Haspel is uniquely suited to run the CIA

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - BY JOHN CORNYN

Last week, women across the na­tion were watch­ing when the lights came on and the cam­eras rolled at Gina Haspel’s Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing. For an in­tel­li­gence pro­fes­sional who has been shot at over­seas, sur­vived a coup d’état, and qui­etly bro­ken down bar­ri­ers for women through­out her ca­reer, this surely was not one of Haspel’s tougher as­sign­ments.

She has been nom­i­nated for one of the most im­por­tant and most dif­fi­cult jobs in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment — di­rec­tor of the CIA. Haspel would be the first fe­male chief in the agency’s 70-year his­tory.

Any­one who has care­fully stud­ied her record knows that she should be con­firmed for three rea­sons: her qual­i­fi­ca­tions, her char­ac­ter and the spu­ri­ous na­ture of her crit­ics’ claims.

First, her qual­i­fi­ca­tions: Gina Haspel is a 33-year veteran of the CIA and, as such, knows and un­der­stands the agency in­side and out. She has learned and spo­ken at least four lan­guages. She re­ceived field as­sign­ments in Africa and Europe, and has served as sta­tion chief in mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions, as well as deputy di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Clan­des­tine Service, and deputy di­rec­tor of the agency. She won’t have to learn or­ga­ni­za­tional dy­nam­ics on the fly. She’ll hit the ground run­ning and not lose pre­cious time when try­ing to keep our coun­try safe.

Se­cond, Haspel’s char­ac­ter is unim­peach­able. She’s no par­ti­san ap­pointee, though some have tried to la­bel her as com­plicit in sup­posed Repub­li­can sins. The fact is that she per­formed crit­i­cal roles in the world’s premier in­tel­li­gence agency un­der two Demo­cratic pres­i­dents and four Repub­li­can ones. Those who ac­tu­ally know her, who have worked along­side her and fol­lowed the arc of her ca­reer, are un­equiv­o­cal in their praise. Haspel has gar­nered sup­port from, among oth­ers, Michael Hay­den, John Bren­nan, Leon E. Panetta and James R. Clap­per Jr. All were se­nior in­tel­li­gence or De­fense of­fi­cials un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama; all hold her in high re­gard.

Third, her crit­ics at best suf­fer from am­ne­sia and at worst have know­ingly and in­ten­tion­ally ma­ligned some of her ac­tions and in­ten­tions for their own short­sighted ends. What they’ve called into ques­tion is Haspel’s al­leged role in over­see­ing en­hanced in­ter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques in the days im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing 9/11, as well as her su­per­vi­sor’s de­ci­sion to de­stroy video­taped footage of in­ter­ro­ga­tions.

Democrats on the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, in­clud­ing some of her chief crit­ics last week, were re­peat­edly briefed on en­hanced in­ter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques be­tween 2002 and 2007. They were aware of what the in­ter­ro­ga­tion meth­ods were, and that they were be­ing used in iso­lated in­stances to pro­tect the coun­try from sig­nif­i­cant na­tional se­cu­rity threats. Two dif­fer­ent Jus­tice De­part­ments — one un­der Pres­i­dent George W. Bush and an­other un­der Obama — in­ves­ti­gated the pro­gram and ex­on­er­ated Haspel and other in­tel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als. The fact that Congress de­cided af­ter the fact that cer­tain poli­cies were un­wise does not make the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity’s im­ple­men­ta­tion of those poli­cies un­law­ful or other­wise im­proper. In­deed, it was the com­mu­nity’s pro­fes­sional obli­ga­tion to carry them out.

A nar­row fo­cus on this one brief pe­riod in our na­tion’s his­tory ob­scures the CIA’s piv­otal role and suc­cesses across the world over the past three decades. Ris­ing through the agency’s ranks from the Cold War through 9/11 and af­ter, Haspel un­doubt­edly has been in­volved in those achieve­ments. Most are clas­si­fied, but let’s not for­get that the CIA, with a team code-named Jaw­breaker, was “first in” Afghanistan af­ter the twin tow­ers fell in 2001. It was in­te­gral in the raid that ended Osama bin Laden’s reign of ter­ror 10 years later. And as re­cently as six months ago, it helped foil a ter­ror­ist at­tack at a Rus­sian cathe­dral. Haspel’s ca­reer is bet­ter viewed in this broader con­text than through twisted ac­counts of iso­lated episodes, and she de­serves our praise for her ex­tra­or­di­nary service, es­pe­cially dur­ing hours of great peril.

The pres­i­dent re­cently tweeted, “Win Gina!” That is what Haspel — calm and com­posed even un­der in­tense scru­tiny — did at the hear­ing last week, and that’s what she’ll do as the first fe­male di­rec­tor of the CIA. The writer, a Repub­li­can, is the se­nior U.S. sen­a­tor from Texas and a mem­ber of the Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence.

KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

Gina Haspel, Pres­i­dent Trump’s pick to lead the CIA, tes­ti­fies be­fore the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day.

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