Long before Donald Trump ever nominated Gina Haspel to run the CIA, a memoir from a former CIA top attorney contained a line with the power to do serious damage to her chances.
Haspel’s informal nomination ran into immediate jeopardy last month over her 2002 supervision of the agency’s first secret black-site prison, located in Thailand, where two early detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, were tortured. (She directly ran the black site, though after Zubaydah’s most intense period of torture that year.)
But in his 2014 book, John Rizzo, a longtime senior CIA lawyer, indicated that Haspel was responsible for the incommunicado detention and torture not of two men, but of dozens, potentially. Former intelligence officials interviewed by The Daily Beast have portrayed Haspel’s experience similarly.
“Jose installed as his chief of staff an officer from the Counterterrorist Center who had previously run the interrogation program,” Rizzo wrote.
That’s a substantially broader declaration than the history already dogging Haspel, the agency’s deputy director, whom the White House formally nominated as its next CIA director late on Tuesday.
Rizzo, who was acting CIA general counsel during much of the time the torture program occurred, insisted that the passage was correct then—and is still right today.
“All I can say is that I stand by everything I wrote in my book about the tapes episode, and no one from the Agency has asked me to correct anything I wrote,” Rizzo told The Daily Beast. He did not answer follow-up questions.
This isn’t the first time that legacy has been a problem for Haspel. In 2013, she was unable to take her old boss Rodriguez’s position in 2013. At the time, a knowledgeable former CIA official recalled, there was confusion and surprise that someone with Haspel’s background in torture could have been a credible candidate for such a senior position.
“To the best of my understanding, she ran the interrogation program,” the official said.
“Her becoming director absolutely terrifies me,” continued the former CIA official. “Once I heard her name, I immediately thought, ‘Oh, God.’”
Back then, in a story first reported by The New York Times, Feinstein—then the Senate committee chair—made it clear to then-director John Brennan that she objected to Haspel leading the CIA’s clandestine service. Brennan chose another chief.
It should be noted that Brennan was a big fan of torture and the torturers, and Obama eventually made him head of the CIA.
So much for looking forward, and not back.
“If Ms. Haspel is confirmed, it will send a terrible message to the world broadly, and to the officers of the CIA more superficially,” a former U.S. intelligence official said. “The CIA, and its former officers, are pushing so hard for Ms. Haspel to be director because if she’s confirmed, it essentially exonerates her, the CIA and all of these former senior CIA officials from their involvement in or their defense of the torture program.”
And this final paragraph is why Congress should NEVER approve her as head of the CIA.
Even if the statute or limitations has expired, these are people who did profound and enduring damage to the United States, and they should never EVER hold any sort of clearance ever again, much less become the head of the agency.