Acting Director Gina Haspel comes before the U.S. Senate Wednesday, the body tasked with determining if she has what it takes to lead the Central Intelligence Agency.
No one disputes that she has the experience. A good deal of senators, however, claim her experience –specifically that gained on the front lines of the War on Terror — is not the kind our country wants in one of its leaders. Gina Haspel’s life has brought her from Boyd Country, Kentucky to war zones across the planet, and now to Washington, D.C., where it seems her future will come down to two senators from the Bluegrass State she left more than three decades ago.
We don’t know a lot about Haspel’s clandestine service: much of it is classified. We know she’s been in the CIA for 33 years. We know her career began in Africa, and then moved to Europe before sending her to Russia in the years after the Cold War. We know she speaks Russian, Turkish, French and Spanish, that she’s served as a station chief four times. And finally, we know that after the United States was deliberately attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, she went to work on the front lines of counter-terrorism.
Gina Haspel was not the only American to go to war that year. Across the planet, hundreds of thousands mobilized, training for battle, tracking communications, shutting down networks, seizing finances, riding horseback into the deserts, and killing and capturing the enemies of civilization. Some of their methods were tedious, others heroic, and still others have come under fire as too extreme.
Years after America’s spies and special operations forces went to war, following the laws that existed, to bring the maximum amount of hurt to our enemies, politicians back home decided they had gone beyond the lines our country was comfortable with. They launched an inquiry, and then a criminal investigation, concluded that no laws were broken, and decided to move forward with a more clear understanding of the lengths we’d go to against the foe.
That was six years ago. Yet this week, the nomination of an officer who did her duty in a deadly and chaotic time has reignited the grandstanding of the politicians who would have had her be gentler with the mass-murdering enemies of the country.
The eldest of five, Haspel was born in Ashland, Kentucky, before moving around the world with her airman father. After finishing high school abroad, she wanted to apply to West Point but was warned away by her dad. Instead, she returned to Kentucky, enrolling at McConnell’s alma mater, the University of Louisville. This week, McConnell and his colleague, Sen. Rand Paul, will be critical to whether she is confirmed.
Paul’s objections are clear. He opposed the destruction of interrogation tapes, though the CIA has since released its 2011 report assigning blame for that decision Haspel’s boss and not her. He also thinks waterboarding the Persian Gulf’s chief al-Qaida officer and mastermind of the U.S.S. Cole attacks three times is too much.
He is joined by the Democrats, many of whom were in office when Attorney General Eric Holder decided not to pursue criminal charges. They seem eager for another fight now.
There is no reliable indication the Democrats will break rank unless they must, the White House’s Marc Short told columnists in a Friday afternoon meeting. That means with Sen. John McCain’s health too poor to vote, McConnell needs his fellow Kentuckian — the same man who has threatened to filibuster the nomination.
Haspel may be able to make a deal with Paul, offering the senator promises and pledges on the future of the CIA under her leadership. McConnell and the White House might also try offering concessions on votes and projects he’d like to see pursued. Then, he may lack an appetite for compromise at all so soon after changing his position and backing Mike Pompeo for secretary of State.
We will see if the deals Kentucky’s senior senator is able to cut, as well as the screws he’s able to twist, will turn the junior senator or a single one of their Democratic colleagues to a 50-50 tie, breakable by the vice president. If he can’t, Gina Haspel, the lady from Ashland who dedicated her life to fighting America’s enemies in the shadows, will limp back to perform her duties in Virginia, her reputation tarnished in the limelight she’d avoided her entire life by the grandstanding of the city on the hill.
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