The independent news organization of Duke University

There's something about Gina

Last week, President Trump announced via Twitter that he would be formally nominating Gina Haspel for the position of the Director of the CIA being vacated by incoming Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Gina Haspel, a long-time member of the CIA for over thirty years, is the current deputy secretary and has been involved in many intelligence operations during her tenure within the organization. In an administration plagued with charges of misogyny, Haspel’s nomination has been praised by some conservative pundits as a victory for women and as an act that is emblematic of Trump’s commitment to gender diversity in government. Although Haspel’s position as a leading female administrator in a decidedly male-dominated governmental office cannot be denied, to paint her nomination as an astonishing milestone for women’s rights is far from the truth. Her previous background in CIA-backed torture schemes, as well as her role as a white woman in a position of patriarchal authority, decidedly go against the ideals of feminism. 

As many have pointed out, if confirmed, Gina Haspel will represent the first female director of the CIA in the office’s 70-year history. The CIA has historically dealt with major problems related to diversity; a 2015 diversity report by the organization found that although minorities make up 23.9 percent of the CIA workforce, they only make up 10.8 percent of senior executives. However, to paint Hapsel’s tentative confirmation as CIA director as a wholesale victory for diversity and inclusion—buzzwords for neoliberal America in the 21st century—is inherently misleading. As the past election has shown—in which nearly 52 percent of all white female voters sided with Trump despite his numerous misogynistic comments—being female does not necessarily suggest that a woman will align herself with the interests of those who have been historically disadvantaged. Although Haspel’s political positions and affiliation are unclear as a long-time government bureaucrat, it is dangerously presumptuous to claim that she will better represent diversity and inclusion simply by being the first female CIA director. 

Beyond Haspel’s position as a woman in the CIA, her previous background and complicity in the organization’s egregious, infamous human rights abuses also make her nomination deeply troubling. Haspel has been implicated in participation in the CIA’s torture program during the 2000s and even served a stint overseeing a notorious CIA prison in Thailand that utilized waterboarding on numerous occasions. Unsurprisingly, numerous human rights groups have intensely protested against Haspel’s nomination, with some even labeling her a war criminal. Given that she had a decisive role in overseeing programs that actively maimed and psychologically damaged civilians under the cover of post-9/11 hysteria, Haspel does not fit the bill of a feminist champion for diversity and inclusion that some pundits claim her to be. 

Those who hail Haspel’s potential future position as the first-ever female CIA director as a milestone victory for women’s empowerment in politics remain unfortunately misguided. Haspel’s position as a complicit woman in a patriarchal, imperialist organization with a history of human rights abuses (as well as her own involvement in torture schemes) are not representative of progressive values. If Haspel does break the glass ceiling as the first female director in the CIA, the shards of her victory will most likely fall upon those disadvantaged all across the world in the name of “intelligence” and “security.” 

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