The Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) comprises former employees of the CIA, NSA, FBI, military intelligence and other US agencies. Their recently published open memorandum to Trump outlines their argument for why Haspel should not have been put forward for the CIA director's job, and why Trump should reverse that decision.
The Open Letter
Between October and December 2002 Haspel ran the CIA's black site in Thailand known as ‘Cat's Eye', where captured al-Qaeda operatives were interrogated and tortured. She oversaw the waterboarding of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, widely considered to be the mastermind behind the attempted bombing on USS The Sullivans and the successful bombing of the USS Cole. In 2005 Haspel drafted the cable ordering the destruction of the videotapes at the black site in Thailand. As the VIPS letter states:
"In 2002 Haspel supervised the first CIA "black site" for interrogation, where cruel and bizarre forms of torture were applied to suspected terrorists. And when the existence of 92 videotapes of those torture sessions was revealed, Haspel signed a cable ordering their destruction."
The letter point out that the Senate investigation into the CIA's torture program showed, "clear violations of the UN Convention Against Torture" and, "that claims by senior CIA officials that torture is effective are far from true." VIPS concluded that, "torture brutalizes the brutalizer, and that US use of torture puts our own troops in serious jeopardy when captured. Moreover, there is no more effective recruitment tool than torture to attract more terrorists." As one of the ‘brutalizers' who ran part of the torture program, Haspel is deeply implicated in all of these issues.
The CIA is 'Severely Unbalanced'
Alongside her role in the torture program, VIPS outlined how Haspel is a symbol of what has gone wrong with the CIA during the war on terror. The letter characterises the CIA's activities and general focus as "severely unbalanced, with the lion's share of funding and energy going to the paramilitary-prone operational side — where the potential for human rights abuses is not given sufficient consideration." VIPS predicted this trend continuing in the coming years and that, "It is a safe bet that Gina Haspel would accelerate it."
As well as the potential for a Haspel-led CIA to expand the Agency's human rights abuses — after all, she has been accused of being a "war criminal" — VIPS highlighted a serious political concern. The major by-product of this focus on the CIA's paramilitary wing, according to VIPS, is "a tendency to engage in politically motivated — and therefore shabby — analysis." The consequence of this would be a White House that is critically misinformed about matters of crucial importance. They wrote to Trump:
"That means that senior policymakers like you will be poorly informed, particularly with respect to complex world issues — including biased perspectives on Russia and its newly re-elected president, Vladimir Putin."
'Loathsome Physical Abuses'
The letter calls on Trump to find an alternative to Haspel and warns that "Promoting Haspel in spite of her tainted record would send a message to both intelligence and military personnel that embracing practices like torture — indisputably a war crime — can be a path to promotion." In the view of the VIPS signatories:
"It is our collective judgment that the loathsome physical abuses that included beatings, repeated waterboardings and anal violations referred to as "rectal feeding" — as well as physical threats to family members — cannot be whitewashed with the convenient euphemism of ‘enhanced interrogation.' All of those are acts of torture — plain and simple."
Their letter concludes:
"If you do not withdraw the nomination of Gina Haspel and she is confirmed, this will cast a moral stain on the vast numbers of patriotic and ethically upright Americans who serve their country in the field of national security. It will also be a continuation of the steady erosion of human rights standards and rule of law post-9/11."
Sputnik spoke exclusively to two former CIA officers who are members of VIPS. Ray McGovern explained that he believes there is a realistic chance of blocking Haspel's ascendancy, saying "Sure there's hope… The American Psychological Association and others were able to thwart Obama's plan to put Brennan in as D/CIA back in early 2009." Similarly, when Haspel was promoted by Brennan to acting head of the National Clandestine Service the opposition was such that she wasn't given the job permanently.
McGovern also sees a possibility for stopping Haspel's appointment even if Trump ignores the VIPS letter, saying "We think there is a residual ethical ‘lobby', which, if it hears enough from constituents, may yield to its better self. In that case, she would not be confirmed."
Who Would Make a Good CIA Director?
Sputnik also spoke with Philip Giraldi, who initially drafted the VIPS letter, about what kind of person should be director of the CIA. In Giraldi's view many recent CIA directors have been poor because they were "too politicized and ultimately partisan because they liked being seen as players." He elaborated, "The best director stays out of the spotlight and works hard to focus both collectors and analysts on issues that are truly threats to national security and to do so objectively without any political spin. Cooking the intelligence should be seen as the ultimate sin and a good director does not pander to the White House."
McGovern added that they needed be "a proven performer, not afraid to knock heads together… but even more important not to feel any responsibility to be ‘part of the President's team'." In McGovern's opinion, "People who came up via the agency's operations directorate, like folks from Congress, should not be considered. They, too, have their own views on how it's okay to shave the truth."
Giraldi suggested that, "It helps to have some experience of intelligence but being an actual alumnus is not necessary. Far better someone who can articulate issues with the lunkheads in Congress and the White House. In my opinion the best Director I had experience of was George HW Bush."
The views and opinions expressed by Ray McGovern and Philip Giraldi do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.