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Gina Haspel is the real deal

By Anthony Shaffer

Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Operations

Published May 8, 2018 in The Hill

A fair number of spy movies have idealized female intelligence operatives. Think “Atomic Blond,” “La Femme Nikita” and the Judith Dench version of “M” of the James Bond series, to name a few. While romantic and exciting, they lack any level of realism. As fictional characters, they are but over the top representations with no ties to the reality of the spy business.

Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee to lead the CIA, is no such fictional representation. She is the real deal and knows well the spy business from the inside. There has not been public acknowledgment of a strong, capable, operationally successful female CIA operative who has both “street cred” and management skills until now. A clandestine life is one that prevents public accolades for success and, ironically, the most effective field operations never see the public light of day.

Haspel’s professional life reminds me of legendary OSS operative Virginia Hall, who performed the hard tasks of espionage in support of our country during World War II. Haspel’s operational history demonstrates the depth of her field experience and management success. She is the actual prototype of these strong women of the spy world. Even more important and to the point, she is about to become both the first professional field operations person and the first female to be selected to be the director of CIA, breaking two glass ceilings in one.
Haspel is what I call a “muddy boots” gal. She did not come up through the ranks attending swanky embassy parties in stunning ballroom gowns or chasing terrorists in designer dresses, as we see in modern media portrayals of spy women. She was in the trenches with the rest of us. From her early days in Africa as a field operative to her work on the frontlines of the CIA collection efforts as the chief of station in Europe and central Asia, she has served with distinction.

From hot days on the streets of foreign cities to stormy gray days running a surveillance operation, from the long hours writing up reports on a day’s series of meetings to sitting in intense operational briefings on a given target, she has done the hard work as an operative and as a spy master. She did not take the easy way. She took the long path that provided her the full measure of experience, temperament and leadership.

There is a degree of danger and intrigue in this work. There is something alluring about the adrenaline rush one gets when they engage in danger. While I don’t know specifics, I am certain Haspel has faced this danger and thrived from the experience. Because of the depth of her global role at the CIA, she is a stronger and more capable leader who will allow the CIA to engage effectively and face its 21st century challenges.

President Trump has nominated Gina Haspel, the “Atomic Brunette,” to this critical post at a critical time in our history. Rarely have we had a nominee who is both fully qualified for a post and a pioneer who is breaking glass ceilings. Coming out of the ranks of the CIA and not from any political background or loyalty, she can work on focusing the agency on real threats to America. She will make an amazing CIA director.

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