In 1942, Virginia Hall, the notorious Allied spy, fled France, with Nazi spyhunter Klaus Barbie hot on her trail, hiking the snowy mountains that make up the border with Spain. The opportunity presented itself to get word to her handlers in London. “Cuthbert” was weighing her down, she told them. They responded: “If Cuthbert is giving you difficulty, have him eliminated.” They didn’t know Cuthbert was Hall’s pet name for her wooden leg.
At the time, Hall, though an American, was working for the British. Once she crossed the Pyrenees and surfaced in Spain, they wouldn’t send her back to occupied France. So she signed up with the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, and they put her back to work in the field, laying the groundwork for the Allied invasion.
Hall went on to serve the successor to the OSS, the Central Intelligence Agency, until her retirement in 1966. Today the agency honors her memory with a building dedicated in her name, and on its website, where she is celebrated as a hero both to women in the intelligence community and to the disabled. She was a true pioneer. And so will be Gina Haspel, unless hypocritical Democrats sabotage her ascension to mollify their increasingly bloodthirsty base.
Haspel is Donald Trump’s pick to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency (he does get them right, once in a blue moon). She is a 30-year C.I.A. veteran with an impeccable resume, including receiving the agency’s prestigious Intelligence Medal of Merit. There could hardly be anyone alive more qualified for the job. And, if confirmed, Haspel will be the first woman to lead an intelligence agency in our nation’s history. You’d think that fact alone would be cause for celebration for the party that, just one election cycle ago, made breaking glass ceilings a central part of the case for its presidential nominee. But, as usual in Washington, “representation matters” only counts when your own team gets to pick the representative.
It is especially discouraging because I’d thought Democrats had snapped out of their knee-jerk contempt for our intelligence and law enforcement agencies. I’ve been heartened to see the Trump era remind many liberals of the patriotism and diligence of the FBI and CIA, both in the rank-and-file and senior leadership. As Trump heaps abuse on the career professionals of the intelligence community, people like Jim Comey and Robert Mueller became “resistance” heroes. What a shame to see that same crowd now turn on Haspel.
Her crime, in their eyes, was doing her duty, in a moment when a wounded and terrorized country needed its protectors to do precisely that. Terrorists responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans were rounded up, detained, and interrogated. Those who didn’t cooperate, and who had information vital to our national security, were interrogated more harshly. In their zeal to attack the Bush administration, liberal journalists and Democratic lawmakers disgracefully sensationalized this as “torture” and politicized the agency’s counterintelligence efforts. Now Haspel is paying the price.
Kowtowing to their own extremist base, Democrats are falling all over themselves to come out against Haspel with the rankest smears. Dianne Feinstein, a sober and serious voice on national security matters when not facing a primary challenger, flip-flopped from guarded praise for Haspel to ridiculous condemnation in a matter of days, just to appease a rabid left wing that doesn’t believe anything America does to protect its own national security is ever legitimate or justified. Journalists driven by the same crusading moralism that clouded their judgment in the Duke lacrosse case have already been forced to issue major corrections to negative stories about Haspel. And anyone who dares defend her integrity online is set upon by the usual mob screaming “torture” to shut down open debate on a complicated and important subject.
Meanwhile, all those voices that once told us how important it was for Americans to see women achieve prominence at the highest levels of government, business, and society, are strangely quiet.
The 2016 election will turn out to have been a disaster for us all, but I saw how personally difficult it was for many women to watch it unfold. Even those with profound and longstanding political differences with Hillary Clinton could feel disgusted watching a dignified and accomplished woman lose to a braying, sleazy boor. I understood well why some of my liberal friends believed, that election night, that we were watching the country regress back to an unrepentant public sexism we thought we’d outgrown.
But Mrs. Clinton struck a different note in her own concession speech. “Now, I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling,” she said, “but someday someone will, and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.” Then, speaking to “all of the little girls who are watching this,” she added: “Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
It will be a shame if a different set of demagogues deprives another accomplished woman of an opportunity to achieve her dream, and little girls everywhere lose another chance to see a glass ceiling shatter.
Brett Stevens is Splinter’s newest political columnist. See all his columns here.