After 9/11, when the CIA needed a someone to run its first secret overseas prison, it turned to a 16-year veteran of the clandestine service to oversee the waterboarding of suspected terrorists. Years later, after she’d allegedly acquired the nickname “Bloody Gina,” the same woman would oversee the destruction of video evidence of the “enhanced interrogations” conducted under her watch. On Tuesday, President Trump announced his intention to nominate that woman, Gina Haspel, as director of the CIA.
In a single tweet Tuesday morning, President Trump announced the departure of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as well as his plans to replace Tillerson with sitting CIA director Mike Pompeo and install deputy director Haspel in Pompeo’s position. If confirmed by the Senate, Haspel will be the first woman to run the C.I.A.
Haspel, who spent most of her 33 year career with the agency as an undercover agent, was appointed deputy director in early February.
Two decades ago, Haspel ran the CIA’s first black site – a secret prison where detainees were tortured for information in the early days of the War on Terror – in Thailand, which was code-named Cat’s Eye. There, she oversaw the violent interrogations of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was accused of orchestrating the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. He was subject to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, a Berlin-based NGO,
In 2005, 92 videos of interrogations of al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah, another terror suspect, were destroyed, and though the order was directed by Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then head of the clandestine service, it was signed by Haspel herself.
Haspel’s nomination could face resistance in the Senate; in 2013, Sen. Dianne Feinstein blocked Haspel’s proposed elevation to Rodriguez’s old job over her involvement in the tapes’ destruction. When she was promoted to deputy director earlier this year, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) sent a letter declaring “Her background makes her unsuitable for the position,” and calling for the immediate declassification of documents concerning her role in the torture and destruction of evidence. The ACLU has also raised concerns, saying that Haspel was “up to her eyeballs in torture.”
Veterans of the intelligence community, however, were broadly supportive of her elevation last month to the role of deputy director. At the time, James Clapper, director of national intelligence under President Barack Obama, said he was “very pleased” with the choice; Michael Morell, former deputy director and acting director at CIA, characterized her as “widely respected throughout the agency”; former CIA Director Michael Hayden said she was a “wonderful” pick who would handle the job with “dignity, professionalism and honor.”
That’s not to say praise for Haspel was universal. John Kiriakou, the CIA operative-turned-whistleblower who knew Haspel when he worked under her in Thailand, wrote her appointment was evidence that you can “engage in war crimes” and “still make it to the top.” He was also the one to introduce the public to the nickname “Bloody Gina.”
On Tuesday morning, as he left for a trip to view prototypes for his proposed wall on the Mexican border, President Trump said of Haspel, “She’s an outstanding person who I’ve gotten to know very well.” He added, “I’ve gotten to know a lot of people very well over the last year. I’m really at a point where I’m close to having the cabinet and other things that I want.”
In her own statement, Haspel said she was “grateful to President Trump for the opportunity, and humbled by his confidence in me, to be nominated to be the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Haspel had also overseen the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah as well as making fun of Zubaydah while he was a prisoner at the camp she oversaw. According to a correction issued by ProPublica, which had first reported this story in 2017, Haspel was not in charge of the base in August 2002, when the waterboarding occurred. She arrived as head of the base that October, according to the New York Times.