WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s pick to be the next director of the CIA is a career spymaster who oversaw torture in a secret prison during one of the darkest chapters in the agency’s history.
If this is confirmed, the 61-year-old Gina Reel would become the first female head of the CIA.
She is described by colleagues as a seasoned veteran with more than 30 years of intelligence experience that would lead, of the integrity bureau. But it is the few years she spent supervising a secret black site that will be closely examined in her confirmation hearing.
Trump announced Tuesday that he had selected Reel in order to succeed Mike Pompeo, who is replacing ousted Secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. She was a member of the CIA in 1985 and is deputy director of the agency since February, 2017.
Between 2003 and 2005, Reel oversaw a secret CIA prison in Thailand where terror suspects Abu Zubayadah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were waterboarded, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said. Waterboarding is a process that simulates drowning and is widely considered to be a form of torture. Reel also helped to carry out an order to destroy waterboarding videos, where you are asked a lengthy Justice Department investigation that ended without charges.
Trump has said that he would re waterboarding and, much worse,” but there is no indication that his decision to choose Reel signals a desire to take again the hard interrogation and detention program. He would face steep legal and regulatory barriers if he tried.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Reel must explain the nature and the extent of its involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program.
“The current U.S. law is clear in banning the enhanced interrogation techniques,” said McCain, who was beaten as a prisoner during the Vietnam War. “Each nominee for director of the CIA should pledge without reservation to abide by this prohibition.”
Former CIA-Director John Brennan refused to say what the Reel is the exact role was in the interrogation program, but he told NBC that she is a “lots of integrity” and tried to perform her office duties “when asked to do difficult things in challenging times.”
Brennan predicted that they would be confirmed. “Gina is a highly skilled professional who I think deserves the chance to take on the chair,” he said.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N. C., chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, which will vote on whether to confirm the Reel, said that they are the “right skills, experience and judgment” to lead the CIA.
Human rights defenders, they are said Reel is promotion to the helm of the CIA.
“No one who had a hand in the torture of persons deserves to ever hold public office again, let alone the lead of an agency,” Human Rights First’s Raha Wala said on Tuesday. “Someone who has a direct hand in this illegal, immoral and counter-productive program is voluntary, of course, our nation’s dark history, with torture.”
After the Reel was appointed deputy director of the CIA, the European Centre for Constitutional Rights, asked the German officers of the ministry of justice for issuing an authorization for her arrest over her role in the interrogation. Federal prosecutors never issued the warrant because the case lacked a connection to Germany. But the rights group’s accusations against the Reel continue to be the subject of a judicial investigation that the German authorities would be able to revive if they received proof that one of the parties which have links to Germany.
Last year, Reel’s name came up during a civil lawsuit in Spokane, Washington, filed by three men who said they suffered from waterboarding, beatings and sleep deprivation in the CIA interrogation program was developed by former Spokane psychologists James E. Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.
The lawyers for the psychologists wanted to interview Reel and another CIA official involved in the program, but the government attorneys told the federal judge in the case that the officials and the documents are protected under the state secrets privilege and make it available to the public would pose a threat to national security.
Reel is chief of station at the CIA outposts overseas. In Washington, she has held several senior leadership positions, including the deputy director of the National Clandestine Service.
In her current position, she worked with Pompeo to manage intelligence collection, analysis, covert action, counterintelligence, and the cooperation with the CIA foreign colleagues.
In a short statement, the former undercover agent said she was “humiliated” by Trump’s confidence in her to lead the agency.
Associated Press writer Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.