Ambassador Hank Crompton joined me this morning to discuss the nomination of CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel to be Director of the CIA:
HH: I’m pleased to welcome back to the program Ambassador Henry A. Crumpton, Hank Crumpton. Welcome, Ambassador, good to have you back.
HC: Hey, good morning.
HH: Last time you were here, I didn’t tell people that you had served as the coordinator for counterterrorism as the Department of State, but before that, had joined the CIA in 1981, and had served as an operation officer both at headquarters and abroad, several foreign field assignments, including two chiefs of station. And I wanted to talk to you about Gina Haspel, who has a career that is somewhat coterminous with yours, does she not?
HC: Yeah, she joined in 1985. So I was just a couple years ahead of her, but have known her almost since she joined. And she served, like me, she served most of her career overseas.
HH: Now when someone says head of station, unless they actually know someone who’s been a head of station, or read enough about the Agency, they won’t quite grasp the level of responsibility and the duties involved in that. What does that mean, head of station?
HC: Well, it’s usually referred to as the chief of station, same thing, and it’s the officer responsible for all CIA and all intelligence operations, clandestine intelligence operations, in that particular country. And it can be a deep cover job in some places, and others, you can work with the local services like in some parts of Europe.
HH: Now you were also the deputy chief of operations of CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, and I think Haspel went through there as well, did she not?
HC: She did. She came in after I had left. I was in the Counterterrorism Center for a couple years, and then was in charge of the war in Afghanistan, ’01-02, and she came in right after that.
HH: All right, so you are in a great position to speak to her qualifications. That’s what I want, that was all called establishment in lawyer talk. How good is she for the job of being director of CIA?
HC: She is the best candidate, I think, in the last generation. She is a terrific combination of operational skill and field leadership, but also knows Washington, D.C., understands the nature of politics in Washington, D.C, and what it takes to lead the Agency. And she will be, if confirmed, she will be the first operations officer to lead the CIA in more than 40 years. And given all the threats we have in the world today, I think that’s a requirement.
HH: Now we’ve had CIA veterans, but I want to make this distinction. Porter Goss had been at the CIA, came back as director, John Brennan had been at CIA, came back as director. But this is an uninterrupted run at the Agency and as an operator, correct?
HC: Right. This is an officer who spent a large part of her career overseas working undercover in some tough places, and she has risen through the ranks. And this is, you know, for the director job. And I think you have to go back to Colby in the 1970s to find someone who’s done that.
HH: Now Hank, I don’t want to embarrass Ambassador Crumpton, but you’re the recipient of the Intelligence Commendation Medal, the George H.W. Bush award for excellence in counterterrorism, the Sherman Kent award for recognition of outstanding contribution to the literature of intelligence, the Donovan award named for the founder of the OSS, and the distinguished intelligence medal. That’s the CIA’s highest award for achievement. So in other words, you kind of know of which you speak. Do you think she would be successful as a director?
HC: Yeah, I think so. In fact, I think she’d be a terrific director. And if you look at leadership, I mean ultimately, this is about leadership. And she has all the characteristics of a leader. She’s got humility, intellectual integrity, she’s got the courage, including the courage of responsibility, and she certainly has the skills and the experience.
HH: Now what’s, I just finished submitting a column to the Washington Post speculating on, because I’ve been reading Democrats want to get their pound of flesh, and that she might be in trouble. What kind of message would her defeat send to a desk officer who’s, say, 35 in a tough job right now?
HC: The Democrats have got an opportunity here to confirm a great patriot and a great leader in a time of tremendous need. And for them to reject that, it’s not just the message it would send to intelligence professionals, but more important, it’s about the good, what’s good for our country. And you need a strong leader, an experienced leader, in the CIA right now. That is what is paramount. And for the Democrats, in particular, and some Republicans, you know, they’re viewing this confirmation as an opportunity to score some political points primarily because Gina had a role in the enhanced interrogation techniques program. Now this program, and this is important, this program was ordered by the President. It was approved by attorneys in the CIA, the White House, the Justice Department. In fact, the Attorney General himself signed off on these orders. And crucially, this was briefed to the leadership of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans at the time this program was instituted. And they not only approved it, they endorsed it, Senator Rockefeller in particular. So this isn’t just a CIA program. It is a United States government program. It is a Congressional program. And so for them to hold Gina responsible for a program that they endorsed is truly hypocritical and does this country a disservice.
HH: Indeed by the time President Bush left, he had vetoed a law that was attempting to define what was and was not acceptable as an enhanced interrogation technique. Finally, President Obama by executive orders took some action, but the calculated ambiguity of the Congress throughout the years after 9/11, if they use that ambiguity to punish people who were in the field doing hard things and protecting America, and I believe Deputy Director Haspel has received one of the awards you did for executing a very dangerous assignment in one of the African countries where a bombing had occurred, they’re just going to send a message to play it safe. Don’t ever do what they did. You’ll get screwed by the politicos down the road.
