WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump's nominee for CIA director, Gina Haspel, has received the strong, cross-partisan backing of dozens of former top intelligence officials, according to a letter sent to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
"Ms Haspel's qualifications to be CIA Director match or exceed those of most candidates put forward in the Agency's 70-year history," they said in the letter to the committee's leaders that was released on Monday.
Among the 53 signing the letter expressing "strong support" for Haspel were three former Directors of National Intelligence and six former directors of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Trump nominated Haspel, a veteran CIA undercover officer who is currently CIA deputy director, to be director last month. If confirmed, she would be the first woman to lead the agency.
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The announcement prompted objections over connections Haspel, who oversaw a "black site" prison in Thailand, may have had to the use of waterboarding and other brutal interrogation techniques widely seen as torture in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Haspel could have trouble winning enough votes for Senate confirmation. Trump's fellow Republicans hold 51 of the chamber's 100 seats, but one, Rand Paul, has already announced that he will not support her nomination.
The letter said Haspel had handled "some of the most demanding assignments around the globe" during more than 30 years with the CIA. It hailed her leadership, said she was praised by those who served with her and had the broad support of the CIA workforce.
Among officials who signed were John Brennan, CIA director under Democratic President Barack Obama; James Clapper, director of National Intelligence under Obama; and Porter Goss, CIA director under Republican President George W. Bush.
Also signing were Michael Hayden, director of the CIA under Bush and Obama, and National Security Agency director under Democratic President Bill Clinton and Bush; former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; Michael Mukasey, U.S. Attorney General under Bush; and Leon Panetta, who was Secretary of Defense and CIA Director under Obama.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)