Just the Facts

Five Facts on Haspel and the CIA

By No Labels
May 11, 2018 | Blog

Former U.S Sen. and No Labels national Co-chair Evan Bayh (D-IN) introduced Gina Haspel, President Trump’s choice to lead the CIA, to the Senate Intelligence Committee this week, where lawmakers proceeded to strafe her with questions. And why not? Haspel spent more than 30 years in one of the most interesting and important agencies in government.

As the Senate considers whether to confirm Haspel, who has massive, bipartisan support in the intelligence community, it’s a good time to consider the agency’s role in America’s security network. Here are five things worth knowing.


What does the CIA actually do?

The CIA’s role is to collect and analyze foreign intelligence, which it does using everything from human informants to drone surveillance. It does not make policy decisions, nor does it enforce laws. While the United States has more than a dozen intelligence agencies, the CIA is the only one authorized to carry out covert actions for the president. It underwent dramatic changes after the September 11 attacks in 2001, which The Washington Post characterized this way: “The agency was transformed from a spy service struggling to emerge from the Cold War into a paramilitary force.” It was a CIA-led mission that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.


How big is the CIA and how much does it spend?

That’s classified. The CIA does not disclose its budget or personnel numbers, to avoid giving that information to foreign intelligence agencies (though it is subject to oversight and budget approval by Congress). Yet information does leak on occasion. In 2013, The Washington Post reported that the agency requested $14.7 billion in funding, far more than any other U.S. intelligence agency and a 56-percent increase over the previous decade. It reportedly employed more than 21,500 people at that time.


Are there really spies like James Bond?

Sorta. The CIA actually hits the question head-on on its website: “CIA operations officers recruit foreign agents (you could also call them spies) who pass information to CIA. CIA operations officers do use some nifty ‘spy gadgets,’ and, while their jobs do occasionally present risks and challenges equal to the most exciting movies, for the most part, they are not nearly as glamorous or thrilling.”


Haspel was one of those people in the field

Haspel is now acting director of the agency. But she spent most of her three decades at the CIA in the field, serving in various capacities, from case officer to station chief, all over the world. She speaks French, Spanish, Turkish and Russian. She reportedly ran a secret CIA prison in Thailand code named Cat’s Eye, where controversial interrogations, including waterboarding and other techniques, took place. That chapter in her career generated scrutiny—and some opposition—in the Senate. She denounced such tactics in her confirmation hearing and pledged they would not be conducted by the agency under her leadership..


Haspel would be the first woman to lead the CIA

If confirmed by the Senate, Haspel would be the first woman to lead the CIA and the first director to come from within the agency in decades. She has a great deal of support in the intelligence community, including support from the agency itself, which rarely gets involved in confirmation processes. As The New York Times reported, “few dispute that Ms. Haspel … has the experience to run the agency.”

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