On Thursday, May 17, the Senate voted 54-45 to confirm Gina Haspel as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, despite concerns over her role in CIA enhanced interrogation programs and the destruction of tapes depicting the techniques.
Haspel has received broad support from inside the Agency; The Cipher Brief recently published a letter written by 72 former officers in support of her confirmation.
Many of members of The Cipher Brief’s Expert Network served with Haspel over the years, though not all were fans. As she prepares to take the helm, we revisit their unfiltered insights and opinions spanning a multitude of perspectives, from those who worked closely with her at Langley, to some who worked closely with her overseas.
Here they are:
“Gina Haspel is eminently qualified to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, having served her country effectively for thirty-three years in positions of increasing management responsibility. She is highly experienced in clandestine tradecraft, understands the serious threats the country faces from adversaries globally, and will harness the Agency’s unique clandestine, technical, and analytic tradecraft to help mitigate threats and keep America safe. She will speak objectively and directly without political bias on intelligence matters to the highest policy levels of government. As a former CIA officer who has known Gina for many years, I can attest to her integrity and have full confidence in her ability to lead the Agency.”
“I think Gina Haspel’s confirmation would be welcomed in the British security and intelligence community. She is well known, and knows us well, through her years of service in London and she is highly respected for her professionalism, toughness and dedication. The UK looks to the US to provide clarity and consistency in its approach to strategic security issues and I think Gina’s appointment would be a big help here.”
“Ms. Haspel has as accomplished and complete a resume as any officer I ever served with in my 33 years at CIA. She has served in the Third World, denied areas and been COS of major stations. She has very effectively and productively managed relationships not just with foreign liaison but also within the Intelligence Community. Ms. Haspel has always stepped up to the most demanding, and often least rewarding, tasks that have been asked of her. As a leader she has repeatedly demonstrated in positions of increasing responsibility sound judgement, integrity and strength of character. I do not know anyone more fully committed to the Agency’s mission or its people. As DDNCS during my tenure as DNCS and as DDCIA she has demonstrated the ability to manage change within the Agency without losing focus on the mission. She has the trust and confidence of the work force to a degree we have not seen since Richard Helms was the DCI.”
“My memory of Gina is of a thoughtful leader who did not rush to make decisions. This was not the norm at CIA, where making decisions was seen by many as a competitive sport: make a decision firmly and quickly and don’t look back. This aggressive mission-first approach clearly led to some bad outcomes in the aughts. It also has to be said, led to some successes. Hindsight and the American people will have to balance the scales. CIA professionals are not the right judges here.”
“Gina Haspel is a real professional in the intelligence community and I trust reason will prevail and she gets confirmed. It is a very good thing to see a non-political professional come up through the ranks and ascend to become Director of the CIA and the CIA will be better because of her. This is much better than having a political appointee in that job. With regard to any participation she may have had in the Global War on Terrorism and with Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, Congress needs to remember that CIA officers were executing a legal directive from the President of the United States and it is a travesty to blackball an entire generation of CIA leadership from holding any confirmable position in the USG simply because they were there and in the fight over the last 17 years since 9/11. Gina was certainly not an intellectual author of that interrogation program, only a mid-level officer doing her job. Rather than condemning these people, we should be honoring their work and their selfless dedication to keeping the country safe. I worked very closely with Gina in 2005/2006 when we were both on the “Seventh Floor” where the Director and the rest of CIA’s senior management sits. At the time, Gina was Chief of Staff to the Director of Operations and I was in the Deputy Director’s office. Without fail, Gina always had all the right moves. If confirmed, she is going to be a great Director of CIA.”
“Gina is an excellent choice to lead CIA. She has the respect of her workforce and of her colleagues in the IC, and will do a great job as Director.”
“I’ve known Gina for over two decades. I can’t think of a more deserving officer to lead the Agency. She’s a true professional, with great integrity.”
