Gina Haspel’s CIA looks to recruit more foreign spies

Director of US intelligence agency says focus will be on recruiting human assets to help target Iran and China.

Gina Haspel
The CIA's first female director, Gina Haspel, moves to align intelligence collection with the US foreign policy [Reuters]

Gina Haspel, the first female director of the CIA, has made recruiting more foreign spies one of her main priorities in order to align intelligence collection with the US foreign policy.

Delivering a talk on Monday at the University of Louisville in her home state of Kentucky, Haspel said more spies would be recruited to address evolving threats not only from groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) or al-Qaeda, but also from countries like Iran and China.

The people in Iran, Haspel said, are suffering because their economy has been “mismanaged”.

She said she was surprised at the amount of money Iran was spending to prop up the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and expand its influence in Iraq.

Haspel said the CIA was monitoring China’s global ambitions, including its investments in Africa, Latin America, the Pacific Islands and South Asia.

“They want to be dominant in the Asia-Pacific region, of course, and unfortunately they are working to diminish US influence in order to advance their own goals in the region,” she said.

Haspel said the CIA strategy would be to increase the number of its officers stationed overseas, thus allowing the US government to have a “more robust posture” in international matters.

Recalling her rise through male-dominated ranks, the CIA director said she wants to champion diversity at the spy agency.

“Our global mission at CIA demands that we recruit and retain America’s best and brightest, regardless of gender, race or cultural background,” she said.

More ‘humints’

The 61-year-old top US official said the CIA is building “strong partnerships” with other intelligence agencies, and is focusing on recruiting more human assets, called “humints” – or human intelligence operatives.

While the CIA will continue to use all forms of intelligence collection, Haspel said humints will remain a “high priority” because they not only deliver a state’s secrets, but also its “intent”.

“Technical forms of collections are vital. But a good human source is unique and can deliver decisive intelligence on our adversaries’ secrets, even their intent,” she said.

In recent decades, human intelligence collection has taken a back seat, while more modern forms including electronic and signal intelligence methods are more common.

In the turbulent days following the September 11 attacks, the CIA prioritised electronic spying and interception in its counterterrorism efforts, relegating humints to the backseat.

“The CIA depended almost entirely on electronic intelligence in those days,” a former high-ranking CIA officer told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity.

“Only about 10-20 percent of CIA collection currently comes from its human sources or spies around the world. Haspel is taking the CIA back to its core mission: collection of human intelligence and analysis. “he said

“Recruiting spies is an art of seduction. It is all about seducing the person sitting across the table from you to commit reason against his own country.” he added.

Though reenergizing Humint covert methods is not without its shortingcomings if it used to deliver tailored intelligence designed to fit the White House’s political objectives. 

In such case veteran spies such as Bob Baer, a former CIA case officer warns of political pressure applied on the CIA to deliver certain political agendas

“This would be called cooking the books or cherry-picking intelligence to fit certain political objectives,” Baer told Al Jazeera.

Citing the famous case of the CIA’s “failure” in assessing the weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq, Baer said it happened because the US based its findings on “unreliable Iraqi informants”.

The unsubstantiated intelligence assessment regarding former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein having WMDs provided the pretext behind the 2003 invasion of the country by US forces, which killed thousands of people and destabilised the Middle East.

“No CIA agent even met the Iraqi informant, code-named Curveball, to verify his information,” Baer said. “It was a violation of the CIA protocol.”

Haspel said the CIA is currently pushing for more language training especially in Arabic, Farsi, Turkish and Chinese. But according to former CIA officers who spoke to Al-Jazeera on the condition of anonymity, CIA language programs have always lagged behind the CIA other programs.

They cited her past role supervising a covert detention site in Thailand where suspects were waterboarded, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning. 

Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @ali_reports

Source: Al Jazeera