WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's choice for a new CIA director, Gina Haspel, would be the first woman to run the fabled spy agency, but her confirmation hearings may focus less on her breaking a glass ceiling than on her role in the CIA torture of terrorism suspects more than a decade ago.
If confirmed, she would replace Mike Pompeo in a dramatic reshuffling of top national security and foreign policy positions in the Trump administration. Trump is shifting Pompeo to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.
Haspel is a respected CIA veteran who has risen to top positions in the male-dominated agency, becoming deputy director last year.
In a statement, Haspel said she was grateful and "humbled" by the opportunity.
"If confirmed, I look forward to providing President Trump the outstanding intelligence support he has grown to expect during his first year in office," she said.
Trump called Haspel's pending nomination a "historic milestone."
Activists were quick to criticize the president's choice of Haspel, pointing to reports that she oversaw the waterboarding of suspects in a secret prison in Thailand after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Laura Pitter, senior national security counsel at Human Rights Watch, said the activist group has "serious concerns" about her running the CIA.
"She was at the center of the rendition, detention and interrogation program," Pitter said. "Someone with that kind of history should not have been made deputy director, let alone head of an agency with this much power."
Trump has repeatedly voiced support for harsh interrogation techniques that were discontinued and harshly criticized as ineffective in a Senate Intelligence Report in 2014.