Haspel delivers first public remarks as Trump’s CIA chief

Haspel delivers first public remarks as Trump’s CIA chief
© Getty Images

Gina Haspel delivered her first public address as CIA director on Monday, offering a robust endorsement of the clandestine foreign intelligence service she leads and laying out her priorities in her first months on the job.

In a speech at the University of Louisville, her alma mater, Haspel said the CIA is working to prioritizing closing the “strategic intelligence gaps” by focusing more intelligence gathering on nation-state adversaries, rather than terrorist groups.

ADVERTISEMENT

Haspel, the CIA’s first female director, also pledged to “champion diversity and inclusion” among the intelligence agency’s ranks and to invest more in the CIA’s counternarcotics operations overseas.

Haspel, a 33-year veteran of the agency, made the rare public appearance four months after the Senate confirmed her to serve atop the CIA, which involved intense scrutiny of her involvement in the agency’s use of brutal interrogation tactics after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

She delivered the remarks at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center and was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: Murkowski, Manchin unveil major energy bill | Lawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget | GOP lawmaker accuses Trump officials of 'playing politics' over Yucca Mountain Lawmakers race to pass emergency coronavirus funding Trump upends controversial surveillance fight MORE (R-Ky.).

Her speech featured anecdotes about her early days as an intelligence officer at the CIA and some references to her plans in her new leadership role, including putting more resources to collecting and analyzing intelligence on nation-state threats.

“Our efforts against these difficult intelligence gaps have been overshadowed over the years by the intelligence community’s justifiably heavy emphasis on counterterrorism in the wake of 9/11,” Haspel said. “Groups such as the so-called Islamic State and al Qaeda remain squarely in our sights, but we are sharpening our focus on nation-state adversaries.”

Still, Haspel emphasized the need for the intelligence agency’s work to remain secret in order to be effective.

“We’re first in, collecting intelligence, moving ahead of the military, going where others can’t go and doing things that no one else can,” Haspel said. “These are the sorts of activities that fall under the heading of ‘covert action.’ Our work requires secrecy, and secrecy in turn requires a profound degree of trust from the American people.”

Haspel made little reference to President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Congress eyes billion to billion to combat coronavirus Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary MORE, who has at times appeared to clash with the intelligence community as a result of his tepid embrace of its conclusions about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

She did, however, say that she attends Trump’s daily intelligence briefings several times a week, along with Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsCongress eyes killing controversial surveillance program Grenell asks top intel official to remain in role amid lawmaker concerns John Ratcliffe back under consideration by Trump for top intel job MORE and national security adviser John Bolton.

Haspel was also asked to address the soccer ball gift Trump was given by Russian President Vladimir Putin at their controversial meeting in Helsinki this past July.

“I think it was meant to be a gesture, but I’m very confident that my brothers over in the Secret Service will have X-rayed that ball,” Haspel joked.

And when questioned about morale at the agency, Haspel described rank-and-file officers and analysts as unaffected by the political turmoil in Washington.

“CIA is a very resilient work force and we tend to be very mission-focused. We tend not to pay attention to the political fray in the capital. We are very focused on events overseas and our collection mission, our analysis mission, and what we can do about the problems that we face overseas,” Haspel said. “I think morale tends to be pretty constant.”