Re­volv­ing doors at the White House

REX TILLER­SON Pres­i­dent Trump ousts sec­re­tary of state be­cause they dis­agreed on for­eign pol­icy strate­gies GINA HASPEL For­mer spy linked to tor­ture site in Thai­land be­comes first fe­male nom­i­nee for CIA di­rec­tor MIKE POM­PEO The man tapped to re­place Tiller

National Post (Latest Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - GREG MILLER AND SHANE HAR­RIS

U. S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Tues­day nom­i­nated CIA vet­eran Gina Haspel to be the spy agency’s next di­rec­tor, tap­ping a woman who spent mul­ti­ple tours over­seas and is re­spected by the work­force but is deeply tied to the agency’s use of bru­tal in­ter­ro­ga­tion mea­sures on ter­ror­ism sus­pects.

Haspel, 61, would be­come the first woman to lead the CIA if she is con­firmed to suc­ceed out­go­ing di­rec­tor Mike Pom­peo, who has been nom­i­nated to serve as Sec­re­tary of State. Pom­peo will suc­ceed Rex Tiller­son who was sacked Tues­day, end­ing a rocky ten­ure in an abrupt move that stunned the for­mer Exxon Mo­bil CEO.

But Haspel’s se­lec­tion faced im­me­di­ate op­po­si­tion from some law­mak­ers and hu­man rights groups be­cause of her prom­i­nent role in one of the agency’s dark­est chap­ters.

Haspel was in charge of one of the CIA’s “black site” pris­ons where de­tainees were sub­jected to wa­ter­board­ing and other har­row­ing in­ter­ro­ga­tion mea­sures widely con­demned as tor­ture.

When those meth­ods were ex­posed and their le­gal­ity came un­der scru­tiny, Haspel was among a group of CIA of­fi­cials in­volved in the de­ci­sion to de­stroy video­tapes of in­ter­ro­ga­tion ses­sions that left some de­tainees on the brink of phys­i­cal col­lapse.

Trump an­nounced the move on Twit­ter on Tues­day, say­ing that Pom­peo would move to the State De­part­ment and that Haspel would “be­come the new Di­rec­tor of the CIA, and the first woman so cho­sen. Con­grat­u­la­tions to all!”

Jameel Jaf­fer, for­merly deputy le­gal di­rec­tor of the ACLU, said Tues­day on his Twit­ter feed that Haspel is “quite lit­er­ally a war crim­i­nal.”

Haspel spent much of her 33-year CIA ca­reer in un­der­cover as­sign­ments over­seas and at CIA head­quar­ters, in­clud­ing serv­ing as the agency’s top rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Lon­don and as the act­ing head of its clan­des­tine ser­vice in 2013.

Cur­rent and for­mer U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials who have worked with Haspel praised her as an ef­fec­tive leader who could be ex­pected to stand up to the pres­sures that Trump has of­ten placed on spy agen­cies — in­clud­ing his de­nun­ci­a­tions of the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity’s con­clu­sion that Rus­sia in­ter­fered in the 2016 elec­tion.

Of­fi­cials de­scribed Haspel as a con­sum­mate “in­sider” and said CIA em­ploy­ees would greet her ap­point- ment with some re­lief, be­cause an in­tel­li­gence vet­eran would be back in charge.

Haspel has al­most no pub­lic pro­file. But she is a vis­i­ble pres­ence in­side CIA head­quar­ters, run­ning day-to-day oper­a­tions while Pom­peo han­dles the pub­lic- fac­ing as­pects of the job, mak­ing speeches and me­dia ap­pear­ances, and meet­ing with the pres­i­dent.

“This is not some­one who has sharp el­bows, but she is a sharp com­peti­tor,” said a for­mer se­nior in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial, who in­sisted on anonymity to dis­cuss Haspel.

In­side CIA, Haspel has ad­vo­cated a more ag­gres­sive ap­proach to over­seas oper­a­tions. She had also led the agency’s work on Rus­sia, which could put her at odds with a pres­i­dent who has ac­cused in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials of try­ing to un­der­mine his elec­tion by stat­ing that Rus­sia in­ter­fered in the 2016 elec­tion to help get Trump elected.

Her ex­ten­sive i nvolve­ment in a covert pro­gram that used har­row­ing in­ter­ro­ga­tion mea­sures on al- Qaida sus­pects resur­faced l ast year when she was named deputy di­rec­tor of the CIA af­ter Trump had sig­nalled as a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date that he would con­sider re- es­tab­lish­ing agency pris­ons and re­sum­ing in­ter­ro­ga­tion meth­ods that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama had banned. Trump never fol­lowed through on that plan, which was op­posed by se­nior mem­bers of his ad­min­is­tra­tion in­clud­ing Sec­re­tary of De­fense Jim Mat­tis.

Haspel ran one of the first CIA black sites, a com­pound in Thai­land code- named “Cat’s Eye,” where al- Qaida sus­pects Zayn al- Abidin Muhammed Hus­sein, bet­ter known as Abu Zubaida, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were sub­jected to wa­ter­board­ing and other tech­niques in 2002.

An ex­haus­tive Se­nate re­port on the pro­gram de­scribed the fright­en­ing toll in­flicted. At one point, the re­port said, Zubaida was left “com­pletely un­re­spon­sive, with bub­bles ris­ing through his open, full mouth.”

In­ter­nal CIA memos cited in a Se­nate re­port on the agency’s in­ter­ro­ga­tion pro­gram de­scribed agency of­fi­cials who wit­nessed the treat­ment as dis­traught and con­cerned about its le­gal­ity. “Sev­eral on the team pro­foundly af­fected,” one agency em­ployee wrote, “... some to the point of tears and chok­ing up.”

Ha spell a terser vedas chief of staff to the head of the agency’s Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Cen­ter, Jose Ro­driguez, when he or­dered the de­struc­tion of dozens of video­tapes made at the Thai­land site.

Ro­driguez wrote in his me­moir that Haspel “drafted a ca­ble” or­der­ing the tapes’ de­struc­tion in 2005 as the pro­gram came un­der mount­ing pub­lic scru­tiny and that he then “took a deep breath of weary sat­is­fac­tion and hit Send.”

The Jus­tice De­part­ment spent sev­eral years in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­leged abuses in the in­ter­ro­ga­tion pro­gram and the de­struc­tion of the tapes, but no charges were ever filed.

When she was named deputy CIA di­rec­tor last year, the agency took the un­usual step of so­lic­it­ing tes­ti­mo­ni­als from seven for­mer top in­tel­li­gence and con­gres­sional of­fi­cials. Their state­ments of sup­port were in­cluded in the agency’s re­lease. For­mer CIA di­rec­tor Michael Hay­den de­scribed Haspel as “a trusted friend, lieu­tenant and guide to the some­times opaque cor­ri­dors of Amer­i­can es­pi­onage.”

Some be­lieve she had been un­fairly pe­nal­ized for her role in coun­tert­er­ror­ism oper­a­tions that were launched af­ter the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks and car­ried out with the le­gal ap­proval of the Jus­tice De­part­ment.



Nom­i­nated to lead the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency, Gina Haspel once ran a se­cret in­ter­ro­ga­tion op­er­a­tion in Thai­land ac­cused of tor­tur­ing de­tainees.


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