We Really Didn't Need a Gina Haspel Puff Piece

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Today, the New York Times published the latest iteration in a long-running series, “How High-Ranking Government Officials Explain Things to the President Like a Little Baby.” The latest to get this treatment? CIA director Gina Haspel, who is responsible for overseeing a detention center in Thailand where a prisoner was waterboarded, and who is also responsible for destroying evidence in order to cover up torture.


Now, Haspel’s working with a different kind of “enhanced interrogation technique.” Per the Times:

Gina Haspel was trying to brief President Trump early in her tenure as the C.I.A. director, but he appeared distracted. Houseflies buzzing around the Oval Office were drawing his attention, and ire.

On returning to her office, Ms. Haspel found a solution, according to two officials familiar with the episode, and sent it to Mr. Trump: flypaper.

Truly, an anecdote that pushes the Geneva Convention boundaries of my heart.

The Times profile of Haspel, pegged to the CIA director’s upcoming speech at Auburn University on Thursday—just her second since becoming CIA director, the Times notes—gushes over her craftiness in dealing with the notoriously unstable and fickle leader of the free world, even if he doesn’t actually listen to a goddamn word she says. Emphasis mine:

As she approaches her first full year on the job, Ms. Haspel has proved an adept tactician, charming the president with small gestures and talking to him with a blend of a hardheaded realism and appeals to emotion. A career case officer trained to handle informants, she has relied on the skills of a spy — good listening, empathy and an ability to connect — to make sure her voice is heard at the White House.

But her voice is not always heeded. For all of Ms. Haspel’s ability to stay in Mr. Trump’s good graces, there is little evidence she has changed his mind on major issues, underscoring the limits of her approach. Mr. Trump’s word choices on a range of issues — Russian interference in elections, Iran’s nuclear program, North Korea’s leadership and, most importantly, the culpability and reliability of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince — remain at odds with the C.I.A.’s assessment of the facts.

The rest of the piece—which Haspel declined to be interviewed for—continues along the same well-worn path we’ve seen in stories highlighting other Adults in the Room before and after they’ve left the administration. Haspel has supposedly served as a “bulwark against politicization at the CIA”; she’s “popular with the rank and file” because she’s focused on things like “rebuilding morale” and “emphasizing core spy skills”; she convinced him to expel a bunch of Russian diplomats by calling it the “strong option.” It ends with a warning that this probably won’t last, with a nod to now-departed Defense Secretary James Mattis and former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, who unceremoniously left the White House after clashing with Trump too much.

The torture is mentioned, in a one-off paragraph three-quarters into the story. It should be in the lede of every story about Haspel. It should hang around her neck like an albatross—as a constant reminder that the United States not only routinely does immoral shit but often rewards the people who carry out the mission—but it doesn’t, of course.


It isn’t exactly surprising that Haspel got an in-depth, puffy piece like this, because after all, she is the director of the CIA, put there by a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats who simply don’t care that she effectively committed war crimes. But if anyone was truly pondering whether or not Trump administration officials would be shunned once they left office, the proof is right here. The media loves a good redemption story—even if there’s no adversity faced in the first place, and even if there’s nothing redeemable at all about its subject.

News editor, Splinter