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POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

CIA officer linked to waterboarding not chosen for top job

WASHINGTON — One of the CIA’s highest-ranking women, who once ran a CIA prison in Thailand where terror suspects were waterboarded, has been bypassed for the agency’s top spy job.

The officer, who remains undercover, was a finalist for the job and would have become the first female chief of clandestine operations.

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As one of the last remaining senior CIA officers who held leadership roles in the agency’s interrogation and detention program, however, she was a politically risky pick.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, has criticized the interrogation program and personally urged CIA Director John Brennan not to promote the woman, according to a former senior intelligence official briefed on the call.

Through a spokesman, Feinstein said she ‘‘conveyed my views to Mr. Brennan.’’

CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said the assertion that the officer was passed over because of her involvement in the interrogation program was ‘‘absolutely not true.’’

More than a decade after it last used waterboarding, the CIA is still hounded by the legacy of tactics that America once considered torture. Brennan’s ties to the interrogation program delayed for years his nomination to lead the CIA and Feinstein wants the agency to declassify a 6,000-page report on the interrogation program.

While many details about the program have become public, much is still shrouded in secrecy, making it impossible to evaluate its successes. Harsh interrogations led to some information, but also generated a lot of false information. And whether any of it could have been done without waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and forcing people into small boxes is unknowable.

The officer briefly ran a secret CIA prison where accused terrorists Abu Zubayada and Abd al-Nashiri were waterboarded in 2002, according to current and former US intelligence officials. She was also a senior manager in the Counterterrorism Center helping run operations in the war on terror.

She also served as chief of staff to Jose Rodriguez and helped carry out his order that the CIA destroy its waterboarding videos. That order prompted a lengthy Justice Department investigation that ended without charges.

Instead of picking the female officer, Brennan turned instead to the head of the CIA’s Latin American Division, a former station chief in Pakistan who former officials said once ran the covert action that helped remove Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic from power. That program is regarded inside the CIA as a blueprint for running a successful peaceful covert action.

The former officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the CIA’s operations publicly.

The name of the new head of the clandestine service is widely known in intelligence, diplomatic and journalistic circles, as is the name of the woman who was passed over. Both have declared their CIA affiliations with foreign governments around the world. The CIA, however, maintains that the names should not be made public because they are technically undercover.

Four hospitals for veterans taking longer, costing more

WASHINGTON — Government auditors told a House panel Tuesday that efforts to build four veterans medical centers are taking on average about three years longer to complete than estimated and costing an additional $366 million per project.

Representative Mike Coffman, Republican of Colorado, said the Veterans Affairs Department’s oversight of major constructions projects doesn’t meet industrial standards and described it as dysfunctional. Coffman, who chairs a House subcommittee, said the construction problems lead to delayed health care for veterans.

The medical centers that have been delayed are in Las Vegas, Orlando, Denver, and New Orleans.

Several factors contributed to the delays. For example, the hospital in Las Vegas was initially planned as an expanded clinic that would also be used by troops at Nellis Air Force Base. However, the VA later determined that local veterans needed their own medical center because of the growing population of veterans in Nevada.

One overriding problem was the VA’s inability to deal with design changes in a timely manner, according to the Government Accountability Office. Most major projects require some design changes as construction occurs, but such changes are supposed to be negotiated and approved in a matter of weeks, the GAO said.

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