Gina Haspel returns home to Kentucky for first major speech as CIA director
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The first woman -- and the first Kentuckian -- to become America's top spy was back in the Bluegrass state on Monday.
CIA Director Gina Haspel came home to her alma mater, the University of Louisville, for her first major speech as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. She came at the invitation of her fellow alum, U.S. Senator and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Haspel is the 52nd high-profile Washington D.C. insider to speak at the McConnell Center. During her speech, she chose her words carefully -- and revealing no state secrets of course -- Haspel provided a peek into the lives of real-life spies.
She said it is nothing like a James Bond movie.
“If you're an undercover officer endeavoring not to be noticed, a red Aston Martin probably is not the way to go,” joked Haspel. “I’d go with a beige Hyundai.”
Haspel spoke of rising through the ranks of the CIA, starting with meeting a foreign agent in remote Africa.
“He passed me intelligence of great value to our government, and I passed him a little extra money for the men he led,” Haspel explained.
Haspel said the CIA was a male-dominated organization in the 1980s and 90s, but she overcame barriers to become an overseas station chief.
“I was proud of the fact that we captured two major terrorists, and conducted a counter-proliferation operation against a nation-state bad actor that went our way,” she said.
Answering questions from moderator Scott Jennings, Haspel spoke in general terms of threats from the world’s hot spots.
She said Pres. Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jung-Un was productive.
“Sitting here today in 2018, we're certainly a better place than we were in 2017 because of the dialogue we've established between our two leaders,” she said.
Gaspel said the CIA is "monitoring" China’s efforts to expand its influence, and Iran’s actions in the Middle East.
“We are watching very closely Iran's malign activities in the region, and we'd like to push back against that activity.“
Gaspel said America is more safe than when she joined the CIA during the Cold War, because the intelligence agencies are more focused and better equipped to deal with a more complex world.
“Today we have to be more nimble, more agile, and we have to be able to face multiple threats,” she said. "A very diverse range of threats, from nation state adversaries like Iran, to groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda. So it's a much more complex threat picture, but I do think -- I think fundamentally the United States is safe."
Haspel did not address the controversy surrounding her role in enhanced interrogation of terrorists. But she did respond to one burning question. Should we pay more attention to those cable TV shows about space aliens?
“Scott, I'm sorry, but I can't discuss classified information,” she joked to a roar of laughter from the crowd.
It was a light moment in the serious business of being America's top spy.
As Haspel put it, “The CIA doesn't do easy. The hard jobs come to us.”
Haspel did not take questions from the audience, and was not available to local media.
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