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World  

Trump's new spymaster

President Donald Trump's pick to be the next director of the CIA is a career spymaster who oversaw torture at a secret prison during one of the darkest chapters in the agency's history.

If confirmed, 61-year-old Gina Haspel would become the first female head of the CIA.

She's described by colleagues as a seasoned veteran with 30-plus years of intelligence experience who would lead the agency with integrity. But it's the few years she spent supervising a secret black site that will be closely scrutinized at her confirmation hearing.

Trump announced on Tuesday that he had chosen Haspel to succeed Mike Pompeo, who is replacing ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. She joined the CIA in 1985 and has been deputy director of the agency since February 2017.

Between 2003 and 2005, Haspel oversaw a secret CIA prison in Thailand where terror suspects Abu Zubayadah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri were waterboarded, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said. Waterboarding is a process that simulates drowning and is widely considered to be a form of torture. Haspel also helped carry out an order to destroy waterboarding videos, which prompted a lengthy Justice Department investigation that ended without charges.

Trump has said that he would reintroduce waterboarding and "a lot worse," but there's no indication that his decision to pick Haspel signals a desire to restart the harsh interrogation and detention program. He would face steep legal and legislative hurdles if he tried.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Haspel must explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA's interrogation program.

"Current U.S. law is clear in banning enhanced interrogation techniques," said McCain, who was beaten as a prisoner during the Vietnam War. "Any nominee for director of the CIA must pledge without reservation to uphold this prohibition."

Former CIA Director John Brennan declined to say what Haspel's exact role was in the interrogation program, but he told NBC that she has a "lot of integrity" and has tried to carry out her agency duties "when asked to do difficult things in challenging times."

Brennan predicted she would be confirmed. "Gina is a very competent professional who I think deserves the chance to take the seat," he said.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, which will vote whether to confirm Haspel, said she has the "right skill set, experience and judgment" to lead the CIA.



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