Haspel, first woman nominated to head CIA, controversial for 'black sites' role

March 13, 2018 - 1:18 pm

(WASHINGTON) -- With CIA Director Mike Pompeo nominated to be the next secretary of state, career intelligence officer Gina Haspel will become, if confirmed, the first woman to head the CIA.

Currently serving as the agency's deputy director, Haspel is well-regarded within the agency, but her historic nomination is likely to focus attention on her reported role in the CIA's "black sites" - the overseas prisons the agency used to hold top al Qaeda terrorists.

Haspel joined the CIA in 1985 and has held a series of high-ranking positions at the intelligence agency throughout her lengthy career. She has served as the agency's Deputy Director since Feb. 7, 2017.

According to her official CIA biography, Haspel "has extensive overseas experience and served as Chief of Station in several of her assignments."

Haspel has held several senior leadership positions within the agency's National Clandestine Service that oversees the agency's spy operations overseas and its most covert operations programs.

She served as Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service, Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service for Foreign Intelligence and Covert Action, and Chief of Staff for the Director of the National Clandestine Service.

A decorated CIA officer, Haspel has been awarded the George H. W. Bush Award for excellence in counterterrorism, the Donovan Award, and the Intelligence Medal of Merit. She is also a recipient of the Presidential Rank Award, the most prestigious award in the federal civil service.

Haspel's nomination to be the first female CIA director is historic, but her Senate confirmation hearings will likely shine a spotlight on her role in the agency's controversial rendition program in which top al Qaeda detainees were held in secret CIA "black sites" overseas.

Haspel reportedly headed the agency's "black site" in Thailand that, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA's rendition program, held senior al Qaeda operatives Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Raham al-Nashiri.

The report determined that Zubaydah was subjected to the controversial practice of waterboarding to gather intelligence about al Qaeda's operations. Waterboarding was among the "enhanced interrogation techniques" the CIA used on top al Qaeda detainees that human rights groups said amounted to torture.

Human Rights Watch has pointed to her leadership positions during the timeframe that the CIA carried out its rendition program and "black site" prisons as a sign that she would have had direct knowledge of the controversial programs.

There have also been reports that she advocated for the destruction of video recordings of Zubaydah's interrogations conducted at the black site she ran in Thailand.

Those videos were destroyed by the CIA in 2005 and triggered an investigation that resulted in no charges.

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