CIA paints a fuller picture of director nominee Gina Haspel's biography

Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump's pick to be CIA director, grew up on US Air Force bases overseas, is a fan of Jo...

Posted: Mar 23, 2018 11:06 AM
Updated: Mar 23, 2018 11:06 AM

Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump's pick to be CIA director, grew up on US Air Force bases overseas, is a fan of Johnny Cash and had her first day in the CIA's Counterterrorism Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

She was born in Ashland, Kentucky, the oldest of five children, is an avid Kentucky Wildcats basketball fan and dreamed of going to West Point before she ultimately embarked on a 33-year CIA career that could culminate in her becoming the first female director of the agency.

Those were some of the biographical details the CIA provided to Congress on Thursday to better introduce -- and humanize -- the nominee to senators amid opposition from some Democrats and at least one Republican for her role in the George W. Bush administration's controversial detention and interrogation program.

Haspel's biography is largely unknown because of her lengthy undercover career.

Her extended bio, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, comes as the Trump administration and the Senate Intelligence Committee are in discussions about how much of her record should be declassified as part of the confirmation process. She's been on Capitol Hill this week making her initial rounds meeting with the committee and with senators, ahead of a confirmation process that has not been scheduled because she hasn't yet been formally nominated for the role.

Haspel's confirmation is shaping up to be a bruising fight, as senators are demanding details about her role at a "black site" in Thailand in 2002.

Haspel, who is currently deputy CIA director, was not at the black site during the brutal interrogation and waterboarding of al-Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah, a detail several news outlets had reported incorrectly following her nomination, but she later ran the site after he was transferred and when other prisoners were interrogated using harsh tactics critics say are torture.

Senators also want to know her role in the CIA's destruction of tapes from interrogation sessions of terrorism detainees.

Those episodes are not included in the CIA's two-page biography, which was obtained by CNN. The CIA declined to comment Thursday.

The bio emphasizes Haspel's long career of service, which began before she joined the CIA.

It says Haspel wanted to go to West Point, and her father had to tell her at the time that the Army academy did not admit women. After she graduated from the University of Louisville -- while remaining a fan of the rival Wildcats -- she worked as a contractor with the 10th Special Forces Group at Fort Devens in Massachusetts.

She then applied to join the CIA, with a love of foreign languages and a desire "to be part of something bigger than just me," the bio quotes her as saying. Her first job was as a case officer in Africa, an experience she is quoted as describing as "right out of a spy novel."

She received the George H.W. Bush Award for Excellence in Counterterrorism while working overseas when she received word that two terrorists linked to an embassy bombing were coming to the country and she put together the operation that led to their arrest.

Haspel requested a transfer to the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, the bio says, and her first day on the job was September 11, 2001. "She walked in amid the commotion, sat down at a computer, and got to work. She didn't let up for three years, often working seven days a week," the biography says.

The end of the bio mentions her affinity for Johnny Cash, noting her office has a number of overseas mementos, along with a 5-foot-tall poster of the country music legend "as a symbol of American individualism."

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