But she faced opposition because of her extensive role in an interrogation program that critics have said relied on torture to get information from al-Qaeda captives after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. She had run a secret prison in Thailand where two detainees were subjected to waterboarding and other harsh techniques. She later helped order the destruction of videotapes of those interrogation sessions.
Instead, Brennan has given the job to a 57-year-old longtime officer who served tours in Pakistan and Africa and was recently in charge of the agency’s Latin America division, according to public records and former officials. He is also undercover, U.S. officials said.
The CIA confirmed the appointment in a statement Tuesday but disputed that the female officer’s ties to the interrogation program were a factor.
“The assertion she was not chosen because of her affiliation with the CT mission is absolutely not true,” said CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood, using an abbreviation for counterterrorism.
Youngblood described the new head of the spy service as a “talented and effective intelligence officer” who “is known for his collaborative and inclusive leadership style.” She noted that women will fill two other senior CIA jobs.
The moves mark the resolution of an early quandary for Brennan, who faced a bruising confirmation fight over his own ties to the interrogation program. He had taken the unusual step of forming a panel of retired CIA officers to evaluate candidates for the clandestine service position.
The female officer, who is in her 50s, had support within the agency and had served as deputy director of the clandestine service. But her background posed political problems at a time when the controversy over the agency’s treatment of detainees has reemerged.
The CIA is assembling what former officials have described as a defiant response to a 6,000-page report recently completed by the Senate Intelligence Committee that sharply criticizes the interrogation program as well as the agency’s claims about its results.
The report contains many references to the female officer’s role.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the panel, had called Brennan to express concern that someone so closely linked to the program might lead the agency’s spying service.
After running the “black site” in Thailand, the female officer returned to headquarters for a senior job at the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. Former colleagues said she lobbied for several years to have the videotapes taken in Thailand destroyed.