By Gabrielle Goldworm
We live in highly uncertain times, and in few places is the more apparent than the current political climate. It often seems like every day the news brings reports of another firing and subsequent hiring of a new official or adviser or head of a government agency with varying degrees of qualification for the position.
Several of the appointments made under the Trump administration have been controversial. For example, Betsy Devos’ background in pushing for undermining the public school system (as well as her underwhelming performance during her confirmation hearing) made her an unpopular choice for Secretary of Education, reports BBC.
Likewise, Trump’s pick for the head of the EPA Scott Pruitt was considered woefully under-informed about the actual role of the agency he was selected to lead. Now, the nation’s scrutiny has turned towards Mike Pompeo’s replacement as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Gina Haspel, a controversial figure in her own right, reports the New Yorker.
Many Americans and media outlets first drew attention to the obvious elephant in the room: if confirmed, Haspel will be the first female CIA director in history, reports CNBC. However, Haspel’s nomination is particularly unique due to a number of factors besides her gender, and it would be highly inaccurate to characterize the decision to nominate her as one based in identity politics.
Prior to her nomination for the Director Position, Haspel served as a career intelligence officer for over 32 years, joining the CIA in 1985 and serving in numerous senior leadership positions, such as the Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service, and Chief of Staff for the Director of the National Clandestine Service, according to the CIA.
She was recognized for her service on numerous occasions, and even received the Presidential Rank Award, the highest award for federal civil service, according to the CIA. Haspel is a career intelligence officer through and through, and if confirmed, she will be the first director since 1973 to not be an outside appointee.
Her colleagues at the agency have expressed their support for her openly, describing her as, “A pro’s pro” and “good for both places, the agency and the state,” reports CNN. While her predecessor Mike Pompeo spent most of his time close to Trump at the White House, Haspel has spent the last several months basically running the agency’s day to day affairs, making her seem even more suited to the position. Essentially, Haspel is, at first glance, a natural choice now that Pompeo is set to become the new Secretary of State.
However, a dark cloud hangs over confirmation, one that human rights groups, media outlets, and outraged Americans have found difficult to ignore. During her time working in clandestine service, she oversaw a CIA black site in Thailand, where she oversaw the interrogation and torture of a terror suspect, reports CNN.
Her name also appeared on a cable outlining instructions to destroy video evidence of the interrogations. Because of this, Haspel now faces tough confirmation hearing; even some Republican senators who believe her more than technically qualified for the position have stated that she will likely be faced with “tough questions” about the nature of her involvement with Bush Era torture programs.
On the other side of the line, not all Democratic senators have been quick to condemn Haspel, stating that they will remain “on the fence” until after her hearing.
One look at Haspel’s extensive resume with the agency makes it easy to assume her confirmation hearing, however rocky it may be, will result in her becoming the new director of the CIA. Her experience both as an agent and in numerous leadership positions, her commendations and awards, and the support of her colleges and numerous officials outside the agency give every indication that she would serve effectively and with distinction.
History is unlikely to look favorably upon her nomination as far as human rights are concerned, but her time as Director is equally unlikely to be marked with disorganization, infighting, or incompetence. To understand the nature of clandestine service is to understand that it is not a career usually populated with saints; it is a grey business filled with individuals forced to make difficult decisions in the name of protecting their country.
Perhaps it is naïve to expect the head of the largest clandestine service agency in the world to come with both a wealth of experience, and no skeletons in their closet. For Haspel, only time will tell how the agency and the history books will look back on her time as Director.