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Evaluating The Potential New CIA Director


Another high-profile firing this week - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is causing a controversial shuffle. CIA Director Mike Pompeo is Trump's choice to replace Tillerson. And that means that Gina Haspel, his deputy, would move up to the top job at the CIA if confirmed. She's a 33-year veteran of that agency - the first woman to be nominated for the job. But her nomination faces resistance because of her role in the CIA's torture and waterboarding of al-Qaida suspects in the early 2000s. One prominent critic is John Kiriakou, a former CIA counterterrorism officer who spoke out against waterboarding and later went to federal prison for leaking classified information to a reporter.

JOHN KIRIAKOU: I think that Gina Haspel's nomination sends the wrong message to the CIA workforce. It sends a message that you can commit crimes. You can be involved in something is as odious as torture. And you can still get promoted. You can destroy evidence of the torture, after being specifically told by the White House counsel and by the CIA general counsel not to destroy the evidence, and get promoted. And you may even be promoted to director. That's exactly the opposite of the message that we should be sending to the CIA workforce.

SIMON: Gina Haspel destroyed evidence?

KIRIAKOU: Gina Haspel and Jose Rodriguez, who at the time was the director of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, destroyed the videotaped evidence of Abu Zubaydah's torture.

SIMON: You understand, Mr. Kiriakou, that this week we have to ask you why should we believe you.

KIRIAKOU: Well, you know...

SIMON: Your integrity has been seriously undercut.

KIRIAKOU: Oh, on the contrary...

SIMON: ProPublica has retracted a story for which they said you were the source.

KIRIAKOU: No, they did not say I was the source.

SIMON: You were one of the sources.

KIRIAKOU: No, I never spoke to ProPublica. What they said was they had found an online article that I had written that they drew from. They took it out of context. I never said anything about Gina Haspel working in any certain country overseas.

SIMON: You never said she worked in Thailand?

KIRIAKOU: I never uttered those words.

SIMON: Did you say she was in control of the program in Thailand?

KIRIAKOU: She was. I didn't say it was while Abu Zubaydah was at the secret location. And I never said Thailand. Those words were put in my mouth by Ray Bonnor and others who were involved with that article. I resent the implication in their retraction.

SIMON: Now, of course, one of the things ProPublica noted is that she never arrived at that site in Thailand until after the torture.

KIRIAKOU: After the torture of Abu Zubaydah.


KIRIAKOU: Before the torture of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

SIMON: You said in the article - wrote February last year - that it was Gina Haspel who videotaped the torture of Abu Zubaydah, right?

KIRIAKOU: I don't believe I said that she videotaped it. She was in charge of the site.

SIMON: I'm looking at your words. (Reading) It was Haspel who videotaped the torture of Abu Zubaydah.

KIRIAKOU: Well, then that's an editorial error because I've never said that in an interview - that she videotaped it. I wouldn't have any way of knowing that she videotaped it.

SIMON: But you did write those words, didn't you?

KIRIAKOU: Then I apologize. And I say it's an editorial error because I have no idea who videotaped the torture.

SIMON: Well, you can see why ProPublica would - and others would question you.

KIRIAKOU: OK, but then wouldn't ProPublica then call me and ask me to confirm something? Nobody ever called me from ProPublica - never. I've never spoken to anybody there.

SIMON: Now, in 2002, the Justice Department had signed off on what they called enhanced interrogation techniques and the enhanced interrogation program. Didn't the CIA believe what it was doing was legal?

KIRIAKOU: Yes, it did. It was specifically told by the Justice Department and by the White House that the ten torture techniques that they had submitted were legal, and they were approved. But what wasn't approved was the notion that you could murder suspects or prisoners in custody. And we did. We murdered people in custody. We never - the Justice Department never said that you could carry out mock executions or threaten to kill a prisoner's children in front of him or to rape his wife in front of him or to put a drill next to his head to make him think that you were going to drill into his skull. Those things were never approved.

SIMON: What do you make of the support of former CIA directors Michael Hayden, John Brennan and, for that matter, Senator Feinstein - who has been critical of Gina Haspel but said she's been a good deputy director?

KIRIAKOU: I expected John Brennan and Mike Hayden and others - Mike Morrell - to rally to her support. I would never have expected anything else. I am disappointed in Dianne Feinstein because where was Gina Haspel when John Brennan was ordering CIA officers to break into the Senate Intelligence Committee's computer system. That's an operation. She was the acting deputy director for operations. Did she do anything to stop it? Not that I've ever heard.

SIMON: Do we know that she knew about it though?

KIRIAKOU: If you're the deputy director of the CIA for operations, I would think yes.

SIMON: Is your concern that if Gina Haspel is confirmed, she's going to bring back torture?

KIRIAKOU: That's one of my concerns. My other issue with her is that I believe that her past actions disqualify her. I think it's absolutely wonderful that the president wants to name a woman to head the CIA. The CIA has been headed by white men for the last 71 years - but not this woman. There are another 50 women across government who probably would be fantastic CIA directors. Why not look at them?

SIMON: John Kiriakou, former CIA counterterrorism officer, former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he co-hosts Loud & Clear on Sputnik radio. Thanks very much for being with us.

KIRIAKOU: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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