Former intelligence leaders make show of force for CIA nominee
Dozens of former U.S. national security officials and lawmakers have signed on to a letter endorsing President Trump’s controversial pick to lead the CIA, a show of support that comes on the eve of Deputy Director Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing.
Thirty-six former CIA chiefs, intelligence community leaders and lawmakers signed on to the letter that is addressed to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Hill.
The top signatories include former CIA Director Michael Hayden, former National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander and former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Michael Rogers (R-Mich.), former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell.
In the letter, the intelligence officials emphasize Haspel’s skills and expertise and say she knows how to combat threats from all corners of the globe.
“We are all former senior government officials with national security experience in administrations of different parties or on Capitol Hill,” the letter reads.
“We believe that Ms. Haspel is an excellent choice to lead the CIA at a time when our intelligence community is under significant pressure at home and abroad,” the letter says in part. “A strong CIA director, with deep roots in Langley and the [intelligence community], is a critical asset for our nation at this time in our history.”
The letter, which is dated for Wednesday, comes as Haspel is set to be grilled Wednesday in what is expected to be a contentious confirmation hearing.
She will likely be questioned by members of the Senate Intelligence Committee about her past involvement in the spy agency’s use of harsh interrogations techniques, now widely considered torture, in the post-9/11 era.
“As a human intelligence officer, there is no doubt that Ms. Haspel was often called upon to make tough choices and to work on matters that some find deeply controversial. But she did so with dedication and commitment to the cause of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law, as well as to the safety and security of our nation and its citizens,” the letter says.
Democrats and other critics have fiercely opposed Haspel’s nomination, arguing that her past record should disqualify her from leading the CIA.
Law enforcement officials who have been critical of President Trump’s administration, however, have largely voiced support for her, citing her work for the agency for more than 30 years as a career professional.
Last month, more than 50 former intelligence leaders and other government officials similarly signed a letter voicing support for Haspel.
In the latest letter, the former officials lay out what they say are present challenges that Haspel is well-positioned to address, including the daily threats posed by terrorist groups, “detecting and understanding ongoing Russia covert influence operations,” as well as dealing with other states that have long been hostile to the U.S. like Iran and North Korea.
“In undertaking such a dangerous and critical role at this time, the men and women of Langley deserve a leader they know and trust who will lead with the discipline and guts to take the CIA into the future. Gina Haspel is that leader,” they wrote.
This week, the White House began an eleventh-hour effort to build support for Haspel, issuing a swath of laudatory press releases and briefing reporters.
According to an internal 27-page document obtained by The Hill, the administration has spelled out five key talking points for Republicans about Haspel, particularly how to address a questions if “pressed on a specific matter.” Defenders of Haspel should respond with the following: “She is an ‘intelligence and national security expert’ who follows the law as written, and has demonstrated strong and clear leadership in very challenging positions.”
Several senators on both sides of the aisle have already voiced opposition to her nomination, such as Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), citing her interrogation record.