It was early 2010, and I was visiting one of CIA’s largest stations overseas. The CIA, just weeks earlier, had lost seven brave officers to a suicide bomber at a remote base in Khost, Afghanistan. It was the worst loss of life in a single day for the CIA since the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983.
As I did when I visited any CIA station, I met with all the employees in what CIA calls an “all-hands.” It is an opportunity for senior CIA officials to talk about what is important to them and to listen to the issues that are important to the workforce.
With the employees filling a long hallway in the Station, I talked about the lost of our officers in Khost and what it was like to attend, with Director Leon Panetta, the dignified transfer service at Dover Air Force Base as well the memorials for the individual officers. As I was talking, I glanced at the Chief of Station, Gina Haspel. One of the fallen officers had served with Haspel, and the pain of the loss was evident on her face.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo has named Haspel to be his deputy. I applaud the appointment. Haspel will serve Pompeo, the Agency, and her country extremely well. She is widely respected throughout the Agency, and she will be welcomed in the new job by both current and former employees.
She is only the second woman to hold the post and only the third career operations officer to do so, following the legendary Richard Helms and Steve Kappes. She will be the most senior female operations officer to ever serve at the CIA. She will be an important role model as a result.
I worked closely with Haspel from 2006 until my retirement from the Agency in 2013. During that time, I found her to be simply exceptional. She provides advice based on facts and analysis of facts. She gets things done in a quiet, yet effective way, and she is calm under fire.
She appreciates the work of all CIA officers – analysts, scientists, and support specialists, as much as she appreciates operations officers.
Haspel does more than most senior CIA officers to ensuring that all officers get the training, assignments, and experiences they need to succeed. Officers of all levels of seniority speak of the time she spends with them and what they have learned from that.
Like Director Pompeo with whom she will be working, Haspel’s personality is warm and engaging. She has a sense of humor, which is typically self-deprecating. They will make a great team.
Haspel does not shy away from the toughest jobs; in fact, she gravitates toward them. Some of the assignments that she took on have later come under political fire, but in each case she was following the lawful orders of the president. And, in each case, she carried out her responsibilities within the bounds of the law and with excellent judgment. Any criticism of her in this regard is unfair.
The media is also likely to refer to a moment in her career when she drafted a cable instructing a field station to destroy videotapes of CIA interrogations of senior al Qaeda operatives. She did so at the request of her direct supervisor and believing that it was lawful to do so. I personally led an accountability exercise that cleared Haspel of any wrongdoing in the case.
Of great importance to me, Haspel understands the sacrifices that CIA officers make to do the job. She has friends with stars on our Memorial Wall. What I saw in the overseas station in early 2010 was an intelligence officer who was no-nonsense, had grit and toughness, and yet a big dose of humanity. The men and women of the Agency are very lucky to have her as deputy director. I’m lucky to count her as a friend.