, where her first day on the job was Sept. 11, 2001.
It’s easy to forget that we lost 3,000 Americans that day in the worst attacks on American soil since Pearl Harbor – and that this was an especially trying time for all those working on national security.
As former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently said: “If you were not in a position of authority on 9/11, you have no idea the pressures we faced to make sure that this country wasn’t attacked again.”
And yet Haspel volunteered for the mission, later earning the George H.W. Bush Award, granted for excellence in counterterrorism; the Intelligence Medal of Merit; and the Presidential Rank Award, the most prestigious distinction in all of federal civil service.
It’s true, as her critics charge, that Haspel was involved in the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, but once again, their potshots miss the mark. The president approved this program, Congress was fully briefed on it, and it included multiple layers of legal review.
Haspel did draft a cable authorizing the destruction of video recordings of a small number of these interrogations. But it was her direct supervisor who sent the cable – and did so without her knowledge.
In fact, Mike Morell, former acting director of the CIA, later conducted an investigation and cleared Haspel of any wrongdoing, and the special counsel who reviewed the matter closed the case without filing any charges. So instead of demonstrating a troubling tendency to go rogue, Haspel’s tenure shows a fierce dedication to the CIA’s mission and to keeping this country safe.
Haspel’s skill and expertise are widely known and respected on both sides of the aisle. President Obama’s former CIA Director Leon Panetta said he was “glad” the president nominated Haspel because she “knows the CIA inside-out.”
Another former CIA director under President Obama, John Brennan, said Haspel “has the experience – the breadth and depth – on intelligence issues.”
And former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who served under both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, has called Haspel a “great choice” and “highly regarded.”
These are just three of the over 50 former national security officials who signed a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee supporting Haspel’s nomination.
Haspel’s critics maintain that confirming her nomination would send a message to the world that the U.S. endorses torture. But in fact, rejection would send a message of another kind to the men and women of our intelligence community.
By rejecting Haspel’s nomination, the Senate would, in effect, warn people working in our intelligence community that if they ever participate in a program that the president has approved and Congress has been briefed on – and that program later becomes unpopular – they will be barred for promotion and open to character assassination.
Haspel’s critics often claim to care for the morale of our intelligence community, but what would hurt morale more than such a move?
Gina Haspel has spent her life defending our country. Her experience makes her a prime choice to lead the CIA at this dangerous time.
As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I’ve worked with her during her time as deputy CIA chief and can attest to her professionalism, her work ethic, and – most important of all – her character.
It’s perhaps not as well known that the reason Haspel joined the CIA was that her first choice for a college, West Point, wasn’t accepting female candidates at the time. It would be a real loss for America if her country rejected her services yet again.