Trump’s pick for CIA chief faces scrutiny over role in torture program

NEW YORK — President Trump on Tuesday tapped Gina Haspel, the deputy director of the CIA, to head the agency after nominating current director Mike Pompeo to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. But Sen. John McCain said Tuesday that Haspel oversaw a secret “black site” prison where detainees were tortured. McCain also mentioned that Haspel carried out an order to destroy video of waterboarding.

CBS News senior national security contributor Michael Morell, who served as deputy director and acting director of the CIA, worked with Haspel for 10 years, and described her as “highly regarded” within the agency. He said he worked with her on a daily basis.

“She is capable. She has integrity. She cares deeply about the mission of the agency and she cares deeply about the men and women of the agency,” Morell said.

Morell said he could not confirm or deny any “operational” role Haspel had. But he said that the “enhanced interrogation program” was the policy at the time and came from the highest levels of government.

“Hundreds of people were involved in the enhanced interrogation techniques program. All of those people operated under the president’s direction, with the national security team’s approval, with the approval of the attorney general who said this is legal, it wasn’t torture, and with the full briefing of the Congress,” Morell said. “None of those people should be held to a higher standard today than they were held to at the time.”

Haspel was sworn in as deputy director on Feb. 7, 2017. If approved by the Senate, Haspel will become the first female director of the agency. 

Morell noted that Haspel will be taking over at a time when the U.S. faces “significant adversaries here, from Iran to Russia to North Korea to ISIS and al Qaeda.”

“The fundamental challenge of the agency is to penetrate those countries and those organizations to collect secrets and to assess that and provide that to the president,” Morell said. “Mike Pompeo did a good job of that but Gina will be a natural. Given her career as an operations officer, she’ll be a natural at getting inside of those programs and countries.”

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