Woman heads CIA spy unit for first time
March 29th, 2013
05:33 PM ET

Woman heads CIA spy unit for first time

By Pam Benson

Another glass ceiling has been cracked at least temporarily with a woman now running the CIA's spy division.

The long time CIA veteran leading the National Clandestine Service on an acting basis cannot be publicly named because she is still a covert officer.

The question is whether she will get the job permanently. But her background could be problematic for new CIA boss John Brennan.

According to sources familiar with her career, she was assigned to a senior position at the CIA's Counterterrorism Center shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

In that role, she was involved in the controversial interrogation and detention program set up as the agency tracked and captured suspected al Qaeda terrorists.

She moved to the clandestine unit as chief of staff when her boss at the time, Jose Rodriguez, was tapped to run the service in 2004.

The sources said the two were involved in a decision to destroy 92 videos of terror detainee interrogations, a move that infuriated congressional lawmakers and prompted a Justice Department investigation that did not result in any charges.

The Bush administration came under fire at the time because some interrogations at clandestine CIA prisons overseas involved harsh techniques, like waterboarding and stress positions.

Questions over terrorism interrogations and the CIA detention program also dogged Brennan during his Senate confirmation hearings last month.

Some senators wanted to know if he had a role in managing the program when he served as the agency's executive director.

Brennan said he did not and indicated he privately raised objections with colleagues to enhanced interrogation techniques.

He acknowledged saying several years ago that those interrogations did produce some valuable intelligence and saved lives.

But Brennan said he didn't know what to believe when confronted with questions about a recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report that concluded the CIA exaggerated the effectiveness of the program.

"Reading this report from the committee raises questions about the information that I was given at the time, the impression I had at the time," Brennan told lawmakers during his confirmation hearing.

"Now I have determined what, based on that information as well as what CIA says, what the truth is. And at this point ... I do not know what the truth is."

As CIA director, Brennan is responsible for providing the agency's response to the Senate report. He told the lawmakers he would do so by early next month.

With that backdrop, he also has to decide who will run the clandestine service permanently.

Regardless of whether the female acting director is tainted by her role in the interrogation program, she is not the only candidate.

There are at least two others: a former chief of station in Pakistan and a former head of the Counterterrorism Center, both whom are undercover.

In an unusual move, Brennan has asked a team of former senior CIA officials-John McLaughlin, Stephen Kappas and Mary Margaret Graham– to review the choices.

The Washington Post, which first reported on the female acting director, quoted sources as saying the review panel could provide political cover for Brennan at a time when the interrogation controversy is prominent.

The current and former intelligence officials CNN spoke with dismissed that suggestion, saying Brennan simply would like outside opinions for a very senior job.

CIA spokesman Preston Golson the female acting director "is one of the most senior and respected officers in the agency and is, of course, a strong candidate for the job."

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