Senate Intel chairman backs Haspel to head CIA, Democrats concerned

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican U.S. Senator Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Tuesday he looked forward to supporting Gina Haspel’s nomination to be director of the CIA “ensuring its consideration without delay.”

In a statement, Burr, whose committee oversees the Central Intelligence Agency, said, “I know Gina personally and she has the right skill set, experience, and judgment to lead one of our nation’s most critical agencies.”

Republican President Donald Trump on Tuesday chose Haspel, the CIA’s deputy director, to succeed current Director Mike Pompeo. He tapped Pompeo to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Haspel and Pompeo must be confirmed by the Senate.

Haspel’s nomination has been criticized by some Democrats and human rights advocates because of her past involvement with controversial CIA programs including a “black site” detention facility in Thailand where suspects were subjected to waterboarding.

Democratic members of the intelligence panel expressed concern. Senator Ron Wyden said he opposed her nomination.

“Ms. Haspel’s background makes her unsuitable to serve as CIA director,” he said in a statement.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, another senior Democratic committee member, who led the committee’s investigation of the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” on detainees following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said it is “no secret” she had had concerns with Haspel’s connection to the program.

“To the best of my knowledge she has been a good deputy director and I look forward to the opportunity to speak with her again,” Feinstein said in a statement.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Jonathan Oatis