U.S. President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that Gina Haspel will take over as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Haspel will replace Mike Pompeo, who is set to become the next secretary of state after Rex Tillerson‘s firing.
News of Haspel’s new position was spread by the president on Twitter, who boasted that she is the first female to assume the role.
“She will be the CIA’s first-ever female director, a historic milestone,” he later added in a statement to media.
Haspel thanked the president for the new position: “After 30 years as an officer of the Central Intelligence Agency, it has been my honor to serve as its Deputy Director alongside Mike Pompeo for the past year. I am grateful to President Trump for the opportunity, and humbled by his confidence in me, to be nominated to be the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.”
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But the intelligence official’s controversial history was quickly pointed out by politicians and social media users.
Here’s what to know about the incoming CIA director:
Harsh interrogations of terror suspects
Haspel joined the CIA in 1985, and has extensive overseas experience with the intelligence agency. She is currently the deputy director.
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Haspel, who has extensive overseas experience, briefly ran a secret CIA prison where terror suspects Abu Zubayadah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri were waterboarded in 2002, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
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During the operation, Zubayadah was waterboarded 83 times in one month, The New York Times reported. His head was slammed into walls, and he underwent “harsh interrogations” after which it was concluded that he had no useful information to provide.
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The interrogations and waterboarding were recorded in videos, and Haspel later helped carry out an order to destroy the tapes. The order prompted a lengthy Justice Department investigation that ended without charges.
Trump himself has said he believes waterboarding as an interrogation technique works.
Human rights groups speak out against Haspel
When she was picked as deputy CIA director, her career was lauded by veteran intelligence officials. But it prompted backlash from the American Civil Liberties Union and other rights advocates who found it unsettling that Trump chose someone who was involved with harsh interrogations.
In a statement Tuesday, American advocacy group Human Rights First voiced similar concerns.
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“During Gina Haspel’s long tenure at the CIA, she oversaw the agency’s torture and rendition program, one of the bleakest chapters in our nation’s history,” the statement read.
“No one who had a hand in torturing individuals deserves to ever hold public office again, let alone lead an agency. To allow someone who had a direct hand in this illegal, immoral, and counterproductive program is to willingly forget our nation’s dark history with torture.”
— With files from The Associated Press