The CIA has refused to declassify information about Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee to be the agency’s next director, infuriating Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee who have questioned her suitability for the role.
“It’s unacceptable for the CIA to hide [Haspel] behind a wall of secrecy, particularly when such secrecy is unnecessary to protect national security,” Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Martin Heinrich (N.M.) wrote in a joint statement Wednesday. “Concealing her background when no sources and methods are at stake shows nothing but contempt for the Senate and the public.”
Haspel’s nomination has been called into question over her participation in the CIA’s widely criticized enhanced-interrogation program — which included techniques many liken to torture — and her role in drafting an order to destroy video evidence of such methods being used.
Her confirmation hearing before the Intelligence Committee is scheduled for May 9. Citing unspecified “disturbing facts” about Haspel’s career at the agency, where she is deputy director, Feinstein, Wyden and Heinrich had asked the CIA to make more details about her tenure publicly available.
The CIA responded Tuesday, telling the three senators that while the CIA would not further declassify materials related to Haspel’s 32 years working “in a clandestine role,” they were welcome to peruse such material in a secure facility.
“Our oversight committee should have complete insight into the background of any individual subject to confirmation,” the agency’s congressional affairs director, Jaime Cheshire, wrote in a letter addressed to Heinrich.
“At the same time, however, CIA has made it a priority to protect the safety and security of clandestine officers,” Cheshire continued, pointing out that the risk to officers, particularly senior ones such as Haspel, “does not subside even when they leave public service.”
Democrats say the CIA has been selective in releasing information about Haspel. They point to the agency’s decision last week to declassify a memo that cleared her of responsibility for destroying evidence of the coercive methods used as part of the interrogation program — but then refusing to share with the public basic biographical details about Haspel’s career, including a complete list of the countries in which she was posted.
Haspel is likely to take over as the CIA’s acting director at the end of this week, when the agency’s current director, Mike Pompeo, is expected to be confirmed for his new role as secretary of state.
Her confirmation remains unclear, however.
One Republican, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), has already said he will vote against Haspel’s nomination, while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), perhaps Congress’s leading moral voice against torture, has sharply questioned her CIA record.
But McCain, who is undergoing treatment for brain cancer, is not expected to be present for the vote, and Paul could reverse course, as his did this week with Pompeo, whose nomination he agreed to support on Monday after saying for weeks that he would not.
Haspel continues to make the rounds on Capitol Hill, speaking with senators who will vote on her nomination.
Early reviews of her performance in those one-on-one meetings were mixed, but in the days since then, her answers — as well as the declassified memo about her role in the video destruction — appear to have addressed at least some of the lawmakers’ concerns.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee whose vote on Haspel is seen as in play, said Tuesday that the declassified memo resolves her concerns about the destruction of video. “But obviously I’m going to wait till the hearing,” she said. “There are a lot of other issues.”