Senate affirms Haspel nomination to lead intelligence agency.
Intelligence officer will be first woman to lead 70-year-old agency
The Senate confirmed Gina Haspel on Thursday to lead the CIA, lofting the career intelligence officer into history as the first woman to head America’s top spy service.
Ms. Haspel was approved on a 54-45 vote, but only after navigating a lengthy debate over her role in the agency’s harsh interrogation and detention programs conducted on terror suspects after 9/11, which critics say amounted to torture. The vote was also a victory for President Trump, whose pick attracted a number of red-state Democrats to put her over the top.
Ms. Haspel formally replaces Mike Pompeo as CIA director and will be the first career clandestine service officer promoted from within to oversee the agency since William Colby in the 1970s.
In debate before the vote, Senate Intelligence committee Chairman Richard Burr praised the depth of her experience.
“She is intimately familiar with the threats facing our nation,” the North Carolina Republican said. “Where others can discuss world events, Gina Haspel has lived those events. She has no learning curve.”
But the issue that shadowed Ms. Haspel’s entire nomination process, her role running a secret CIA “black site” prison in Thailand and her knowledge of interrogation tactics used there, including waterboarding, also surfaced repeatedly before Thursday’s vote.
The final tally was the closest vote for a CIA nominee in nearly seven decades, since the law was changed to require Senate confirmation.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the intelligence panel, supported her but also said, “Americans have a duty to look squarely at our mistakes and to not sweep them under the rug, but to learn from them, and in the future do better.”
The low-key Ms. Haspel secured Mr. Warner’s crucial support only days before the vote, when she sent him a letter denouncing the controversial interrogation program after failing to clarify her stance on the matter during a contentious public confirmation hearing last week.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, Texas Republican, and Sen. Tom Cotton, Republican Arkansas, called Democrats’ objection to her involvement in the program hypocrisy, because Ms. Haspel was only a mid-level career CIA employee when it was being run in the years after the 9/11 attacks.
A raft of former top intelligence professionals, serving under both Republican and Democratic presidents, provided a big boost to Ms. Haspel’s nomination, amid reports that John Brennan and Leon Panetta, both of whom served as CIA director under President Obama, contacted several Democratic senators to lobby on her behalf.
Only two Republicans — Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Rand Paul of Kentucky — came out against Ms. Haspel, and they were more than canceled out by five Democrats who joined Mr. Warner to vote yes for Ms. Haspel.
The supportive Democrats included several on the ballot in red states this fall, including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Bill Nelson of Florida. Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire also backed the nominee.
Mr. McCain was absent from the confirmation vote because he was home battling brain cancer. A victim of torture as a POW during the Vietnam War, Mr. McCain had urged his Senate colleagues to block Ms. Haspel’s confirmation.
Ms. Haspel, 61, is a Kentucky native who grew up around the world as the daughter of an Air Force serviceman. She worked undercover for nearly all her three decades at the CIA in Africa, Europe and classified locations around the globe.
Fluent in Turkish and Russian, Ms. Haspel was tapped as deputy director of the CIA last year. She worked under former CIA director Mike Pompeo until President Trump nominated him to be secretary of state. She has been serving as acting director.
Gina Haspel will replace Mike Pompeo as CIA director. While the vote mostly fell along party lines, five Democrats voted for Ms. Haspel. Only two Republicans came out against her because of her role in running a secret CIA “black site” prison in Thailand.