Donald Trump concluded his tweet firing of Rex Tillerson on a self-congratulatory note. In appointing CIA director Mike Pompeo to Tillerson’s soon-to-be-former job, he moved the career intelligence officer Gina Haspel into the top spot at the CIA. She was, he noted, “the first woman so chosen” to lead the spy agency, sounding another historic note on a day already destined to live in infamy or triumph, depending on your perspective.
But there may be less to the “first woman CIA director” story than meets the eye. The woman issue serves as a smokescreen to give the president a good news women's story while Stormy is storming. When the headline questions are “exactly how many porn actresses were involved with you, Mr. President, and who actually paid Stormy the hush money?” changing the topic is a good idea.
I wish we’d all calm down about the “first woman” CIA director. Gina Haspel's ovaries don't give her any different perspective about CIA black sites or the destruction of evidence showing what the CIA was doing there than her old boss, Jose Rodriguez.
Haspel is an award-winning career intelligence officer in the clandestine service (the operations side of the house), joining the agency in 1985 and spending most of her career undercover. After 9/11, she played a central role in one of the agency's darkest and most controversial chapters—the use of extreme interrogation methods on terror suspects held at CIA black sites around the world. Haspel was on the front lines, not the sidelines. She ran the CIA's first black site overseas, in Thailand, where the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri took place. (In 2018, ProPublica retracted an earlier report that said she had overseen the site when Zubaydah was tortured; ProPublica now says she did not take over the site until later the same year.) Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in one month. Internal CIA emails described Zubaydah as “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.” Haspel's name was also on the internal CIA cable ordering the destruction of nearly 100 videotapes of black site interrogations just as several investigations about the agency’s detention and interrogation program were heating up.