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Amid a dismal flurry of shows of executive impunity from the Trump White House, it was easy to miss another ugly variation on the theme...

Is the CIA’s Director Going Full MAGA? 

Amid a dismal flurry of shows of executive impunity from the Trump White House, it was easy to miss another ugly variation on the theme hiding in plain sight: CIA Director Gina Haspel, in attendance at Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, standing and applauding as the president laid into the faithless administration of “sanctuary city” status in metropolitan jurisdictions throughout the country.
In an incisive overview of Haspel’s recent career, TNR contributor Jefferson Morley unpacks the many levels of wrongness on display in this moment. To begin with, of course, the core mission of the CIA obliges its director to maintain at least the appearance of nonpartisan professionalism—even as the record said directors compile in office often veers in a clearly partisan direction. And Haspel’s cheerleading performance was doubly inapt since the specific point Trump raised about sanctuary cities—opening them up to lawsuits from victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants—is entirely out of the CIA’s jurisdictional bounds, since it concerns matters of domestic law. 
Career intelligence specialists were taken aback by the spectacle, to put it mildly. “Why was she even there, much less in a seat of honor up front?” asked former CIA officer John Kiriakou. Even more perplexing, he notes, was Haspel’s rah-rah posture: “The joint chiefs don’t applaud. The Supreme Court justices don’t applaud. The CIA director shouldn’t either.”
Read Jefferson Morley's Article
But Haspel’s MAGA-style outburst proves, on closer inspection, to be entirely in line with the broader arc of her career, Morley notes. Occasionally, Haspel has resisted some of the administration’s more egregious trespasses in the sphere of national security—insisting, for example, on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s full culpability in the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, and pushing back against Trump’s corrupt, campaign-driven suspension of military aid to Ukraine. Mainly, though, she has proven a loyal foot soldier in Trump’s ego-driven assault on diplomatic precedent. After another slight departure from party-line talking points, over assessments of North Korean and Iranian threat levels not to the president’s liking, Haspel briskly reinvented herself as a Grade A Oval Office sycophant. As Trump raised the prospect of ordering a drone strike on Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani with Haspel, she could not nod in assent fast enough. Even with the risk of inviting air strikes on U.S. military bases—which indeed occurred in the immediate aftermath of the strike—Haspel concluded that “the risk of inaction is greater than [the] risk of action,” according to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
If this scene conjures queasy memories of former CIA Director George Tenet’s empirically baseless claim that the case linking Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk,” well, it should. And if Haspel’s shameful SOTU star turn calls to mind right-wing Congressman Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” outburst over the alleged (and untrue) claim that the Affordable Care Act would extend health coverage to undocumented immigrants, that, too, is not an errant recent precedent. After all, Haspel won Trump’s favor for the CIA’s top spot mostly on the strength of her support for torture—and her dogged efforts to destroy evidence of torture conducted by the U.S. intelligence complex. In the age of Trump, intelligence has not only become dangerously politicized—in telling the president only what he wants to hear, political hacks like Haspel are undermining her agency’s very reason for being. 

—Chris Lehmann, Editor
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