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Under Haspel, more agency vets and women take top posts at CIA

CIA director Gina Haspel has named Cynthia "Didi" Rapp to the agency's senior-most position atop the Directorate of Analysis. Rapp, a career intelligence official with an analytic background, is not the first woman to hold the role, but she is the third female official and the fifth career intelligence official Haspel has named to a leadership post at the agency in recent months. 

"Didi Rapp brings broad, deep expertise from across the agency and the intelligence community to her new role as the head of our Directorate of Analysis," said CIA Director of Public Affairs Brittany Bramell. "With her engaging leadership style and reputation for objectivity, Didi will excel in leading our talented analytic cadre."

Rapp previously served as deputy chief operating officer at CIA and headed up intelligence integration at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, where she helped oversee the production of the President's Daily Brief (PDB). The third woman to hold the post since 2002, Rapp succeeds longtime incumbent Richard Hoch, who will serve as chief strategy officer for the agency.

As head of the Directorate of Analysis – which was once known as the Directorate of Intelligence – Rapp will oversee the agency's efforts to synthesize intelligence from the CIA's operations arm and other elements of the intelligence community, including open source data and satellite imagery. Agency analysts take raw intelligence from abroad, offer regional expertise and put it into context. They interact directly with policymakers throughout government and play a lead role in informing the PDB.

"The Deputy Director for Analysis is one of the most important positions at CIA," said Michael Morell, a former CIA deputy and acting director who also served as the agency's head of analysis from 2008 to 2010. "Didi has extensive experience as an analyst, she has deep integrity, and she has the confidence of the director — all things necessary for someone to effectively lead the DA." Morell is also a CBS News senior national security contributor.

Rapp will be the first to newly assume the role since former CIA Director John Brennan's modernization push, which shifted some oversight away from larger directorates and funneled them into discrete Mission Centers focused on some of the thorniest issue areas in national security. Under that structure, analysts and operations officers work side by side.

"Analytic issues facing the agency range from the threat posed by near-peer competitors like Russia and China, to persistent proliferation concerns from North Korea and Iran, to the national security implications of climate change, to incorporating big data and other analytic inputs into its assessments," said David Priess, a former analyst and daily intelligence briefer during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.  "The new DDA will have to see how well analysis is being incorporated into ops, and vice versa."

Rapp's appointment, announced internally last month, underscores Haspel's apparent commitment to guiding the agency down a trajectory rooted in stability and deep institutional knowledge. A former clandestine operations officer who in May became the first female director of the CIA, Haspel has surrounded herself by officials with whom she has worked for decades. Seldom in history have the agency's most senior ranks been filled with as many CIA veterans and insiders. 

Thirty-four-year agency veteran Beth Kimber became the first woman to lead the agency's directorate of operations earlier in December. Sonya Holt, who likewise spent over three decades at CIA, assumed the role of chief diversity and inclusion officer in August, when similarly long-serving CIA officials Vaughn Bishop, now deputy director, and Andy Makridis, now chief operating officer (COO), were also named.

"You've got a director, deputy director and COO who are all career intelligence officers, and two-thirds of whom are analysts – you'd have to go back decades for that to be true," Priess said. "This is also leadership at CIA at a time of unprecedented institutional tension with the president – it's meaningful that it's not being run by the president's own people, but by career officers. This could have gone in a very different direction."

Haspel's immediate predecessor, Mike Pompeo, who is now secretary of state, named Haspel as his deputy, but brought in his longtime business partner, Brian Bulatao, to serve as COO. Brennan chose associates from within the Treasury Department and National Security Council to be his deputies. 

Though some former intelligence officials have raised concerns about excessive insularity and the risks of creating an echo chamber at the agency, others praised the relative conservatism of Haspel's choices at a time when the churn of personnel at a number of other government institutions have plunged them into turmoil.

"The leadership positions that she has filled give tremendous credibility to the idea that she is trying to keep the agency down a professional, honest path," said Ned Price, a former CIA analyst who resigned in protest and with some controversy at the start of the Trump administration. "They help ensure the agency remains a bastion of unvarnished analysis and operational proposals that are in our best interest."

"Now is not the time to radically remake the agency," Price, who is now a fellow at the New America Foundation, said. "There's enough going on outside its walls."

Although the CIA and Haspel herself have been occasionally thrust into fundamentally political controversies – including those surrounding President Trump's decision to revoke Brennan's security clearance last August; the ongoing, highly-charged fallout from the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; and, especially during her confirmation hearings, Haspel's own involvement in the CIA's post-9/11 enhanced interrogation and rendition programs – she has consistently avoided public exposure. In doing so she has arguably bucked a trend set in motion by her more press-friendly predecessors.

Pompeo, during his year-long tenure as CIA director, made both public appearances and unusually personal statements with some regularity. He sent a letter to the Harvard Kennedy School announcing his withdrawal from a speaking engagement and denouncing the school's decision to name Chelsea Manning, a former soldier convicted of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, a visiting fellow. 

Pompeo also personally wrote and sent a condescending missive to Benjamin Wittes, the editor-in-chief of Lawfare, after Wittes publicly questioned the contents of a holiday card Pompeo distributed to CIA's workforce.

For her part, in the nearly eight months since she became director, Haspel has issued only a handful of brief statements and made public remarks essentially once – at her alma mater, the University of Louisville, in September.

"I think Director Haspel's decision to largely stay in the shadows is the right one," Morell said. "In this political environment, where most public statements are labeled as pro-Trump or anti-Trump, it is wise to stay silent, particularly when running an agency whose credibility depends as being seen as an independent voice at the policy table."

Former senior CIA official Carmen Medina, who spent over three decades at the agency and served as Deputy Director of Intelligence, agreed.

"With this administration maybe the best thing she can do is make sure all the 'I's are dotted and 'T's are crossed – it's a difficult time," Medina said. "You need a really firm foundation and to make sure everything is being done well before you have the space to innovate."

Medina also applauded Haspel's decision to name both more experienced analysts and more women to senior leadership roles. Overall, about half of the agency's analysts are women, as are about half of the directorate's senior managers, according to those familiar with the agency's make-up.

"It's unfortunate we still have to talk about gender, because it's not really relevant to the quality of the work – it's relevant to the diversity of the work. But I think she's very brave for appointing so many women," Medina said of Haspel's leadership choices.

"She doesn't have to do that, and the fact that she is doing it is kind of awesome."