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Gina Haspel's CIA looks to recruit more foreign spies

Gina Haspel, the first female director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has made recruiting more foreign spies one of her main priorities in order to align intelligence collection with the US foreign policy.

Delivering a talk on Monday at the University of Louisville in her home state of Kentucky, Haspel said more spies would be recruited to address evolving threats not only from groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or al-Qaeda, but also from countries like Iran and China.

The people in Iran, Haspel said, are suffering because their economy has been "mismanaged".

She said she was surprised at the amount of money Iran was spending to prop up the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and expand its influence in Iraq.

Haspel said the CIA was monitoring China's global ambitions, including its investments in Africa, Latin America, the Pacific Islands and South Asia.

"They want to be dominant in the Asia-Pacific region, of course, and unfortunately they are working to diminish US influence in order to advance their own goals in the region," she said.

Haspel said the CIA strategy would be to increase the number of its officers stationed overseas, thus allowing the US government to have a "more robust posture" in international matters.

Recalling her rise through male-dominated ranks, the CIA director said she wants to champion diversity at the spy agency.

"Our global mission at CIA demands that we recruit and retain America's best and brightest, regardless of gender, race or cultural background," she said.
More 'humints'

The 61-year-old top US official said the CIA is building "strong partnerships" with other intelligence agencies, and is focusing on recruiting more human assets, called "humints" - or human intelligence operatives.

While the CIA will continue to use all forms of intelligence collection, Haspel said humints will remain a "high priority" because they not only deliver a state's secrets, but also its "intent".

"Technical forms of collections are vital. But a good human source is unique and can deliver decisive intelligence on our adversaries' secrets, even their intent," she said.

In recent decades, human intelligence collection has taken a back seat, while more modern forms including electronic and signal intelligence methods are more common.

In the turbulent days following the September 11 attacks, the CIA prioritised electronic spying and interception in its counter-terrorism efforts, relegating humints to the backseat.

"The CIA depended almost entirely on electronic intelligence in those days," a former high-ranking CIA officer told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity.

However, veteran spies such as Bob Baer, a former CIA case officer, warns of a shortcoming in recruiting more "humints".

"This would be called cooking the books or cherry-picking intelligence to fit certain political objectives," Baer told Al Jazeera.

Citing the famous case of the CIA's "failure" in assessing the weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq, Baer said it happened because the US based its findings on "unreliable Iraqi informants".

The unsubstantiated intelligence assessment regarding former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein having WMDs provided the pretext behind the 2003 invasion of the country by US forces, which killed thousands of people and destabilised the Middle East.

"No CIA agent even met the Iraqi informant, code-named Curveball, to verify his information," Baer said. "It was a violation of the CIA protocol."

Haspel's appearance at the University of Louisville also drew protests from a group of students, who chanted in the rain while huddled under umbrellas.

They cited her past role supervising a covert detention site in Thailand where suspects were waterboarded, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning.
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