“Gina Haspel is by nearly all who work with her, an outstanding intelligence officer and manager. However, she should not be confirmed to be the next Director of CIA because of her leading role in the decision to destroy the only known tapes of CIA’ EIT program. Supporters argue she was only following the direction of her boss, assumed the action legal and approved, and believed destruction best protected case officers visible in the tapes. But if this is so, she was either too incurious for such an outstanding intelligence officer or is not being candid about her actual support for that decision. The DNI, CIA Director, Acting General Counsel, and White House Legal Advisor all instructed that the tapes be preserved. The EIT program was a matter of keen congressional interest when the destruction decision was made, demonstrating disrespect for congressional oversight. The head of CIA is the outward face of the organization to the nation and the world, and ultimate arbiter of Agency decisions and direction. That person must reflect the values of the nation and respect for our form of government.”
“A CIA Director needs several traits to be effective. Commanding the respect of the troops is one of these. Familiarity with the business of espionage is another, not only its operational aspects (which allow a Director to better assess risk), but in overseeing tasking and analysis to support policy making. A DCI need not be a foreign policy maven, and while administrations vary in the degree to which a DCI has been involved in policy decisions (the agency itself tries to avoid directly participating in policy-making), the DCI must be able straddle the border between impartial analysis and policy.
A good DCI needs a close relationship with the President more than any other Cabinet member, since much of the work of the CIA depends on direct Presidential sign-off – the CIA is the President’s tool, after all, and if the President chooses not to use it, the agency spins its wheels. It can be only a twenty minute drive from the CIA to the White House, but only if the President calls. It also helps to have ties of some kind to the Secretaries of State and Defense, and it would not be unheard in Washington for a Secretary of State to propose someone as DCI who would focus on the work in Langley rather than downtown. One challenge for Haspel will be developing peer status with Mattis and Pompeo, but as a member of the clandestine service, she’s probably pretty good at relationship-building.
Reasonable people fall on both sides of the question of giving her the job, and the destruction of evidence seems as damaging as overseeing torture. It’s legitimate for Congress to say there is a trust issue, but opposition to Haspel can appear punitive, and this is unfortunate. Being punished, abandoned, or second-guessed by those far from the operational environment is something that many in the intelligence and special operations communities fear (or expect). You could say that service personnel should not put themselves in these situations, but this is somewhat akin to saying America should not protect itself, since the actions necessary to accomplish a mission invariably involve undertaking harmful acts against opponents. A decorated Navy SEAL once said “For the most part, the public is very soft. You live in a dream world. You have no idea what goes on in the other side of the world.” That so many people who have been on the other side of the world support her is a plus.”
“I have known Gina Haspel for over 10 years and had the honor of working with her while at CIA and the Treasury Department. She is forthright, smart and dedicated to mission. When we crossed paths she was working in the Directorate of Operations. Yet she was able to see my concerns, whether from the perspective of another Directorate or another Agency, and balance them accordingly. Not many of her peers can do this. It commends her well to leading the entire organization. I strongly encourage members of Congress to confirm Gina Haspel as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.”
“Gina Haspel seems likely to tell senators that her experiences have taught her harsh interrogations aren’t worth any gain they bring. Good. And that she wouldn’t allow such things again on her watch. Even better.
If confirmed, she’ll have an outstanding opportunity to initiate a robust conversation among CIA officers about core values. After all, Gina more than most will have the credibility to address bluntly the thorny dilemmas that emerge in intelligence work. If she shares with the workforce how her reflection on these challenging times in Agency history has made her a better officer and a better leader, she could yet pull something positive out of a dark period.”
“Gina Haspel has been a consummate Intelligence Professional. She has been at the forefront of the fight against terrorism, especially since 9/11. Her previous involvement in waterboarding and rendition programs, however, raises serious questions about where the country is today, which she must answer during the Senate hearings. If she cannot answer these questions or is unable to come clean on the whole torture debacle, she should withdraw her nomination. To have a new DCIA with a cloud over her head does not serve the long-term interests of our country. Such an appointment would also send the wrong message to other intelligence services.”