3 Things You Need to Know about First Female CIA Head

By: Elise Le Sage

Last month, the Senate voted to confirm Gina Haspel as the new director of the CIA. The vote was not reached without conflict; a number of Democratic senators offered their approval only after former CIA directors John Brennan and Leon Panetta contacted the senators to endorse Haspel.

The new director’s professional life has been riddled with controversy and, although it is nice to see a woman finally filling this position, there are a number of factors to consider before we celebrate. Here are 3 things you should know about the new CIA head.

  1. Haspel’s interrogation tactics

Following the September 11th attacks, Haspel, who served then as the Deputy Group Chief of the Counterterrorism Center, employed “enhanced interrogation techniques” to question suspected al-Qaeda terrorists. Because a number of torture techniques were considered legal under the White House admiration at the time, Haspel was able to use brutal tactics like waterboarding to pry information from these suspects.

In 2014, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) pressed charges against the CIA operatives involved in these interrogations after the US Senate Select Committee released a report on torture conducted by US Intelligence Agencies. Three years later, the ECCHR put out an arrest warrant for Haspel with charges accusing her of overseeing the torture of suspected terrorists.

  1. Destruction of Evidence

In 2005, Haspel was involved in the destruction of videotapes depicting the “enhanced interrogation.”  The public learned of the destruction of these tapes in 2007; however, John Durham, the Department of Justice special prosecutor, waived any criminal charges involving this destruction.

  1. Haspel’s promise for CIA’s future

During her confirmation hearing this past May, the new director promised that the September 11th interrogation techniques would not carry on into the future. “Having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership, the CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program,” she said to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

All in all, this milestone for gender equality does not seem to be the forward leap we would have hoped. Perhaps Haspel will learn from the decisions she has made under pressure and move forward with a new code of ethics. Even so, we should watch this new CIA head as critically and carefully as we would any man in her position.