The United States Central Intelligence Agency will return to traditional espionage against foreign states and focus less on counterterrorism against non-state actors, said its new director in her first public appearance.
Gina Haspel joined the CIA in 1985 as a reports officer and completed several undercover tours overseas before serving as chief of station. She rose through the ranks to become deputy director of the National Clandestine Service and was appointed deputy director of the CIA in 2017. In May of this year, she became the Agency’s first female director, despite some controversy that arose from her role as chief of a CIA undercover facility (so-called “black site”) in Thailand. Critics alleged that Agency personnel under her command practiced enhanced interrogation, including waterboarding, on terrorism detainees.
On Monday, Haspel gave a talk at the University of Louisville, from where she graduated in 1978 with a degree in languages and journalism, having transferred there from the University of Kentucky. It was her first public appearance after being sworn in as CIA director. She told the audience that she intends to steer the Agency back to traditional intelligence collection against “current and potential […] nation-state adversaries” and away from counterterrorism operations against non-state actors. The latter took center stage after the events of September 11, 2001. Filling current “intelligence gaps” on countries like Russia and China will be “a strategic priority” for the CIA, said Haspel, adding that the Agency will seek to “sharpen its focus on nation-state adversaries”. She spoke at length about China, stating that Beijing was “working to diminish US influence” and expand its own authority “beyond their own region, in places like Africa, Latin America, the Pacific islands [and] South Asia”.
The CIA’s hiring priorities will reflect the Agency’s strategic shift, said Haspel. The Agency will seek to expand its foreign footprint by “increasing the number of [its] officers stationed overseas”. Priority for these assignments will be given to foreign-language speakers with skills in Chinese, Arabic and Farsi, among other target languages. Interestingly, the CIA director added Turkish, French and Spanish to the list. She also said that the Agency will “invest more heavily on […] counternarcotics efforts abroad”. Last but not least, Haspel spoke about the need for increased transparency, diversity and inclusion at the CIA, which last year marked its 70th anniversary.