Americans' Deserve No Less Than Gina Haspel As CIA Director

Americans' Deserve No Less Than Gina Haspel As CIA Director
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Intelligence interrogations are too important to U.S. national security to be conducted using anything other than evidence-based, rights-respecting best practices. The HIG is the federal government’s hub for such expertise, which should weigh heavily in any discussions of interrogation rules going forward.

- Scott Roehm, Lawfare Blog (April 11, 2017)

Sen. John McCain speaks from a perspective of personal experience and does not agree with the Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program. Who better to allay the fears of those who oppose the RDI program than someone who had a front row seat as Congress and America had the debate on morality and torture? Let’s not be too hasty to forget the circumstances that led to the debates that have ensued for over a decade on the RDI program. The pure fact that it took debate indicates that there were at least two opposing sides on the issue. Gina Haspel, though she wasn’t directly in charge as she is being made out to be, was making the right moral decision for her country at that time.

Our great nation has evolved and grown over time. After all, America did not always have the 15th or 18th Amendments granting African Americans and women respectively the right to vote. We evolved as a nation, learned from mistakes and grew together. Gina embodies everything we want in our most senior intelligence official, to include modesty, operating in the shadows and intimate knowledge of the organization and how it fits into the complex picture. As pointed out during her testimony, the only thing she is lacking is the experience of wading through the swamp of Beltway politics. It will be her selflessness and love of the Agency and the United States of America that will make her one of the great influences in Intelligence Community history.

In her opening statement, Gina Haspel said, “my life at the Agency – and it has been my life,” more than 30 years of her life. When you read her bio, accomplishments and hear her story, you get the sense of passion for her duty to her country and her love for the men and women of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Many of the questions from her confirmation hearing were of a group concerned that she would cave to the will of this President. I would venture to guess that one with as much passion and commitment to an organization would not ever sell that organization out. Gina is not driven by money or fame. She was willing to step down before her nomination for the good of the Agency. This is not a person who would cave to the will of one to the detriment of many – particularly to the detriment of the people at the CIA whom she considers family.

Just as the country has grown over the past 17 years on many topics, so has the CIA. Gina stated, “For me, there is no better example of implementing lessons learned than what the Agency took away from the detention and interrogation program. In retrospect, it is clear, as the SSCI Majority Report concludes that CIA was not prepared to conduct a detention and interrogation program.” This is why the U.S. Government now has the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), which consists of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Department of Defense (DoD).

Established in 2009 the HIG, like each agency is subject to oversight by the National Security Council, Department of Justice, and Congress. The actions of HIG teams are carefully documented, evidence is preserved in the event of a criminal prosecution, and its members are prepared to testify in court if necessary.

Sen. Rand Paul was recently on CNN stating that he will oppose and filibuster Ms. Haspel’s nomination to Director of the CIA because as he states, Americans should be “free from torture, not free to torture.” The junior Senator from Kentucky also stated that the CIA Director has enormous power to spy, assassinate and collect data. Here is the irony; Congress has the power of the purse and the duty to conduct oversight of the programs they are funding, including covert action. There is a certain amount of culpability in the fact that all of the items Sen. Paul is accusing the position of doing – not even just Ms. Haspel – Congress should be overseeing. If there is something that Congress does not agree with; it is their duty to make the course correction in a particular area through oversight, funding restrictions or new laws.

To highlight perhaps a better way to work this issue as well as provide an example of a safeguard already in place, Senators McCain and Feinstein led an effort in 2015 to pass a law on this issue. They identified issues with the RDI program following the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report and passed a fix in the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). In section 1045 of the NDAA, it mandated the use of the nineteen interrogation techniques in the Army Field Manual. It also mandated a “thorough review” of the Army Field Manual to ensure that it complies with U.S. law.

Ms. Haspel was part of the core mission of the CIA and has a clear vision as well as the trust of those she will lead. As the Deputy Director of the CIA for the past 15 months, she has had the opportunity to gain the strategic, clear-eyed perspective of the organization. As the Director, particularly as a non-political appointed Director, she will now be the face of the organization that she created. No matter how some may try to spin the details of her story, she selflessly had the people, mission, and America in her head as she was making decisions and doing the next right thing during those trying times. Confirming Gina Haspel will be the next right thing for the CIA, the mission and America during these trying times -- “Because the American people deserve no less than CIA’s best effort.”

Dan Wagner is a visiting fellow at the National Security Institute. Dan is a combat veteran with nearly three years of tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas with both conventional and Special Operations units.  He has served on the Army Staff in Legislative Affairs maintaining the intelligence portfolio for the Secretary of the Army and has served in the personal office of Rep. Mike Rogers (MI-08), Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI).

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