Gina Haspel has been confirmed as the next CIA director, making her the first woman to lead the intelligence agency in a 54-45 vote follows a partisan fight among senators .
Pressed in her confirmation hearings, Haspel refused to divulge any details of her post-9/11 role overseeing the CIA’s secret prison in Thailand, where Al-Qaeda suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were waterboarded.
The former CIA chief, Mike Pompeo, left to become US Secretary of State.
Republican Senator John McCain – who was tortured during his more than five years in a Vietnamese prison – had earlier announced his opposition to US President Donald Trump’s nominee.
During her confirmation-hearing the 61-year-old insisted she does not believe torture works and would refuse a presidential order she considered “immoral” even if it was legal.
She was also questioned at length about the 2005 destruction of more than 92 interrogation tapes a move she said she supported to ensure the safety of CIA agents. Haspel refused to criticize her colleagues and superiors for their conduct during what she called a “tumultuous time,” but said the CIA under her watch would not resume such techniques. She also defended her own conduct.
“After 9/11 … I stepped up. I was not on the sidelines, I was on the frontlines in the Cold War and I was on the frontlines in the fight against Al Qaeda,” she said in response to a question from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
Ms Haspel was approved despite stiff opposition over her links to the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods, including waterboarding, a type of simulated drowning widely considered torture, in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks.
On Thursday, six Democrats crossed party lines to vote in her favour.
One of them, Virginia Senator Mark Warner, said Ms Haspel had told him the agency should never have resorted to so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.
He said she had pledged never to use such methods even if the president demanded it.
“I believe she is someone who can and will stand up to the president, who will speak truth to power if this president orders her to do something illegal or immoral, like a return to torture,” he said in a speech before the vote.
She is the Kentucky-born daughter of a former member of the US Air Force, and was raised on military bases. The oldest of five children, she graduated from the University of Louisville, studying journalism and languages — Spanish and French.
She joined the CIA in 1985, and quickly found a love for the cloak-and-dagger life.
“From my first days in training, I had a knack for the nuts and bolts of my profession,” she told the Senate panel.
Ms Haspel also had strong support from the Trump administration, many current and former intelligence officials and a wide range of lawmakers, including Democrats.