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CIA Nominee Gina Haspel Faced Tough Questioning At Her Confirmation Hearing

May 9, 2018
Originally published on May 9, 2018 5:52 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A spy accustomed to life in the shadows had her coming-out today. Gina Haspel, President Trump's nominee to lead the CIA, went before the Senate intelligence committee. She was grilled on her role in the CIA's waterboarding campaign in the early 2000s and on what she would do if asked to restart an interrogation program. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre has our story.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Senators on the Intelligence Committee got straight to the point. Here's Democrat Kamala Harris of California asking Gina Haspel about the CIA's brutal interrogations of al-Qaida suspects.

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KAMALA HARRIS: Do you believe in hindsight that those techniques were immoral?

MYRE: They went back and forth several times. Haspel declined to say yes or no. She concluded with this.

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GINA HASPEL: I don't believe that torture works. I believe, as many people, directors who have sat in this chair before me, that valuable information was obtained from senior al-Qaida operatives that allowed us to defend this country and prevent another attack.

MYRE: The first woman nominated to lead the spy agency, Haspel's long undercover career means she's left no public record. With the Senate vote expected to be extremely close, this is Haspel's one chance to make her case. She said several times she would not restart a detention and interrogation program. Here's an exchange with Virginia Democrat Mark Warner.

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MARK WARNER: If this president asked you to do something that you find morally objectionable, what will you do? I just need to know what your...

HASPEL: Senator...

WARNER: ...Response would be.

HASPEL: My moral compass is strong. I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral even if it was technically legal.

MYRE: Haspel served at a black site prison in Thailand in 2002. Two al-Qaida suspects were waterboarded there. She did not disavow that earlier program, saying she was proud of what she and the CIA accomplished.

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HASPEL: After 9/11, I didn't look to go sit on the Swiss desk. I stepped up. I was not on the sidelines. I was on the front lines in the Cold War, and I was on the front lines in the fight...

RON WYDEN: I respect that.

HASPEL: ...Against al-Qaida. I'm very proud of the fact that we captured the perpetrator of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

MYRE: Haspel likely needs at least some support from Democrats to win confirmation. This afternoon, West Virginia's Joe Manchin became the first Democrat to publicly back her. California's Dianne Feinstein was one of several Democrats saying she admires Haspel, but Feinstein pressed Haspel on a cable she wrote in 2005. It called for the destruction of 92 videotapes of a suspect being waterboarded.

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HASPEL: I never served...

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Were you an advocate for destroying the tapes?

HASPEL: Senator, I absolutely was an advocate if we could within and conforming to U.S. law.

MYRE: Haspel said this protected the identities of CIA employees in the tapes. Former CIA directors and many others in the intelligence community are strong supporters of Haspel. They say she excelled in multiple foreign posts and proved a very capable manager at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., where she's been deputy director for the past year. Here's committee chairman, Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina, introducing Haspel, whom he addressed as Gina.

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RICHARD BURR: You are without a doubt the most qualified person the president could've chosen to lead the CIA and the most prepared nominee in its 70-year history.

MYRE: In the afternoon, senators went behind closed doors to question Haspel on the many parts of her career that remain classified. Greg Myre, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.