Gina Haspel has overseen the torture of terror suspects on black sites and headed a number of CIA outposts. Now she is set to make history as the first female director of the agency.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on March 14, 2018

For months speculation has been rife that US President Donald Trump would replace secretary of state Rex Tillerson with CIA director Mike Pompeo.

This was confirmed on Tuesday, when Trump revealed to the world through social media that he had sacked the top diplomat.

The changeover will be finalised by March 31. And it sets in motion a shake-up that has all but guaranteed deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Gina Haspel will become the spy agency’s first ever female head.

Trump declared as much, in his tweet confirming Pompeo’s appointment to the State Department.

He said: “Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!”

“After 30 years as an officer of the Central Intelligence Agency, it has been my honour to serve as its Deputy Director alongside Mike Pompeo for the past year,” Haspel said in response to Trump’s endorsement.

“I am 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.”

Who is Gina Haspel?

Haspel has given more than three decades of service to the CIA, and became deputy director in February, 2017, after serving as chief of station at several postings around the world.

According to the Washington Post, the 61-year-old is popular with her fellow spooks, and outgoing chief Pompeo called her an “exemplary intelligence officer”.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper described her as “a seasoned veteran of the agency who is widely and deeply respected by the workforce”.

While, Michael Hayden, former National Security Agency director, told US broadcaster NPR on Tuesday, “In all this turmoil, I actually think CIA is going to be a bit of a calm spot with Gina now being elevated to the director position.”

However, talk of her promotion has also been met with protest.

In the early 2000s, Haspel ran the United States’ first ‘black site’ (secret overseas prison) in Thailand, where she oversaw the torture of terror suspects Abu Zubayadah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri.

A 2005 US justice department memo revealed that Zubaydah had been waterboarded 83 times over a single month in 2002.

The two men linked to al-Quaeda, are currently locked up at Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

The New York Times reported she also drafted the cable ordering the destruction of videotapes of the interrogations, although the agency said her superior, Jose Rodriguez, head of the clandestine service, had made the decision.

“I think she’s a particularly disastrous choice, being one of the principal actors” in the torture program of the Bush administration, Alberto Mora, the former general counsel for the US Navy and a senior fellow at the Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, told Al Jazeera.

“To hold her up as an exemplar, an individual whose career will serve as guidance to those who will join the agency in the future, is shocking.”

John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera that “of all the problematic nominations that have been made, this is the most problematic by far”.

“This is a woman who has shown she is willing to break the law. That is the most disturbing thing about the nomination,” he said.