Haspel, 61, will be the first woman to lead the CIA. She is being elevated after Pompeo was tapped to replace U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was abruptly fired Tuesday.
Haspel is a controversial figure, best known for her role in running CIA “black sites” during George W. Bush's presidency - including one in Thailand codenamed “Cat’s Eye,” where she later ordered the destruction of all documents related to the site.
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The New York Times reported in February 2017 that "Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and later took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand."
Haspel has been an operative at the CIA since 1985 and spent most of her career undercover. Trump himself has long been a proponent of torture, saying during the 2016 presidential campaign he would bring back torture and "even worse."
She featured prominently in the 2014 U.S. Senate report looking into Bush-era “enhanced” torture practices overseas. As a result, Haspel may have a tough time being confirmed by the Senate. The CIA director must be confirmed by the Senate, which currently has a razor-thin, 51-49 Republican majority.
In 2013, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (California), then the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, blocked Haspel from being promoted to head of clandestine operations in the CIA over her role in the interrogation program and the destruction of the tapes.
However, fierce Trump critic and ex-National Intelligence Director James Clapper praised Haspel when she was nominated to be Pompeo’s deputy. “[Haspel] has the broad-gauged experience from both foreign and domestic assignments to serve as the right-arm for Director [Mike] Pompeo,” he said in February 2017.
The American Civil Liberties Union was far less flattering on Tuesday, quickly releasing a statement protesting Haspel’s nomination.
“The CIA must declassify and release every aspect of Haspel's torture record before considering the nomination,” said the ACLU, adding, ”One man held at the secret prison she ran was waterboarded 83 times, slammed against walls, sleep deprived, and locked in a coffin-like box.”
The statement also questioned whether or not Haspel has the independence to run the agency, as she has been a career agent.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr vowed to support her nomination, saying he is “proud” of her work.
“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 to reporters.
Sen. Ron Wyden (Oregon), a Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Reuters on Tuesday he opposed the nominations of both Pompeo and Haspel.
“Ms. Haspel’s background makes her unsuitable to serve as CIA director,” Wyden said.“Her nomination must include total transparency about this background, which I called for more than a year ago when she was appointed deputy director.
Senior U.S. Senator John McCain also sounded warning bells on Tuesday. “The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history,” McCain said. “Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process.”