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Senate Democrats seek more public information on CIA nominee Gina Haspel

A letter by three Democrats indicate the challenges Haspel faces in the Senate.
Image: Gina Haspel speaks at the 2017 William J. Donovan Award Dinner, Oct. 2017.
Gina Haspel speaks at the William J. Donovan Award Dinner, Oct. 2017.The OSS Society / via YouTube

WASHINGTON — Three Democratic senators are asking the CIA to publicly disclose more information on President Donald Trump's nominee to head the agency as uncertain confirmation proceedings gear up.

The public knows little about Gina Haspel, a career intelligence officer who has been tapped by the president to be the next CIA director, because much of the information pertaining to her background is classified — including details surrounding her role at a CIA "black site" in Thailand in 2002 where harsh interrogations were conducted that some have called torture. Information is also classified on her role in the destruction of tapes that documented such interrogations.

A letter written by three Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee — Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Dianne Feinstein of California — asks current CIA Director Mike Pompeo to declassify more information, noting that four previous requests have gone unfulfilled as the agency wages a laudatory public relations campaign to support her nomination.

“The more we read the classified facts, the more concerned we are, both by the actions she has taken during her career and by the CIA’s failure to allow the public the opportunity to consider them,” the letter said.

Haspel's role at the agency during tumultuous times stretching over two administrations are weighing on senators as they consider her nomination. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the CIA approved harsh tactics, including now-banned waterboarding, on detainees thought to be associated with al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

A yearslong Senate Intelligence Committee investigation released a report in 2014 that detailed some of the interrogation and detention procedures and policies during this time. The members of the same committee, who have access to classified information, are asking for information relevant to Haspel to be made available to the public.

Trump nominated Haspel, currently the agency's deputy director, for the CIA post when he tapped Pompeo to be secretary of state, kicking off two confirmation hearings in the Senate. Haspel's nomination is unlikely to move forward until Pompeo is confirmed.

Haspel's hearings have not yet been scheduled. Pompeo testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week where he has yet to gain the support of Democrats.

The senators also say in their letter that declassifying information pertaining to Haspel is critical given that the CIA has actively engaged in a public relations campaign pushing her nomination.

“In the absence of any meaningful declassification of her career, the public campaign on behalf of Ms. Haspel does a great disservice to the American people, who expect and deserve to understand the background of their government’s leaders,” the letter states.

Image: Gina Haspel named as CIA director
Gina Haspel in Langley, Virginia on March 21, 2017.CIA

The CIA has issued two glowing press releases about Haspel. The first, posted after her nomination, titled “getting to know your deputy director,” is a bare-bones profile that highlights her public accomplishments. The other details “bipartisan support” for Haspel’s nomination, linking to some news clips and quoting intelligence officials’ statements apparently made to the CIA.

“Yet the agency continues to conceal information that would allow the American people to assess these accolades for themselves,” the senators write.

Trump's nominees have been exceptionally controversial resulting with slim confirmations, and Haspel is likely to be no exception. With narrow 51-49 Republican majority in the Senate, Haspel is likely to need nearly every Republican. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has already indicated his opposition to her nomination, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former prisoner of war during Vietnam and fierce critic of torture techniques who has been absent from the Senate for cancer treatment, has expressed concern about Haspel's nomination.