WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday chose CIA veteran Gina Haspel to be the spy agency’s next director, tapping a woman who spent multiple tours overseas and is respected by the workforce but is deeply tied to the agency’s use of brutal interrogation measures on terrorism suspects.
Haspel, 61, would become the first woman to lead the CIA if she is confirmed to succeed outgoing director Mike Pompeo, who has been picked to serve as secretary of state. Haspel’s selection faced immediate opposition from some lawmakers and human rights groups because of her prominent role in one of the agency’s darkest chapters.
Haspel was in charge of one of the CIA’s ‘‘black site’’ prisons where detainees were subjected to waterboarding and other harrowing interrogation measures widely condemned as torture. When those methods were exposed and their legality came under scrutiny, Haspel was among a group of CIA officials involved in the decision to destroy videotapes of interrogation sessions that left some detainees on the brink of physical collapse.
Trump announced the appointment on Twitter on Tuesday, saying that Pompeo would move to the State Department and that Haspel would ‘‘become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!’’
Jameel Jaffer, formerly deputy legal director of the ACLU, said Tuesday on his Twitter feed that Haspel is ‘‘quite literally a war criminal.’’
But Senator Richard Burr, a Republican of North Carolina, and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, signaled his support for Haspel. ‘‘I know Gina personally, and she has the right skill set, experience, and judgment to lead one of our nation’s most critical agencies.’’
Haspel spent much of her 33-year CIA career in undercover assignments overseas and at CIA headquarters.
Current and former US intelligence officials who have worked with Haspel praised her as an effective leader who could be expected to stand up to the pressures that Trump has often placed on spy agencies — including his denunciations of the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
Pompeo repeatedly downplayed Russia’s interference in the US election, saying in a television interview Sunday that Moscow had merely ‘‘attempted’’ to do so.
Haspel, by contrast, has almost no public profile.
Her extensive involvement in a covert program that used harrowing interrogation measures on al Qaeda suspects resurfaced last year when she was named deputy director of the CIA.
Trump had signaled as a presidential candidate that he would consider resuming interrogation methods that President Barack Obama had banned. Trump never followed through on that plan.
Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, who was tortured while imprisoned in Vietnam, said Haspel’s Senate confirmation should be conditioned on securing a pledge to block any plan to reintroduce harsh interrogations. ‘‘Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program,’’ McCain said.