Former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden told Newsmax in an exclusive interview the United States might not have tracked down 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden when it did without the efforts of Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump's choice to take over the reins of the CIA from outgoing CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who is slated to become secretary of state.
Hayden said it "is certainly true" that without Haspel's efforts, eliminating bin Laden would have taken longer.
"In terms of her overall effort? Absolutely," Hayden said. "She has always been a star player."
Haspel, the current CIA deputy director, has come under sharp criticism since becoming the first woman ever nominated to serve as CIA director, particularly for the role she played in the government's "extraordinary rendition" program following the 9/11 attacks. Several left-leaning commentators have gone so far as to brand her a torturer.
Hayden, however, staunchly defends her nomination, which must be approved by the Senate.
"Gina Haspel is an absolutely wonderful choice to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency," Hayden said in the interview. "Some critics are coming out of the woodwork to condemn — not criticize, but condemn — Gina for the work she did in the fight against al-Qaida.
"Gina, as they say, went to the sound of the guns. She did her duty. She did it with the best legal advice that the Department of Justice could provide, and the best operational advice that the Central Intelligence Agency could give her, and she performed her work honorably."
Regarding her contribution in tracking down bin Laden, Hayden emphasized his estimation of her contribution in hunting down bin Laden was unrelated to "what she may or may not have done with regard to interrogation of high-value detainees."
Asked if Haspel accelerated the killing of America's arch enemy, Hayden replied "Absolutely."
Hayden said with the recent leadership changes at the State Department, the CIA, and elsewhere, "there's a lot of people nervous in the service up here in D.C. with all these changes going on."
But as soon as CIA staffers learned Trump would nominate Haspel to lead the agency, Hayden said, "Langley turned into the calmest organization in the federal government."
He added: "Gina is a true professional, she is ruthlessly honest. And in an administration in which we have a president who trends instinctive and spontaneous, Gina Haspel is the kind of blunt truth-teller that I think we all would want to be in that room."
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