President Trump has selected Gina Haspel to be the deputy director of the CIA, making her second in command behind Mike Pompeo.
Haspel is the second woman to ever hold the position, which does not require Senate confirmation.
A 30-year veteran of the agency, Haspel was the first woman to lead the CIA’s clandestine service, which oversees U.S. spying worldwide. She has held numerous senior leadership positions and served as being chief of station in multiple overseas assignments.
Her selection drew praise from former senior intelligence officials.
“[Haspel] has the broad-gauged experience from both foreign and domestic assignments to serve as the right-arm for Director [Mike] Pompeo,” former National Intelligence Director James Clapper said in a statement.
“She is widely respected throughout the agency and she will be welcomed in the new job by both current and former employees,” said Mike Morrell, a former deputy director and former acting director.
“I worked closely with Haspel from 2006 until my retirement from the Agency in 2013. During that time, I found her to be simply exceptional. She gets things done in a quiet, yet effective way, and she is calm under fire.”
Haspel’s career has not been free of controversy, however.
She has been linked her to the CIA’s “enhanced” interrogation program, mentioned repeatedly in the 6,000-page report by the Senate Intelligence Committee detailing the agency’s use of techniques widely considered torture.
In 2002, a female officer believed to be Haspel reportedly ran a secret prison in Thailand where two detainees were subjected to waterboarding and other interrogation techniques used to get information from captives following the Sept. 11 attacks.
She has also been linked to the 2005 destruction of video recordings of those interrogation sessions — a high-profile incident that prompted a criminal investigation but did not result in charges.
Her alleged role in the CIA’s interrogation program could spark some pushback from Capitol Hill, where Senate Democrats have feared that Trump will try to resurrect the torture techniques, which Congress has since outlawed.
Trump in an interview told ABC News last month that he “absolutely” thinks that waterboarding works and would consider reinstating it as if senior administration officials think it’s necessary.
“I will rely on [CIA Director Mike Pompeo] and [Defense Secretary James Mattis] and my group. And if they don’t want to do, that’s fine. If they do want to do, then I will work toward that end. I want to do everything within the bounds of what you’re allowed to do legally,” Trump said.
From his former post on the House Intelligence Committee, Pompeo condemned Obama administration rules limiting government interrogators to techniques in the field manual — but during his confirmation hearing assured lawmakers that he would “absolutely not” comply with an order to resume the use of harsher techniques.
In a series of written answers to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pompeo said that he would consult with CIA experts to determine whether the methods in the field manual are sufficient and work with experts to offer recommendations to make changes if they aren’t.