HC: Well, that’s been the message, I think, that intelligence professionals have been receiving for years, from Republicans and Democrats, frankly. And it’s a question of leadership. I think both our leaders in the executive branch and in Congress, they need to understand that they have a responsibility to lead the intelligence community, not just take political advantage.
HH: Now I assume that she is well known to senators on the Hill. I just assume that if you’re the deputy director of the CIA, and you’ve had the career that she’s had, she’s briefed the intelligence community, et cetera, for a long time. So it won’t be a surprise. Given that, do you expect she’ll get confirmed, Ambassador Crumpton?
HC: I don’t know. I hope so. I hope that they will give her a fair and honest hearing. I hope that they will review the record and understand the role that they, the Senate, had in endorsing the enhanced interrogation techniques program. And if they do give her a fair hearing, then I think she’ll get confirmed.
HH: Let’s talk a little bit about, we still don’t know all but the bare outlines of her career. And that’s because of operational necessity. Would you explain to the audience why if they go to Wikipedia, if they go to Wikileaks, don’t go there, you’ll be infected with a virus on your computer. But if you go to Wikipedia, you’re not going to find much on Gina Haspel, because the Agency goes out of its way not to publish much about its undercover agents.
HC: That’s true. And I think that there are a few unique cases where officers are asked to leave the Agency or they rise through the ranks, like Gina has done, where they do take on a public or semi-public role. And of course, you know, there are no public statements that you can refer to. That’s why I think this confirmation process is important. The oversight responsibility is crucial in a case like this, because it gives Gina an opportunity to express her views. And it also reflects, you know, her humility. You know, she focuses on the mission, not herself. And there’s really nothing in the public record about her views.
HH: Now the last 15 years, we’ve been focused on the war on terror, and a lot of the debate about the enhanced interrogation techniques program and that which has been outlawed, and that which remains focuses on Islamist fanatics. Looking forward, our problems are Russia, China and Iran. Do you think her career has prepared her to deal with those big three in addition to her obvious depth of knowledge and experience with the Islamists?
HC: Of course. She’s worked across all of those issues for 30 years now, almost. And she knows these issues, and she was one of the top officers in the clandestine service, and responsible for all CIA operations worldwide against, you know, all countries. And she’s got great understanding. In fact, she served and ran operations in Africa, the Middle East, the former Soviet Union. She’s got a lot of experience on the ground.
HH: Were there many women who were chief of station, Ambassador Crumpton?
HC: I wouldn’t say many. Their numbers are growing. When I came on board in 1981, I’m guessing about a third of our class was female. Now, I think about half of the trainee classes are female. That’s not reflected in the upper ranks, though. I’m not sure what the percentages are. But more and more, you do see women that are running stations, and divisions at headquarters.
HH: I want to make clear, I don’t know her, I have never met her, but I do study resumes and I study careers, and she’s obviously, like you have, given your entire life to the defense of the country, and I hope it goes well. Will you be in the back row? Do you intend to be at the hearings, Ambassador Crumpton?
HC: No, sir, I tend to stay out of Washington, D.C. So I will not be in the hearings.
HH: Well, I salute that decision. Henry A. Crumpton, coordinator of the counterterrorism office of counterterrorism, thank you for your long service and for coming back to talk about Gina Haspel. I just think, America, it’s so vital that we get Mike Pompeo and Gina Haspel confirmed immediately. We can’t screw around with this stuff. This is national defense. I did a long argument with, long discussion with Susan Glasser of Political International, which is posted over at Politico.com right now about the emerging Trump national security team – James Mattis at Defense, Mike Pompeo at State, Gina Haspel at the CIA, John Bolton as the National Security Council, Admiral Rogers is about to step down and be replaced at the NSA by a great Army general, and we’ve got terrific allies in Congress on the Armed Services Committee in both houses, the intelligence committees in both houses. This is not a time for politicking about a career professional like Gina Haspel who has spent her entire life in the service of this country. I’m just, I’ve just had it up to here with D.C. The attacks on Scott Pruitt, the attacks on Gina Haspel, the weird attacks on Mike Pompeo that came out of nowhere, they have no chance of stopping them. The President hasn’t lost confidence in Scott Pruitt. But it’s just, they are very beside themselves that he is, Trump is executing his plan abroad with the Defense buildup, at home with regulatory rollback, and so rather than argue his ideas, they’re going after his people. And I just think it’s a very, very dangerous development for American national security. And you get people like Henry Crumpton who is a legend in the intelligence world coming out of the shadows to talk about Gina Haspel. There’s a reason for that. She’s that good.
End of interview.