WASHINGTON — New CIA director John Brennan is facing a difficult decision on whether the job of clandestine service chief should go to the person now holding the job temporarily, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing unnamed officials.
A woman was recently placed in charge of the service for the first time in the agency's history. She is a veteran officer with broad support inside the agency, according to the Post.
But she also helped run the CIA's detention and interrogation program after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and signed off on the 2005 decision to destroy videotapes of prisoners being subjected to treatment critics have called torture, the paper reported.
The woman, who remains undercover and cannot be named, was put in the top position on an acting basis when the previous chief retired last month.
Brennan endured a bruising confirmation battle in part over his own role as a senior CIA official when the agency began using water-boarding and other harsh interrogation methods. As director, he is faced with assembling the CIA's response to a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee that documents abuses in the interrogation program and accuses the agency of misleading the White House and Congress over its effectiveness.
To help navigate the sensitive decision on the clandestine service chief, Brennan has taken the unusual step of assembling a group of three former CIA officials to evaluate the candidates. The director of the clandestine service has never been picked that way, a former senior U.S. intelligence official told the Post.
The move has led to speculation that Brennan is seeking political cover for a decision made more difficult by the re-emergence of the interrogation controversy and the acting chief's ties to that program.
CIA officials disputed that characterization. "Given the importance of the position of the director of the National Clandestine Service, director Brennan has asked a few highly respected former senior agency officers to review the candidates he's considering for the job," said Preston Golson, a CIA spokesman.
Golson said Brennan will make the decision but added that "asking former senior agency officers to review the candidates will undoubtedly aid the selection process by making sure the director has the benefit of the additional perspectives from these highly experienced and respected intelligence officers."
Other candidates to run the clandestine service include a former station chief in Pakistan and the director of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center . Neither person can be named because they are undercover.
The service is the most storied part of the CIA. It sends spies overseas and carries out covert operations including running the ongoing drone campaign.