May 8 (Bloomberg) -- John Brennan, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, picked an undercover officer as the new head of the agency’s national clandestine service, passing over a woman who had been serving as the acting chief.
The new head of the clandestine service, which oversees covert operations and recruits foreign spies, is a man who has been a long-serving officer with “rich, substantive and operational experiences worldwide” during his almost 30-year CIA career, agency spokeswoman Maria Escalante said yesterday in an e-mail. This is the first time since 2007 that a serving officer rather than a retired spy has been named to the job, Escalante said.
The woman who held the job in an acting capacity also remains undercover and is a “highly valued officer,” Escalante said. Both people remain undercover so they weren’t identified by the agency.
The acting chief wasn’t chosen because she was associated with the CIA’s interrogation program, which is said to have resorted to torture to elicit information from al-Qaeda suspects, said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA case officer who’s now a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
The CIA’s Escalante disputed that view, saying the woman wasn’t overlooked because of that past association.
“The assertion that she was not chosen because of her affiliation with the CT mission is absolutely not true,” Escalante said referring to counterterrorism.
Gerecht said he didn’t know the woman involved “but I’ve spoken to two active officers and both have nice things to say” about her.
Because the job of the spy division chief involves working with Congress, Brennan probably didn’t want a person that Senate Democrats don’t like, Gerecht said.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence committee, had spoken with Brennan about the woman who was under consideration for the spy chief’s job, “but hasn’t spelled out what her concerns were,” the senator’s spokesman Brian Weiss said in a phone interview.
Feinstein, a California Democrat, is “supportive of the appointment” announced yesterday by Brennan, Weiss said.
In December, the committee headed by Feinstein completed a a three-year investigation into the CIA’s detention and interrogation program that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The 6,000-page report, which remains classified, uncovered “startling details” about the agency’s operations and “raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight,” Feinstein said in a statement at the time.
Brennan also announced two other top appointments at the CIA, both of them women, Escalante said. Meroe Park, who is currently head of the agency’s human resources, will become the executive director, and Deb Bonk will be the next chief of staff, Escalante said.
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