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Tuesday 17 September 2019

Donald Trump praises controversial new CIA director Gina Haspel

Ms Haspel is the first woman to lead the intelligence agency.

Donald Trump and Mike Pence applaud incoming Central Intelligence Agency director Gina Haspel (AP)
Donald Trump and Mike Pence applaud incoming Central Intelligence Agency director Gina Haspel (AP)

By Ken Thomas and Catherine Lucey

US president Donald Trump praised new CIA director Gina Haspel at her swearing-in ceremony, saying there was “no-one in this country better qualified” for the job.

Striking a different tone than in his previous visit to the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Northern Virginia, Mr Trump hailed the agency staffers, calling them the “most elite intelligence professionals on the planet” and promised them the “the tools, the resources and the support they need”.

The US senate confirmed Ms Haspel last week after overcoming concerns about her role in the agency’s use of harsh interrogation techniques after 9/11. Mr Trump said she showed courage during the process in the face of “very negative politics”.

President Donald Trump congratulates Ms Haspel (AP)

Ms Haspel said she took pride in being the first woman to lead the agency, adding: “I stand on the shoulders of heroines who never sought public acclaim, but served as inspirations to the generations that came after them.”

She said she wants to send more officers into the field, improve foreign language proficiency among the ranks and strengthen the agency’s working relationships with intelligence agencies in partner nations.

When Mr Trump last visited the CIA headquarters in 2017, he spent much of his remarks at the time focused on settling scores with the media.

Ms Haspel is the first woman at the head of the US intelligence agency (AP)

Last year, the US president spoke in front of a wall in the headquarters marked with stars that represented fallen CIA officers. This year, he paid tribute to the lost lives, saying “their stories of service and sacrifice and daring will live for all time”.

Hours before Mr Trump visited CIA headquarters, he struck a different tone, promoting criticism of former CIA director John Brennan and suggesting Mr Brennan is to blame for the Russia probe.

On Twitter, Mr Trump referenced comments from conservative commentator Dan Bongino on Fox And Friends, which argued that Mr Brennan “started this entire debacle”.

Mr Bongino, a former US secret service agent, also said Mr Brennan had “disgraced the intelligence community”.

Mr Brennan became the agency’s director in 2013 under then-president Barack Obama, and served until January 2017. He has been a vocal critic of Donald Trump.

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