Haspel con­firmed as CIA di­rec­tor

She’ll lead agency de­spite scru­tiny over tor­ture role

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Deb Riech­mann and Lisa Mascaro

The Se­nate voted to ap­prove Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump's choice to lead the CIA, in a vic­tory over crit­ics who wanted Gina Haspel’s pro­mo­tion re­jected over the agency’s his­tory of tor­ture.

WASH­ING­TON — Vet­eran spy Gina Haspel will be­come the first fe­male di­rec­tor of the CIA af­ter six Democrats joined Repub­li­cans in a Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion vote Thurs­day that over­rode con­cerns about her role in the spy agency’s harsh in­ter­ro­ga­tion pro­gram af­ter 9/11.

The 54-45 vote split both par­ties, and the mar­gin was the clos­est for a CIA nom­i­nee in the nearly seven decades that a nod from the Se­nate has been re­quired.

Haspel, who has spent nearly all of her 33-year CIA ca­reer in un­der­cover po­si­tions, is the first ca­reer op­er­a­tions of­fi­cer to be con­firmed since Wil­liam Colby in 1973.

Haspel, 61, is a na­tive of Ken­tucky but grew up around the world as the daugh­ter of an Air Force ser­vice­man. She worked in Africa, Europe and clas­si­fied lo­ca­tions around the globe and was tapped as deputy di­rec­tor of the CIA last year. She worked un­der for­mer CIA Di­rec­tor Mike Pom­peo until Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump moved him to sec­re­tary of state.

Haspel was backed by many in the CIA rank-and­file and was ro­bustly sup­ported by se­nior in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing six for­mer CIA di­rec­tors and three for­mer na­tional in­tel­li­gence di­rec­tors, who said she earned the chance to take the helm of the na­tion’s premier spy agency.

Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Di­rec­tor Dan Coats said Haspel has in­tegrity and both front­line and ex­ec­u­tive in­tel­li­gence ex­per­tise. “We salute Di­rec­tor Haspel, a trail­blazer who to­day be­comes the first woman to lead the CIA,” he said.

For­mer CIA Di­rec­tors John Bren­nan and Leon Panetta con­tacted at least five of the six Democrats who voted to en­dorse her bid to join Trump’s Cab­i­net, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple with knowl­edge of the in­ter­ac­tions.

Her op­po­nents ar­gued that it wasn’t right to pro­mote some­one who su­per­vised a covert de­ten­tion site in Thai­land where terror sus­pects were wa­ter­boarded, an in­ter­ro­ga­tion tech­nique that sim­u­lates drown­ing. They said the U.S. needed to close what was one of the CIA’s dark­est chap­ters that tainted Amer­ica’s im­age with al­lies abroad.

Sev­eral sen­a­tors said Haspel was not forth­com­ing in an­swer­ing ques­tions about her role in the tor­ture pro­gram or the CIA’s de­ci­sion to de­stroy video-taped ev­i­dence of the ses­sions. They also had ques­tions about her re­jec­tion of the now-banned tech­niques.

Sen. Ron Wy­den, D-Ore., said in a floor speech that Haspel “of­fered up al­most the clas­sic Wash­ing­ton non­apol­ogy.”

He asked how the Se­nate could take se­ri­ously Haspel’s “con­ver­sion on tor­ture?”

Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., said the world was watch­ing the con­fir­ma­tion vote, which he called a “ref­er­en­dum on tor­ture.” He said the “en­hanced in­ter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques” the CIA used at black sites, in­clud­ing slam­ming de­tainees against walls and con­fin­ing them in cof­fin-shaped boxes, amounted to “gov­ern­ment-sanc­tioned tor­ture.”

Haspel has vowed never to restart such a pro­gram and says her “strong moral compass” would pre­vent her from car­ry­ing out any pres­i­den­tial or­der she found ob­jec­tion­able. That was enough to coax some sen­a­tors into the “yes” col­umn.

But Leahy said he still ques­tioned her judg­ment and lamented that she has never pub­licly con­demned tor­ture as “im­moral.”

He won­dered aloud what Haspel would do if she’s asked to do some­thing that goes against Amer­ica’s core val­ues. “Should we trust that she will have the moral compass to stand up and say N`o?’ ” he asked. “Based on what we’ve seen, I do not.”

Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, DCalif., said the nom­i­na­tion was not just about Haspel, but the U.S. grap­pling with its past mis­takes.

“The bot­tom line is this: No one has ever been held ac­count­able for the tor­ture pro­gram and I do not be­lieve those who were in­ti­mately in­volved in it de­serve to lead the agency,” Fe­in­stein said be­fore cast­ing her vote against Haspel.

Since Trump nom­i­nated Haspel, her con­fir­ma­tion has been clouded by de­bate over the CIA’s for­mer in­ter­ro­ga­tion pro­gram. A pro­tester in the Se­nate vis­i­tor gallery briefly dis­rupted speeches ahead of the vote with shouts against the CIA.

Two Repub­li­cans voted against Haspel — Sen. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky and Sen. Jeff Flake of Ari­zona. Sen. John McCain of Ari­zona, who is bat­tling can­cer, op­posed her but did not vote.

Six Democrats, how­ever, were heart­ened by her pledge to never restart harsh in­ter­ro­ga­tion pro­grams, even if Trump re­quested. They said they voted for Haspel be­cause they thought her ex­pe­ri­ence was es­sen­tial in con­fronting to­day’s threats from U.S. ad­ver­saries like Rus­sia, North Korea, China and Iran.

Among Democrats sup­port­ing Haspel were sev­eral up for re-elec­tion this fall in states where Trump is pop­u­lar, in­clud­ing Sen. Joe Don­nelly of In­di­ana, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Vir­ginia and Sen. Bill Nelson in Florida. Also vot­ing yes were Sen. Jeanne Sha­heen of New Hamp­shire and Sen. Mark Warner of Vir­ginia, the rank­ing mem­ber of the in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee.

“This has not been an easy de­ci­sion,” Warner said, adding that he had met and talked with Haspel many times re­cently. He said he is con­vinced that Haspel would stand up to Trump, who has said “tor­ture works.”

Af­ter the vote, hu­man rights groups de­nounced the con­fir­ma­tion and the now-de­funct pro­gram.

“The Se­nate has now re­warded that atro­cious con­duct by pro­mot­ing some­one that re­port­edly ad­min­is­tered it to lead one of the gov­ern­ment’s most pow­er­ful agen­cies,” said Daphne Evi­atar at Amnesty In­ter­na­tional USA.

MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

MAN­DEL NGAN/GETTY-AFP

Gina Haspel, 61, will be­come the first fe­male di­rec­tor of the CIA af­ter the Se­nate’s 54-45 con­fir­ma­tion vote Thurs­day.

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