When Donald Trump made his surprise announcement naming CIA director Mike Pompeo as secretary of state, he left a void at the intelligence agency that may – for the first time – be filled by a woman: Gina Haspel.
Mr Trump announced Ms Haspel’s nomination as CIA director in a crowded tweet, in which he also announced current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson‘s departure, and the nomination of Mr Pompeo to take his place.
“Congratulations to all!” Mr Trump tweeted.
Ms Haspel is a widely respected CIA veteran, but one with a controversial history. Below is everything you need to know about the deputy director and her coming Senate confirmation hearing.
Who is Gina Haspel?
The 61-year-old CIA veteran has served as deputy director of the agency since February 2017, when Mr Trump nominated her to the role. She has also served as deputy director of the National Clandestine Service and deputy director of the National Clandestine Service for Foreign Intelligence and Covert Action, according to the CIA.
Ms Haspel joined the CIA in 1985 and spent most of her career undercover, according to the New York Times. She has won numerous awards in her 33 years with the agency, including the Presidential Rank Award – the most prestigious award in the federal civil service.
Why is she a controversial choice?
Some legislators and activist groups have expressed concern over Ms Haspel’s nomination because of her ties to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation programme.
The deputy director oversaw one of the CIA’s “black site” detention centres in Thailand in 2002. During her tenure, two detainees were waterboarded and subjected to other, brutal forms of interrogation, according to a Senate report.
Videotapes of the interrogation sessions were destroyed in 2005. Ms Haspel was the one who prepared a memo asking for permission to destroy the tapes, according to her boss at the time, Jose Rodriguez. The CIA maintains that it was Mr Rodriguez’s decision to destroy them.
This controversial history stirred dispute when Ms Haspel was chosen as deputy director last year, and is sure to come up in this year’s confirmation hearing as well.
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Who is opposed to her confirmation?
Senators Tammy Duckworth and Ron Wyden have already said they will not support Ms Hasepl as CIA director, and many more may follow.
Mr Wyden, Senator Martin Heinrich, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse all wrote a letter opposing Ms Hapel’s appointment to deputy director last year, claiming she was “unsuitable” because of her connection to the interrogation programme.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein went as far as to block Ms Haspel’s promotion within the clandestine service in 2013, according to the Times. On Tuesday, Ms Feinstein said she has met with the deputy director “extensively” since then, and believes she served well in her current role.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has mounted a more full-throated opposition, calling Ms Haspel a “central figure in one of the most illegal and shameful chapters in modern American history”.
“The CIA must declassify and release every aspect of Haspel’s torture record before considering the nomination,” the organisation said in a statement.
Republican Senator John McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, also said Ms Hapsel should explain “the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation programme”.
Who is in favour of it?
Despite the pushback from outside groups and legislators, Ms Haspel has strong support from numerous figures inside the agency. Mr Pompeo called her and “exemplary intelligence officer “ and a “devoted patriot” in a statement.
“I am particularly gratified, since she has also been a strong proponent for integration, not only within CIA, but across the Intelligence Community,” he said in a statement.
Republican Senator Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also signalled his support for the nominee.
“I know Gina personally, and she has the right skill set, experience and judgment to lead one of our nation’s most critical agencies,” he said in a statement. “I’m proud of her work and know that my committee will continue its positive relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency under her leadership.”
When is her confirmation hearing?
The administration has yet to set a date for Ms Haspel’s confirmation hearing, but has scheduled Mr Pompeo’s for April. Her nomination requires the approval of a Senate committee, as well as a majority vote in the full Senate.