the haspel file

I have a great deal of respect for Gina Haspel, Comrade Trump’s controversial nominee to be the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. I respect the fact that she’s done field work — and by ‘field work’ I mean the serious, no shit, secret, risky work of actual spy tradecraft — and she’s done it in some of the most dangerous parts of the world. We don’t know exactly what she’s done, of course, but she apparently did it well enough to rise through the ranks to become a big hat in the clandestine service. That’s a tough gig, by any measure.

But now she’s being touted to run the entire CIA, and that’s a whole nother gig entirely. So it’s necessary to remember this: good operatives don’t necessarily make good administrators. Being good in the field — any field — requires more than a skill set; it requires a very different attitude toward the work. People who do dangerous work and do it well generally share a belief that they can bend or break the rules, whatever those rules are. They believe they can do stuff ordinary folks can’t or won’t — and they’re usually right. The ones who aren’t right don’t last. That’s true of spies, of soldiers, of firefighters, of just about any gig that involves taking calculated risks.

Here’s an example. In 1998 a Marine aviator was contour flying in an EA-6B Prowler out of the Aviano air base in the Italian Alps. He was flying at 550 mph at a height of around 260 feet through the mountains and valleys when his wing clipped the cable supporting an aerial tramway for tourists. The cable snapped and a gondola carrying twenty people fell. All of them died.

The pilot and copilot were both charged with involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide, and eventually the pilot served a prison sentence. But — and this is a horribly ugly truth — that pilot was displaying exactly the sort of attitude you want in a combat aviator. You want combat pilots who are confident enough and skilled enough to be  aggressive risk-takers. Well, you want pilots who are successful aggressive risk-takers. Again, the ones who aren’t successful don’t last.

That’s the thing. People who are good in the field aren’t necessarily good citizens. They’re not necessarily good people. The very qualities that make a person effective in the field generally disqualify them from running things. Gina Haspel has lasted for thirty years, most of which was in the clandestine service. That’s a testament to her skill as a spy and her willingness to do whatever she needed to do to get the job done. Every intelligence agency in the world relies on people like Gina Haspel.

And that’s exactly why she should NOT be the DCIA. She’s been the sort of agent who personifies the reasons field agents need oversight. Somebody has to be around to keep a collar on these folks, because they are all about getting results. I’m not surprised Gina Haspel ran a black site at which torture took place. I’m not surprised she destroyed video recordings of those torture sessions. I’m certainly not surprised that she claimed the torture produced actionable intelligence, or that she refused to categorically state torture was immoral. Nor am I surprised that she told Senators she wouldn’t resume the practice of ‘enhanced interrogation’.

You don’t last thirty years in the CIA without the ability to lie convincingly.


5 thoughts on “the haspel file

  1. Here’s the other side of this. The tapes included the faces and voiceprints of field agents, and were ordered destroyed rather than released because of that.

    At the time she *administered* that site with its staff, the commander in chief had issued legal guidance that said that waterboarding was legal.

    As a result, refusing an order to supervise the waterboarding is hard to support as refusing an illegal order. Specifically.

    Now, you may respect someone like Manning for spending years in Leavenworth after being court martialed for her principles. But Manning never intended to spend those years in hell. She did not go into courts martial intentionally to test her case. She was betrayed by a rat.

    She did not walk into a hopeless trap.

    Now that torture has rightly been forbidden as ineffective Haspel has pledged to support that. Former IC admins have endorsed her chops as an administrator.

    So ponder this.

    If she is turned away, who does Trump nominate next? Erik Prince?

    Think big. We have the biggest thinks.

    The next one will be worse.


    • The tapes included the faces and voiceprints of field agents, and were ordered destroyed rather than released because of that.

      Sure…torturers never want to be exposed. But consider this: the CIA’s General Counsel — a guy named Scott W. Muller — told George Tenet, the CIA director, not to destroy the tapes. Members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, after learning of the existence of the tapes, said they shouldn’t be destroyed. A trio of White House lawyers — Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, and John Bellinger — all told the CIA that the tapes shouldn’t be destroyed. After Tenet left the CIA, the new acting DCIA — Porter Goss, who’d been one of the Congressmen on the House Intelligence Committee who advised the CIA not to destroy the tapes — again said the tapes shouldn’t be destroyed (although he didn’t ORDER them not to be destroyed). After Muller left, the new General Counsel for the CIA — John Rizzo, who’d been a lawyer for the CIA for three decades — also said the tapes should not be destroyed.

      Then after the Washington Post did a story on the black site in Thailand, the director of Operations (now called the Clandestine Service) sent a cable to Gina Haspel — without copying the CIA lawyers or anybody else — that she should have the tapes destroyed. And she did. And they didn’t tell anybody the tapes were destroyed for about a year. That’s some pretty shady shit, right there.

      Haspel and others should have been fired and prosecuted for obstruction of justice. Instead, she was promoted. Again, I have a lot of respect for her and the work she did early in her career — but everybody should accept the consequences of their actions.

      At the time she *administered* that site with its staff, the commander in chief had issued legal guidance that said that waterboarding was legal.

      That’s not much of a recommendation. If you change the definition of torture, it’s still torture — according to the Army Field Manual, according to the Geneva Conventions, according to the International Criminal Court. If Japanese soldiers after WWII were executed for war crimes that included waterboarding, it’s still torture even if POTUS finds an attorney to say it’s not.

      Now that torture has rightly been forbidden as ineffective Haspel has pledged to support that

      Unless Trump again redefines torture as ‘enhanced interrogation’.

      The next one will be worse.

      So our ethical standard has become accept this outrage in order to avoid an even worse outrage? I can’t support that.

      Liked by 1 person

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