Democracy can’t work in the dark, and spies don’t do their jobs in daylight.

This tension has been at the core of America’s often unsuccessful struggle to create a clandestine service that is consistent with our values. And it is what makes the nomination of Gina Haspel to serve as director of the Central Intelligence Agency such a difficult decision.

Haspel has served in the organization for more than 30 years and embodies all of its contradictions. To her supporters, she is a patriot who fought what John F. Kennedy described as a “twilight struggle” since the Cold War and knows her agency and its position in the world as well as anyone who could be named to the job. To her opponents, her service means she participated in some of the worst abuses of her era – the torture of terrorism suspects in secret overseas prisons.

We think the Senate should confirm Haspel in spite of the troubling parts of her record.

A veteran of the agency, even one who bears the scars of its mistakes, is best suited to keep the CIA out of the political arena. Haspel has served under six presidents, and she has devoted too much of her life to the agency to let it be used as a political tool for the current occupant of the White House.


That kind of commitment might seem like a given, but it’s not, considering the way President Trump has filled high offices in his administration. Trump has put someone who doesn’t believe that climate change can be mitigated in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, and someone who thinks that public schools are a “dead end” in charge of the Department of Education.

He reportedly demanded personal loyalty from his FBI director, and has publicly protested that his own attorney general did not stand in the way of an independent counsel’s probe into Russian attempts to influence the last election.

Trump does not respect institutions and norms. A secret intelligence agency involved in domestic politics would be an existential threat to our system of government, and it is a genuine threat with this president. A career professional at the top of the CIA, who has a commitment to the men, women and reputation of her organization, is far from the worst that Trump could do.

If that doesn’s sound like a ringing endorsement, it’s not.


Even though we came to a different conclusion than Sen. Angus King, who plans to vote against Haspel, we share his concern that she was less than forthcoming to the Senate Intelligence Committee about the parts of her career that are still shrouded in secrecy.

And even though we came down on the same side as Haspel supporter Sen. Susan Collins, we were not as ready as Maine’s senior senator to absolve the nominee of responsibility for her actions because of her relatively low place in the chain of command. That’s not a good enough defense in court, and it shouldn’t be in the Senate, either.

The Haspel nomination is a reminder that no American policymaker has been held accountable for the disastrous decision to invade Iraq and the aftermath that is still unfolding. A reckoning is long overdue.

But that’s not what’s on the table here. The question is whether Haspel can be trusted to resist political pressure and operate a secret intellegence service that is consistent with our values even though most of us will never know what was done in our names.

Based on what we know now, and what we think might happen if she’s not confirmed, we would say yes. We hope we’re right.