In the end, the vote to confirm Gina Haspel as the next Director of CIA stayed pretty much divided along party lines with Republicans favoring her nomination and Democrats voting against it. It times it seemed that her nomination was going to fail due to numerous questions over her running an “enhanced interrogation” site in Thailand.
Haspel was confirmed by a 54-45 vote with two Republicans ( Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Jeff Flake of Arizona), voting against her (John McCain was absent) and six Democrats voting for her, including Mark Warner (D-Virginia) the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“Gina Haspel is among one of the most qualified people to be nominated to be director of the CIA,” Warner said. “I feel safer knowing the CIA has Miss Haspel at the helm. … I believe Gina Haspel should be confirmed. I look forward to supporting her.”
Haspel has had a 33-year career, most of it as a covert agent and has been a Chief of Station in four different cities in the world. She was also named by Director John Brennan as the acting Director of the National Clandestine Service, which carries out covert operations around the world. Mike Pompeo made her the Deputy Director and since he became the Secretary of State, Haspel has been the Acting Director of CIA.
She worked her way up through the ranks and is widely respected by the rank and file of the agency as a tough, sensible career covert agent who is minus the egos most associate with Washington politics.
Haspel was also endorsed by former Directors of Central Intelligence from both the Republican and Democratic sides of the aisle as the ablest candidate to lead the agency for the foreseeable future.
However, she was dogged by allegations of torture at the CIA’s black site in Thailand where terrorist suspects were interrogated. The site set up in 2002 just after 9/11 was trying to glean as much information out of terrorists to prevent further attacks on U.S. soil.
Although ruled legal at the time by the Justice Department, many of the critics of her and the Agency claim that the site was conducting torture and during her confirmation, her critics were actively trying to derail her nomination based on decisions made that were far above her pay grade at the time.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., as usual, was particularly shrill in her criticism of anything put forward by the President
“No matter how you dress it up, torture is torture,” Warren said. “It’s inhumane, ineffective, and un-American. Gina Haspel advocated for torture.”
Haspel was also criticized for destroying the tapes of the interrogations in 2005, something she said was to protect the identity of CIA personnel as many were still in covert assignments.
Haspel is not only the first woman to head CIA but is the first career employee to head the agency since William Colby retired in 1976. Colby was an OSS operative in World War II and joined CIA at its outset, like Haspel, working his way up the ranks to head the agency.
Haspel is uniquely qualified to do the job and will have several difficult tasks to tackle immediately.
The growing tension between the US and China, where the latter is trying to increase its global footprint for the first time in its history by branching out with overseas bases, particularly pushing against the U.S.
The reignition of the Cold War with Russia is a sticky point with both the United States and our allies right now. Supposed Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential election and the midterms right around the corner will be issues that the agency will have to deal with.
The Russians are already under heavy scrutiny for the nerve agent poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, the UK combined with the continued use of chemical agents by their ally in Assad is an issue that is not going away.
With the civil war in Syria all but over and ISIS on the run, the administration has to decide what the next course of action is there. The U.S.-led coalition is in the middle of a bunch of bad actors that the agency will be forced to try to sift through. With the Russians and Syrians on one side, the Iranians and their forces on another. Turkey has entered the fray and considers the SDF, the U.S. trained Syrian Democratic Forces a terrorist organization.
Iran is another matter entirely. The Russians with their air defenses in Syria have yet to lift a finger to help the Iranians who have taken a beating from Israeli airstrikes. The Iranians are looking to expand their influence not only across the Middle East but in South America as well as their Hezbollah proxies are expanding there.
And of course, the United States is having one-on-one nuclear disarmament discussions with Kim Il-Jong of North Korea. The first time a standing U.S. president will meet with a Korean leader from the north since the Korean War started.
So there isn’t much on Haspel’s plate right off the bat. But if there is anyone who can handle all of that and more, it is her. CIA is in good hands.