Raven emailed me earlier asking if I’d seen a comment at my previous blogging gig regarding the Haspel nomination. I had not – I basically don’t go over there, but thought my answer would make a good post on her nomination. He specifically asked about this:
I do not know Gina Haspel. Although we were at the CIA at the same time. She just lasted longer than me. Some of my former colleagues refer to her as “Bloody Gina” for her role in the so-called Enhanced Interrogation program. What most of the world fails to understand about this period is that the CIA had zero experience with “interrogation” and found itself starting from ground zero in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The CIA operators, i.e., those men and women who operate overseas trying to recruit foreigners to spy for us, are trained in the art of recruitment. This is akin to picking up a woman in a bar and convincing her to have sex with you. It is not rape. It should not be forced nor coerced.
I have no idea who the author is – he started writing there under a pseudonym after I left, but his response doesn’t surprise me. His statement about the Agency’s ops folks being unfamiliar with how to do interrogations is also not surprising. I know some of the ops guys. I’ve crossed paths with them over the years, including in Iraq. Both the paramilitary ones and the recruiters/handlers. They’re sharp. They know their jobs, they’re not interrogators. There’s a difference between debriefing the people you’re handling and other assets and interrogating them. I know more of the analytical side guys. They’re also sharp, but they’re researchers and analysts. The Agency, in fact the US Intelligence Community (USIC) overall, has very few folks that have done fusion intelligence work – where their jobs required them to be collectors, investigators, researchers, and analysts all at the same time.* All of the interrogations should have been turned over to the FBI, which is trained in this, while the agency developed its own cadre who could do it right under the tutelage of retired FBI guys and then both sides could cover down without these problems.
My impression from listening to former agency folks talk about her nomination on the various TV shows and on social media is that there is some rank closing/thin blue line equivalent going on. The finally have the first DCI nominee who came up from within the agency – not a political appointee from outside – and they’re protective. They’re protective because she’s one of theirs. They’re protective because they know that they or their friends and colleagues could have been completely hung out to dry on this stuff while the people that came up with the policy and strategy and legal justification skated completely. They’re protective because they have a nominee who actually understands the Agency from the inside. So the closing of ranks is understandable.
Since I’m not read on to what she actually did, and what was actually done under her leadership, at the site in Thailand, I can only say I have concerns based on what’s been reported, which may or may not be completely accurate. We don’t know how much she pushed back. If after pushing back she went ahead in order to protect those she was leading. Essentially setting herself up for problems in the future to protect those she was in charge of and supervising. These are the things I’d want to know if I was either on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence or advising one of the Senators on the committee. Unfortunately, because this is all still highly classified and compartmented, given how the regulations are written, I don’t need to know.
In my professional life I’ve walked away from 2 different six figure jobs because I was asked to do things that I knew were professionally wrong. The first is a large part of why I left academia. In the case of the second time, in 2015, I walked away from a GS 15 equivalent position because what I was being asked to do wasn’t just professionally wrong and unethical – even though it was unintentional*, it was also both illegal and violating Federal and Department of Defense regs. I can only say I know what it cost me, I’ve basically been severely underemployed for the last 3 years. What we don’t know, and aren’t going to find out, is did she threaten to quit? Did she raise a stink? Did she push back and get changes she thought were needed? Was there actually some career risk involved? We don’t have those answers and even if the members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence get them, we are unlikely to ever be privy to them. I know what I’d do, or think I know based on past performance, in the situation she was in. From the reporting it isn’t what she did. But I also don’t expect everyone appointed to these positions to be me.
* I have done this type of fusion or hybrid intelligence work because the US Army’s first culture program was built on the Special Forces small team model and required everyone on the team to be a collector/investigator, researcher, and analyst. In addition to this I was also the research director for my team and its team leader. One of the nicest comments we received in Iraq was from the sheikh of the Batawi tribe at one of our first interviews. I had decided that our social history project, that required semi-structured in depth interviews with as many sheikhs, imams (often the same folks), elites, and/or notables as we could get to talk to us would be covered under human subject protections guidelines. This was NOT required as we were technically a type of intelligence. But I felt it was important, especially as my brigade commander and my bosses back at the program wanted us to be able to publish some of our results. And I knew having some form of institutional review process was essential to that. Among the procedures we adapted was a human subjects protection release form from research I’d done before leaving academia, had it translated to Arabic, and provided it to the people we were interviewing. As they read it you could see them relax. Their postures would shift. The Batawi sheikh said: “I was worried you were CIA, but after reading this I know you’re not. The intelligence people would never be smart enough to do something like this”. My up to that point very skeptical Chief Warrant Officer 2 – who is a trained interrogator and criminal investigator – almost fell out of his chair when he heard that.
** The people that set up the program/research center where I was assigned, and had been running it for over a decade, had no idea there were laws and regulations prohibiting what they were doing in terms of research and analysis. This was ultimately the result of having career officers set up a research program rather than bringing someone in who was actually a professional researcher. For those of our readers, commenters, and/or lurkers who have served in the military this reality will not be surprising. The reason we have colonels, or captains in the Navy, is to set up and run programs. Not to necessarily know anything about the specific areas that are necessary for the programs to run correctly. They’re lower upper senior level administrators, not necessarily subject matter experts. And in this case I happen to be a subject matter expert in the Federal laws and DOD regulations on doing unclassified research and how it differs from the rules covering collection and analysis for intelligence purposes from previous assignments (see footnote 1). Unfortunately the people who set up the research center and who were still running it were not.