One of the CIA’s highest-ranking women, who once ran a CIA prison in Thailand where terror suspects were waterboarded, has been bypassed for the agency’s top spy job.
The officer, who remains undercover, was a finalist for the job and would have become the first female chief of clandestine operations.
As one of the last remaining senior CIA officers who held leadership roles in the agency’s interrogation and detention program, however, she was a politically risky pick.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, has criticized the interrogation program and personally urged CIA Director John Brennan not to promote the woman, according to a former senior intelligence briefed on the call.
Through a spokesman, Feinstein said she “conveyed my views to Mr. Brennan.”
CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said the assertion that the officer was passed over because of her involvement in the interrogation program was “absolutely not true.”
More than a decade after it last used waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning, the CIA is still hounded by the legacy of a tactic that the U.S. government regarded as torture before the Bush administration authorized its use against terrorist suspects. Brennan’s ties to the interrogation program delayed for years his nomination to lead the CIA and Feinstein wants the agency to declassify a 6,000-page report on the interrogation program.
While many details about the program have become public, much is still shrouded in secrecy, making it impossible to evaluate its successes. Harsh interrogations led to some information, but also generated a lot of false information. And whether any of it could have been done without waterboarding, sleep deprivation and forcing people into small boxes is unknowable.
The officer briefly ran a secret CIA prison where accused terrorists Abu Zubayada and Abd al-Nashiri were waterboarded in 2002, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials. She was also a senior manager in the Counterterrorism Center helping run operations in the war on terror.
She also served as chief of staff to Jose Rodriguez and helped carry out his order that the CIA destroy its waterboarding videos. That order prompted a lengthy Justice Department investigation that ended without charges.
Instead of picking the female officer, Brennan turned instead to the head of the CIA’s Latin American Division, a former station chief in Pakistan who former officials said once ran the covert action that helped remove Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic from power.