CII Letter on the Nomination of Gina Haspel for the Position of Director of the Central Intelligence Agency

The Honorable Richard Burr                                               The Honorable Mark Warner
Chairman,                                                                               Vice Chairman,
U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence                U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
211 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

May 7, 2018

Dear Chairman Burr and Vice Chairman Warner,

We are retired CIA officers writing on behalf of our organization, the Council on Intelligence Issues (CII), regarding the nomination of Gina Haspel for the position of Director of the CIA.  As we have previously discussed with Committee staff, we formed the CII eight years ago with two main missions: To educate the public on intelligence issues and to support intelligence officers who need assistance in connection with matters arising out of their employment.  We operate on the firm conviction that no intelligence officer should suffer for good faith service to country, and we offer our views in the hope that the Committee will agree that this principle should be applied in considering Ms. Haspel’s nomination.

The nomination of Deputy Director of CIA Gina Haspel to head the CIA presents the Senate with the unenviable challenge of having to consider both the future and the past in voting on her confirmation.  For several reasons, we urge the Senate to look forward rather than fight past battles over the approval and conduct of counterterrorism operations in which Ms. Haspel ostensibly played a role.  Several former CIA Directors and many others from the agency and the wider intelligence community have already publicly endorsed her. These and other former government officials have urged that the selection of Ms. Haspel, a capable and highly regarded career intelligence professional, is a step in the right direction of eschewing politics and relying upon sound and steady leadership to return U.S. intelligence efforts to concentrate on the so-called hard targets.  These are areas such as North Korea, Iran, Russia, and China where direct access is limited but where good intelligence is critically needed.

Ms. Haspel understands clearly what needs to be done to reorient the CIA to today’s tasks. She has broad support within the agency, and her years of working with foreign intelligence services both overseas and in the U.S. indicate, contrary to some suggestions, that she is completely acceptable to allied services. Those of us who have worked with her know her to be a quiet, level-headed, and skilled professional of over 30 years-experience who is completely dedicated to service for the nation.

Much has been written about the years after 9/11 when the intelligence community’s primary energies were directed to implementing presidential direction and satisfying the relentless pressures from the Congress to be aggressive in helping protect an American public that feared another terrorist attack.  The mandate, in sum, was to take necessary action to identify, hunt down, and destroy international terrorism and in particular those persons who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and others who thought nothing of murdering, including beheading, innocent civilians. Decisions made in those years were difficult and admittedly controversial decisions which some people still question today in urging the rejection of Ms. Haspel’s nomination.

Critics argue that Haspel’s confirmation would inappropriately suggest an endorsement of now-abandoned and controversial, some say illegal or immoral, U.S. counterterrorism policies and practices. They assert that her role in the nation’s post 9/11 detention and interrogation program, as well as in the destruction of videotapes relating to the treatment of terrorists in U.S. custody even though prior investigation found she facilitated the tapes’ destruction only after assurances there was no legal objection, should disqualify Haspel from moving up to the Director position.  She now holds that position in an “acting” capacity.

It is important to remember, however, that intelligence officers entrusted with implementing those policy decisions proceeded with the understanding and, indeed, repeated assurances that the operations they conducted were properly authorized and found to be lawful by officials at the highest levels of government.  They also were funded by Congress after briefings to congressional leadership in accordance with statutory oversight requirements.  This is not to say that we think government officials should get a “free pass” by claiming they were only “following orders.” On the contrary.  Subsequent CIA and criminal investigations resulted in findings that in some situations the legal or policy lines were crossed, and sanctions were imposed. That of course is appropriate, and we think the point to be made is more nuanced.  We agree that it is appropriate to determine Ms. Haspel’s suitability by seeking her explanation of her role in those matters and what lessons she has learned from those experiences.  If a careful review by the Senate intelligence committee cannot find that Ms. Haspel violated the United States Government’s legal guidance, policies, and procedures in force at the time, she should be confirmed absent some other basis for concluding that she is not suitable to head the CIA.

We are not privy to the full details of Gina Haspel’s career or her role in the management of counterterrorism activities.  Our knowledge of Gina Haspel the person suggests to us that she is no cheerleader for illegal or unauthorized conduct, but we appreciate that the Senate must reach its own conclusions. The counterterrorism tactics that some members of Congress and others find objectionable are no longer approved. If any administration tries to reinstate actions Congress finds objectionable, Congress has the power to stop them.  It also has a duty to ask what Ms. Haspel would do in the face of pressure to carry out operations she thinks are objectionable but that this or another Administration’s policymakers and lawyers assert are legal and proper.  We take no position on the debate surrounding the appropriateness or morality of those controversial tactics, in part because of our reluctance to judge others based on the luxury of hindsight.  We think the Senate’s task is unenviable precisely because Senators must put themselves in Gina Haspel’s shoes and ask not simply what they think about the tactics, but what they would have done under the circumstances she faced.

If confirmed as Director, Gina Haspel will lead the CIA to address today’s threats.  This time of turmoil demands an able leader at CIA.  One consequence of the counter-terrorist struggle is that it drained intelligence assets and people away from the traditional focus of U.S. intelligence efforts and left gaping collection holes in some of the places of most concern today.  The limitations of reliance on technology to address those threats should be apparent. Without human sources with direct access to the information the intentions of our adversaries remain unknown. Without a strong cadre of language enabled operations officers working where they are needed then recruiting and extracting intelligence from those sources is impossible.  We believe Gina Haspel understands this and will direct the resources needed to acquire the technical and human source information needed to address the gaps. There is no grace period in the world of intelligence, no point at which work can stop while the organization retools or reorients itself.  While the U.S. was leading an international effort against terrorist groups, other nations, including Russia and China, were rearming and significantly augmenting their capabilities. The threats are real, they are ever present, global and serious. The work is un-relenting and the price of failure is high.

We think that rejecting Gina Haspel’s nomination only on the basis of objection to the policies under which she operated, if she is otherwise qualified to lead the CIA in meeting the nation’s national security challenges, would do a great disservice to her, to the men and women of CIA who honorably carried out their government responsibilities in battling terrorism, and to the men and women of CIA and other agencies who are now asked each day to undertake dangerous and often controversial programs based on assurances of legal and policy approvals by authorized government leaders.  Neither disagreements with past policies and practices, however controversial to some, nor changes in the political climate should be allowed to taint an otherwise qualified nominee.

For these reasons, we urge the Committee and the Senate to judge Ms. Haspel on the basis of whether she carried out her duties in good faith service to the nation and if it concludes from her record and her testimony that she will continue to do so if confirmed.


On Behalf of the Council on Intelligence Issues


George Jameson, Chairman
Former CIA Attorney         


William D. Murray, Vice Chairman
Former Chief of Station