Gina Haspel to become first woman boss of CIA

gina-haspel-afp Gina Haspel | AFP

Gina Haspel, US President Donald Trump's nominee to become the first woman to lead the CIA, is a veteran, who once reportedly ran a secret prison in Thailand where terrorism suspects were allegedly subjected to harsh interrogation techniques like waterboarding.

In a surprise move, Trump announced today that he was removing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replacing him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and elevating Haspel, who was his deputy.

The Senate must vote on 61-year-old Haspel's confirmation to succeed Pompeo.

Haspel, who joined the CIA in 1985, earned high-level awards during her career and was sworn in as deputy director of the CIA on February 7, 2017, among the first officials in the Trump administration.

In that post, she assisted managing intelligence collection, analysis, covert action and counterintelligence, and liaison relationships with foreign services, according to the Central Intelligence Agency's website.

Trump said in a statement that Haspel's appointment would be "a historic milestone."

He said she and Pompeo "have worked together for more than a year, and have developed a great mutual respect."

Before leaving the White House for California, Trump heaped more praise on Haspel: "Gina, by the way, who I know very well, who I've worked very closely with, will be the first woman director of the CIA," he said.

"She's an outstanding person," the US president commented.

Haspel said in a statement that after 30 years at CIA, it was an honour to serve with Pompeo during the past year.

"I am grateful to President Trump for the opportunity, and humbled by his confidence in me, to be nominated to be the next director of the Central Intelligence agency," she said.

"If confirmed, I look forward to providing President Trump the outstanding intelligence support he has grown to expect during his first year in office," Haspel said.

She has extensive overseas experience and served as Chief of Station in several of her assignments.

In Washington, she has held numerous senior leadership positions, including as Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service, Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service for Foreign Intelligence and Covert Action, and Chief of Staff for the Director of the National Clandestine Service.

Haspel is the recipient of numerous awards including the George H. W. Bush Award for excellence in counterterrorism; the Donovan Award; the Intelligence Medal of Merit; and the Presidential Rank Award, the most prestigious award in the federal civil service.