News & Politics

Trump's Pick to Replace Pompeo as CIA Director Ran Controversial 'Black Site' Prison in Thailand

CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel. (CIA via AP)

President Donald Trump’s pick to replace Mike Pompeo as director of the Central Intelligence Agency has a controversial past at the CIA that will likely resurface during her confirmation hearing in the Senate.

Trump announced Tuesday that he has chosen Deputy Director of the CIA Gina Haspel to be the next director of the agency. If confirmed by the Senate, she will become the first woman to lead the CIA.

When Trump first selected Haspel to the position of deputy director of the CIA, the move was met with opposition by some lawmakers because of her involvement in the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition program” under President Bush under which al Qaeda captives were handed to foreign governments and held in secret prisons and “tortured” by CIA personnel.

That position didn’t require a Senate confirmation, but her promotion to CIA director will, and Haspel’s role in running the CIA’s first overseas detention site in Thailand is sure to come up.

“The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history,” Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement Tuesday. “Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process.”

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden also blasted Trump’s pick on Tuesday.

Snowden wrote in another tweet that Haspel “probably can’t travel to the EU to meet other spy chiefs without facing arrest due to an @ECCHRBerlin complaint to Germany’s federal prosecutor,” in reference to a complaint filed by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

Wikileaks made the same point:

Haspel’s nomination, however, received mostly praise from lawmakers and current as well as former intelligence officials.

Former CIA Director John Brennan praised Haspel’s “wealth of experience” while acknowledging her controversial role managing a “black site” prison.

“She was involved in a very, very controversial program, and I know that the Senate confirmation process will look at that very closely, but Gina Haspel has a lot of integrity,” Brennan told MSNBC. “She has tried to carry out her duties at the CIA to the best of her ability even when the CIA was asked to do some very difficult things in very challenging times.”

George Little, a former CIA and Pentagon spokesman in the Obama administration, also praised Haspel’s record of service.

“She’s a true intelligence professional and widely respected inside the CIA,” Little told POLITICO. “Her immediate challenge is to prepare for a series of very tough questions at her confirmation hearing.”

Former general counsel to the director of national intelligence Robert Litt said there was “no question” the controversy would come up at her confirmation hearing, but argued Haspel should not be penalized for carrying out tactics implemented by government officials.

“I’ve also been long of the view, and I’ve said this publicly before, that to the extent that there’s blame to be laid for what was done in the CIA’s rendition and interrogation program, that blame should lie at the feet of the political level people who ordered the program and not the CIA officers who carried it out,” Litt said.

Pompeo voiced fulsome support for Haspel in a statement released Tuesday.

“I am proud of the work we have done on behalf of America and know that the Agency will continue to thrive under the leadership of Gina Haspel,” Pompeo said.

Senator Tom Cotton (R-OK), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also endorsed the nominee on Twitter:

And Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told CNN that Haspel is “highly qualified” but there might be a problem if she says we can still do that, meaning presumably enhanced interrogations and black sites.

En route to California to inspect border wall prototypes, the president said Haspel is “an outstanding person” whom he has “gotten to know very well.”

Trump has voiced support for waterboarding in the past, telling reporters on the campaign trail that government officials had to “fight fire with fire” to counter terror threats. During a primary debate in February of 2016, he also said, “I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”