By Karoun Demirjian,
The CIA is refusing to declassify information about director nominee Gina Haspel’s career at the agency, infuriating several Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee who said the decision was “unacceptable.”
“It’s unacceptable for the CIA to hide [Haspel] behind a wall of secrecy, particularly when such secrecy is unnecessary to protect national security,” Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Martin Heinrich (N.M.) wrote in a joint statement Wednesday. “Concealing her background when no sources and methods are at stake shows nothing but contempt for the Senate and the public.”
Questions about Haspel’s participation in the CIA’s widely criticized enhanced interrogation techniques program — techniques many liken to torture — and her role in drafting an order to destroy videotaped evidence of such brutal methods being used, have threatened her nomination since the day it was announced. She is scheduled to appear before the Intelligence Committee for a confirmation hearing on May 9, and in advance of that, Feinstein, Wyden and Heinrich had asked the CIA to make facts about Haspel’s tenure publicly available, citing concerns about “disturbing facts” about her career.
The CIA responded to that request on Tuesday, telling the trio of Democratic senators that while the CIA would not further declassify any materials related to the 32 years Haspel spent working “in a clandestine role,” senators were welcome to peruse the materials in a secure agency facility.
“Our oversight committee should have complete insight into the background of any individual subject to confirmation,” agency congressional affairs director Jaime Cheshire wrote in a letter addressed to Heinrich.
“At the same time, however, CIA has made it a priority to protect the safety and security of clandestine officers,” Cheshire continued, pointing out that the risk to officers, particularly senior ones like Haspel, “does not subside even when they leave public service.”
But rebuffed Democrats believe the CIA has been selective when it comes to releasing information about Haspel, pointing to the agency’s decision last week to declassify a memo that cleared Haspel of responsibility for destroying evidence of brutal coercive methods being used — but then refusing to share with the public basic biographical details about Haspel’s career, including a full list of the countries in which she was posted.
[CIA declassifies memo clearing Haspel of responsibility for destroying evidence]
Haspel is likely to take over as the CIA’s acting director at the end of the week, as current CIA Director Mike Pompeo is expected to be confirmed as the next secretary of state.
Her own chances of Senate confirmation are still unclear. One Republican, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), has already said he will vote against Haspel’s nomination, while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), perhaps Congress’s leading moral voice against torture, has sharply questioned her CIA record. But McCain, who is undergoing treatment for a rare and serious form of brain cancer, is not expected to be present for the vote, and Paul has already reneged on his promise to oppose another of Trump’s nominees: Pompeo, who he backed as secretary of state on Monday despite weeks of promising that he would not.
Haspel is still making the rounds on Capitol Hill to speak with the senators who will vote on her nomination. Early reviews of Haspel’s performance in those one-on-one meetings were decidedly mixed, but in days since, her answers — as well as the declassified memo about her role in the destruction of tapes — appears to have addressed at least some of lawmakers’ concerns.
“The fault lay at the feet of [then-director of the National Clandestine Service] Jose Rodriguez and not Gina Haspel,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee whose vote on Haspel is seen as in play, said Tuesday. The declassified memo, she added, “resolves that issue. But obviously I’m going to wait ‘til the hearing. There are a lot of other issues.”
Read more at PowerPost