In the CIA, Gina Haspel found her calling: protecting our country and freedoms

In the CIA, Gina Haspel found her calling: protecting our country and freedoms
© CIA

Thirty years ago, a newly-minted operations officer was dispatched by the Central Intelligence Agency to the front lines of the Cold War in Africa. That officer, Gina Haspel — recently nominated to be the next director of the CIA — was thrust into the most hostile operating environment on the continent. Scores of Soviet Bloc intelligence officers assisted the host government in its efforts to thwart U.S. operations. The U.S. presence was miniscule by comparison.

It was in that context that Ms. Haspel was charged with managing the CIA station’s most sensitive case. She performed admirably and with distinction, putting her career on an upward trajectory as she demonstrated time and again that she could handle any level of responsibility or complexity.

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Ms. Haspel’s nomination carries historical significance for the U.S. intelligence community and its premier espionage organization, the CIA, since she is the first woman nominated to be director. In addition, it has been two generations since the agency was led by an officer drawn from the ranks of the clandestine service. Much will be written about those facts over the coming days. Everyone in the clandestine service and throughout the agency is justifiably proud that the last remnant of the glass ceiling is on the verge of being broken.

 

Gina and I met in that CIA station in Africa. With each successive assignment, either in the foreign field or at CIA headquarters, she impressed her superiors, but also — and in my book more importantly — her peers as a dedicated officer who consistently performed at the highest level. She put in her time in the trenches, perfected her craft, and was ready to take on whatever assignment was in the interest of the agency and our nation.

Along the way, she became the first woman to lead one of our largest and most important stations abroad. She served as the chief of staff to the deputy director for operations and later became the associate deputy director for operations. She is now the deputy director of the entire agency. That represents a stellar career with an impressive trajectory.  

One might suspect that for anyone to be so successful in the agency, that officer must have been pretty aggressive and stepped on a few backs on the way to the top. That is not the way Gina Haspel operates, though.  She is humble, self-effacing, and has risen to where she is today because she cares deeply about the mission of the agency and the dedicated men and women who serve our nation.

What is remarkable to me is that the woman from Kentucky has changed so little over the years. She remains an optimistic, caring and collegial person.

I am confident Gina Haspel will be an excellent leader for the agency and a great addition to the upper ranks of our intelligence community and foreign affairs team. She has the requisite experience and is respected throughout the national security establishment. Notably, she is unafraid to speak the truth, regardless of the setting or audience. She is a consummate professional who always puts mission and the interests of the republic first.

Whether in the CIA, the military, or Foreign Service, one of the most important days in one’s career — arguably the most important — is when you hold up your right hand and pledge on your honor to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. The daughter of an Air Force officer, Ms. Haspel sought a role in life that would allow her to serve the nation and protect its people and our precious freedoms. She found her calling when she raised her right hand over 30 years ago in CIA headquarters. I know that her dedication to service has not been without its sacrifices; it comes with the territory.

When the U.S. Senate confirms Ms. Haspel, it will be a proud day for the agency and our nation.  In her, we will be getting an exemplary leader who always places mission and country first. We couldn’t ask for more.

Mark S. Sparkman is a 30-year veteran of the CIA. He is the chief intelligence officer for Veretus Group, an investigations and strategic intelligence firm in Washington, D.C.