Mixed signals on Gina Haspel

What should we make of Gina Haspel’s selection as CIA Director? I don’t know.

On the one hand, she appears to be Mike Pompeo’s pick. Haspel was Pompeo’s Deputy Director, so he knows what the CIA would be getting. And I have confidence in Pompeo’s judgment.

On the other hand, Haspel has received praise from both James Clapper and (sort of) John Brennan. Clapper says:

I think the world of Gina. I think she is a tremendous intelligence officer.

Brennan says:

Gina Haspel has a lot of integrity. She has tried to carry out her duties at the CIA to the best of her ability, even when the CIA was asked to do some very difficult things in very challenging times [a reference to her role in CIA waterboarding]. Gina is a very competent professional who I think deserves the chance to take the helm at the CIA.

Such is my contempt for Clapper and Brennan — especially Brennan — that their praise of Haspel sets off alarms. To the extent possible, the CIA needs a clean break from John Brennan.

It’s difficult to know exactly what to make of Brennan’s statement, though. Calling Haspel “a very competent professional” isn’t quite a ringing endorsement. Neither is saying that “Gina has tried to carry out her duties” or that “Gina deserves [a] chance.” CIA Director isn’t a position you give to someone because she tries hard and deserves a chance.

Brennan is a shifty SOB. He seems to be hedging his bets.

Finally, there is the Dianne Feinstein angle. Feinstein is still on the warpath over waterboarding. She blocked Haspel from becoming head of the agency’s clandestine service in 2013.

One would expect Feinstein to be outraged by the prospect of Haspel’s elevation to Director, but she is not. Instead, Feinstein said today that Haspel has been a “good deputy director of the CIA” and that she will wait until the confirmation hearing to determine whether to vote to confirm Haspel.

It sounds like Feinstein will probably vote in favor of confirmation if Haspel says what Feinstein wants to hear about waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation methods.

What gives? Has Feinstein concluded that Haspel will run the CIA along the lines of the Clapper-Brennan establishment model (what President Trump calls “the swamp”), or at least closer to that model than anyone the president is likely to select instead of her? Or is Feinstein the forgiving type, especially when a woman is poised to become CIA Director, a first?

Again, I don’t know. But Feinstein isn’t the only one who should wait for a while before deciding how to view Haspel’s selection.

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