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Cotton Urges Confirmation of CIA Director Nominee Gina Haspel

May 17, 2018

The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency is not as old an office as some others in the President's Cabinet, but it's no less important. The Director's job is to provide the critical information on which the President's national-security decisions are based. And for this reason, presidents of both parties have chosen seasoned statesmen to serve in this post, men like Allen Dulles, George H. W. Bush, Robert Gates, and Mike Pompeo. Often, they've kept in office directors who were appointed by their predecessors, out of respect for the CIA's integrity and professionalism. That's because partisanship has no place at the CIA-the national interest must be uppermost in our minds.

Which is why I will be voting to confirm Gina Haspel as our next CIA Director. Secretary Pompeo left the agency in good shape, and Ms. Haspel was his very capable deputy. Moreover, few people have contributed as much to the CIA's recent successes as Ms. Haspel. She has 33 years of experience working for the agency, serving first on the front lines of the Cold War and later on the front lines of the War on Terror. If confirmed, she would also be the first woman to lead the agency. And given her many accomplishments, her diligence and dedication, and her fierce love of country, I'm astonished and disappointed at the controversy over the nomination of this great American.

After all, Ms. Haspel is a career professional, whose record of achievement speaks for itself. She joined the agency in 1985, working as a case officer for several years in both Africa and Europe. Over time, she rose up the ranks, serving first as chief of staff and then as deputy director of the Directorate of Operations. She served as chief of station-the officer responsible for overseeing all of the CIA's work in a foreign country-four different times. Having served under six different presidents from both parties, Haspel has never been a partisan. She's a professional whose many years of work command respect throughout the CIA.

And she's never avoided controversy to protect her own career. Time and time again she sought out danger; she raised her right hand and volunteered to serve in some of the agency's most dangerous assignments. It was on September 11, 2001, after seeing the first plane hit the World Trade Center on television, that she walked into the CIA's Counterterrorism Center and said put me on the job. She didn't have to do that. As she said, she could've hid out on the Swiss desk. But she didn't. She took on what she knew would be a tough and controversial job. That's the kind of woman Gina Haspel is.

Now, it's true that because of her willingness to take on a tough job, she was present for some of the most difficult decisions about how to protect America in the days after 9/11. Yes, she was around when the agency was responsible for the detention and interrogation of notorious terrorists, but there's been so much misinformation spread about what she did that I want to set the record straight.

Ms. Haspel did not start this program-she didn't even know it existed until a year after it began. In fact, Nancy Pelosi learned about this program before Gina Haspel did.

She did not "cheerlead" the program, as some senators have wrongly claimed based on a book, the author of which later issued a correction on this very point.

Other senators claim to worry about what "message we will send" by confirming Ms. Haspel. I confess that I'm amazed that these Democrats say they can't in good conscience vote to confirm Ms. Haspel, who was a mid-level career employee when the program was active-and yet they voted in 2013 to confirm John Brennan, who was the number-four-ranking CIA official at that time.

And while I'm at it, let me also say she did not destroy any tapes of those interrogations. She simply wrote a draft cable for her boss, the director of operations, which authorized their destruction. He released the cable, he has acknowledged, without her advance knowledge. In fact, former acting director of the CIA Mike Morell later conducted an investigation and cleared Ms. Haspel of any wrongdoing, and the special counsel who reviewed the matter closed the case without filing any charges.

Would holding her responsible for drafting a cable at her boss's direction make any more sense than holding Senate staffers responsible for the boring speeches their bosses give on the Senate floor? And yes, I know there were political officials in the government who expressed reservations about destroying the tapes. But no lawyer at any time anywhere in the government said there was a legal prohibition against their destruction. Moreover, there is a clear written record of those very events. And on these matters, it's not enough to express reservations; CIA officers in the field deserve a clear answer: yes or no. If anyone was to blame, it wasn't Ms. Haspel or her boss; it's politicians who didn't want to take the heat for a controversial decision either way.

So what's really at issue here? What message will we send if we reject her nomination? Not that we oppose torture. That's silly. We all oppose torture. The United States does not torture-and it has never tortured, despite overwrought claims to the contrary.

No, in fact, I'd ask what message will we be sending to the men and women of the CIA if we don't confirm her? Or for that matter, what message does the overwhelming Democratic opposition to her nomination send them? Does anyone doubt that if President Obama or a President Hillary Clinton had nominated Ms. Haspel, she would easily have received 80 or 90 votes?

The message, I'd submit, is this: be careful. If you participate in a program the commander-in-chief has approved, the Congress has been fully briefed on, the Attorney General has legally authorized, and the CIA Director supports, you still may land in the dock when a new president comes along with new lawyers. So maybe it is better to hide out on the Swiss desk. That is a recipe for a timid, hesitant Intelligence Community, and that's a risk to us all.

Because, I can tell you, Gina Haspel's skill and expertise are widely known and respected on both sides of the aisle. President Obama's former CIA director Leon Panetta said he was "glad" the President nominated Ms. Haspel because she "knows the CIA inside-out." Another one of President Obama's CIA directors, John Brennan, said Ms. Haspel "has the experience-the breadth and depth-on intelligence issues." And former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who served under both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, has called Gina Haspel a "great choice" and "highly regarded." These are just three of the more than 50 former national-security officials who signed a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee supporting her nomination.

As a member of that committee, I've worked with Gina Haspel during her time overseas and as deputy CIA Director, and I can attest to her professionalism, her work ethic, and-most important-her character. This is a skilled, brave, patriotic woman who will serve our country with distinction in this most critical post. Her dedication to our country, throughout her life, is complete. And that is why I will be proud to cast my vote for the confirmation of Gina Haspel. And I urge all senators to do the same.

Thank you.