Gina Haspel, the CIA chief known by some as “the Thailand Torturer”, has been in the news again. Ahead of a keynote speech she is expected to make tomorrow, the CIA has engaged in a massive PR drive to try and boost her reputation. This is viewed by the agency as a weakness because it is well known that she ran a key part of the CIA’s rendition and torture programme. She was also responsible for the key decision to destroy all video recordings of the torture sessions rather than allow them to be viewed by Congressional intelligence committees.
As is common for publicity by Western intelligence services, the drive started with the quality press – the story was in the New York Times in the US and quickly covered by the Guardian in the UK – the story then spread to other news outlets and is now all over the internet.
The drive seems to have consisted of two parts. The first was an attempt to claim that she is a positive influence on Donald Trump and knows how to counter some his more bizarre views (such as that the Russian Novichok poison attack in Salisbury was “business as usual” for spies). Someone in a PR department in Langley has clearly registered how unpopular Trump is and decided that this was a promising angle to make Haspel look good (it might also help people forget that she is a Trump appointee in the first place.)
The second part of the strategy is to stress Haspel’s background as a field officer. It is suggested that the rank and file CIA officers appreciate her being in charge after some of the more “political” appointments of recent years. Of course, none of the CIA rank and file are allowed to express a view in public, but in the intelligence world it is well known that this is not what many of them think. However, it is interesting that the news releases do admit that she is working hard to “restore low morale” in the CIA – as we have reported previously in these pages.