WASHINGTON — Residents are split as the Senate’s Intelligence Committee moved Tuesday to vote to approve Central Intelligence Agency Director Nominee Gina Haspel’s appointment.
Haspel, the CIA’s deputy director, was nominated by President Donald Trump to the agency’s top position in early April. Since then, the process to approve her has been mired in controversy because of her record with interrogation tactics and waterboarding.
Haspel has served as acting director of the intelligence-gathering agency after former Director Mike Pompeo was appointed as secretary of state last month.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is voted privately to move Haspel’s nomination to the full Senate for approval. She appeared to have secured the votes to be confirmed Tuesday. Haspel has worked for the CIA for 30 years, starting in 1985. She requested a transfer to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center in 2001 where she started Sept. 11 of that year, according to the Trump administration.
The CIA started its torture program — the heart of the controversy surrounding Haspel’s appointment — in the summer of 2002, which was months after the capture of Abu Zubaydah — the first detainee the agency took into custody and initially developed its list of enhanced interrogation techniques, like waterboarding.
By late 2002, Haspel was running a secret CIA prison in Thailand where another detainee in her custody, Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, was subjected to waterboarding, prolonged sleep deprivation and other similar tactics.
“I don’t think torture gets the world ahead,” said Sharon Shepherd, of Craryville. “I think [Haspel] is a terrible choice for CIA director.”
Janos Barna, of Catskill, refused to take a position one way or the other, and said he is unsure what to believe about Haspel.
“The way I see it, one says this, the other says that — you do not know what to believe anymore,” Barna said. “It does not matter who is in power, no one is getting the job done and nothing changes.”
Haspel served in several positions at the agency during her 30-year career including deputy director of the National Clandestine Service, chief of staff for the Directorate of Operations and chief of station for multiple stations in Europe and Eurasia.
“I have been following this closely because I worked with CIA agents in Vietnam,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Flaherty, Columbia County veterans services director. “I think [Haspel] is a great candidate. I hope she gets through the Senate all right. She has support from field agents and from both political parties.”
Two Senate Democrats came forward during the appointment process in support of Haspel — Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Sen. Joe Manchin, W.Va. — while high-profile Republican senators said they oppose Haspel’s appointment including Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who did not vote because he had surgery to battle his brain cancer.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., tweeted last week she opposes Haspel’s appointment, and will vote against it when it comes before the whole Senate. Gillibrand cited the role Haspel played in the torture of war prisoners as reason for her opposition.
“I think waterboarding was overplayed,” Flaherty said. “I remember being in a helicopter in Vietnam and an agent was interrogating a Vietcong. There was another Vietnamese interpreter on the helicopter and he just threw the Vietcong out of the helicopter. That was gruesome and I do not approve of that.
“I don’t approve of torture, but it is necessary for national security and to protect our citizens,” he added. “See how many lives were by getting information after 9/11.”
U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19, approves Haspel’s nomination, he said Tuesday.
“[Haspel] is a dedicated career intelligence official who is well-qualified for her position,” Faso said. “The objections to her nomination amount to 20/20 hindsight. If she were disqualified, so would have been appointees of the Obama administration who served in the intelligence community at that time.
“It is vitally important that we have qualified professionals in positions such as CIA director and further delay in Gina Haspel’s nomination is contrary to our national interest.”
If approved, Haspel will be the first female director of the CIA.
“Her being the first female director does not make a difference,” Flaherty said. “She walked the walk. She has done her field work.”