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Who is Gina Haspel?

Gina Haspel could be the first woman director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), America’s external spy agency, founded in 1947. Currently the Deputy Director of the CIA, she has been nominated by President Donald Trump for the post. The appointment requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

Why is she controversial?

Ms. Haspel’s controversial past is haunting her ahead of the confirmation hearing. Several Senators, Democrats and Republicans, have raised concerns about her role in enhanced interrogation techniques used by the agency against Islamist suspects in the aftermath of 9/11.

Her career spanning over three decades in the CIA has been controversial for multiple reasons. She oversaw a CIA ‘black site’ in Thailand in 2002. The site was the subject of a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, and it is now known that Ms. Haspel was in charge of the facility when Abd al-Rahim al-Nashira, a Saudi national detained for suspected links to al-Qaeda’s bombing of the American destroyer USS Cole in 2000, was tortured. Ms. Haspel was chief of staff to the director of the National Clandestine Service, Jose Rodriguez, in 2005 when the agency destroyed all tapes of black site interrogations. In his memoirs, Mr. Rodriguez absolved her of all responsibility for this decision, as she was only relaying his decision to relevant people.

What is the CIA view?

The CIA itself has launched an influence operation on her behalf, tweeting a series of posts that sought to project an image different from public perception. The CIA profile of their prospective director builds her up as a patriotic, heroic and almost legendary figure. “Gina was born in Ashland, Kentucky, the oldest of five children. Her father served in the Air Force, having joined at 17, and she grew up on military bases overseas,” the CIA said. She came to understand that the CIA was a place “where women could serve doing clandestine work around the world.” And she “typed up a letter on her college manual typewriter and sent it off. On the outside of the envelope, she wrote simply, ‘CIA, Washington, D.C’.”

What is her work profile?

Ms. Haspel’s first overseas assignment was as a case officer in Africa. “Gina Haspel arrived during the closing days of the Cold War and had a front-row seat as the struggle played out. She recalls the initial shock of witnessing grinding poverty, and the excitement of carrying out a clandestine mission amid billboards plastered with Marxist-Leninist slogans. She travelled the region, learned to recruit and handle agents…….Ms. Haspel’s first posting as a Chief of Station soon followed. She ran a small station in an exotic and tumultuous capital…,” the CIA said.

Will she be cleared?

In the U.S. Senate, the Republicans have a narrow majority of 51-49. One of the party Senators, Rand Paul, has already announced that he will oppose Ms. Haspel’s confirmation. Senator John McCain, who is battling cancer, may miss the vote or vote against her. At the same time, some key Democratic Senators like Mark Warner, Vice-Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have kept the option open. Given the high stakes and the volatile senate politics, Ms. Haspel has been doing the rounds of Capitol Hill to mobilise support for herself. She has been telling senators that the interrogation tactics and the overall operational approach of the agency soon after 9/11 have long been discontinued and, if confirmed, she would follow the law in letter and in spirit. What could complicate her confirmation is also Mr. Trump’s own views expressed during the 2016 campaign that “torture works” and he wanted to allow waterboarding. The White House is reportedly accounting for the possibility of her nomination falling through.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 2:14:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/who-is-gina-haspel/article23401900.ece

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