INTERNATIONAL.- Scrutiny of the 33-year spy career of new CIA director Gina Haspel has focused on her undercover role in the harsh interrogation of suspected terrorists, but she cut her teeth in intelligence operations against Russia. She’s sure to tap that latter experience as she takes over at the nation’s premier intelligence agency at a time of rising tension with Moscow.
President Donald Trump has characterized it as worse than during the Cold War, and it’s been aggravated by investigations into Moscow’s interference in the election that brought Trump to power. The 61-year-old Haspel, confirmed by the Senate this past week as the CIA’s first female director, began her career in the mid-1980s when the Soviet Union was in its twilight.
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Even after the communist power disintegrated, U.S. and Russian spy services held to Cold War mode. Haspel worked in the shadows to counter Kremlin efforts to infiltrate the U.S. government. Russia has been a priority target throughout her career. That was clear when former Sen.
Evan Bayh, D-Ind., introduced Haspel at her Senate hearing: “She is a clear-eyed, hard-nosed expert on Russia,” he said. Haspel, an Air Force brat from Ashland, Kentucky, joined the CIA in January 1985 when she was 28. At the time, then-CIA Director William Casey was working to counter Soviet expansion, curtail Moscow’s influence, win the Cold War, and bolster up U.S. intelligence operations.
She didn’t become a reports officer, analyzing information from the field; that was the most likely career track for a woman in the CIA at that time. Instead, Haspel chose to be a case officer out in the streets, meeting assets and collecting intelligence. Details of Haspel’s career are sketchy because much of it remains classified, including places where she was posted, but the CIA has provided an overview.
Her first posting was in Africa, where she had a memorable encounter with Mother Teresa. On her return, Haspel spent time learning Russian and Turkish. By then, the Berlin Wall had fallen and the Soviet Union was about to break apart. Frosty relations between Washington and Moscow warmed. Within a few years, President Bill Clinton was trading jokes with Russian leader Boris Yeltsin in what was dubbed the “Boris and Bill” show. But the CIA saw a continuing threat from Russian intelligence. “The Soviet Union collapsed, but their intel services did not collapse,” said former senior CIA official Dan Hoffman.