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CIA Director Gina Haspel Makes Rare Public Appearance At Auburn University


Now another story we're following today - CIA Director Gina Haspel gave a rare public speech in remarks at Auburn University in Alabama. Haspel did not specifically address the Russia investigation and the Mueller report, but she did talk about Russia in general and its increasingly difficult relations with the U.S.

NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre was there. He's now on the line. And Greg, let's start with what she had to say about Russia.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Even on a day like today, Gina Haspel works hard to stay out of politics. Now, the CIA and the intelligence community don't doubt Russia's role in election interference. That was the premise for the Mueller report. Still, Haspel did cite Russia along with Iran as two places where the CIA wants to devote more resources. She said the U.S. had paid less attention to Russia in recent years, and she made it clear that this was going to be a priority that she wanted to emphasize. Let's listen to what she had to say.


GINA HASPEL: I think the most important thing that we're working on is increasing our investment into what we call the hard targets - for example, Russia and Iran. Because of what happened on 9/11, a lot of our resources, our money and our people were dedicated to the terrorism fight.

CORNISH: So increasing our investment - what would that mean in practical terms?

MYRE: It means more CIA officers in the field, more emphasis on language training - Russian language training in this case - and more people with cyber skills. And in some ways, this is full circle for Haspel. She joined the agency back in the mid-1980s when the focus was very much on the Soviet Union. And then it moved to the Middle East and counterterrorism after the 2001 attacks in particular. And now she says, as others in the intelligence community are saying, that we're moving back to a time when Russia and other large state rivalries will be the focus, but new skills will be required.

CORNISH: At the same time, the president has dismissed much of his national security team. There's been a lot of turnover. How could we describe Haspel's position at the present?

MYRE: Apparently good relations. She sees the president a lot. She's at the White House many, perhaps most mornings for the CIA intelligence briefing. But she's managed to avoid being singled out for criticism the way that many others have. And this is very much in keeping with somebody who was an undercover officer for three decades. Keep your head down. Do your job.

And she said today as she's said before her biggest adjustment is going from somebody who worked in the shadows to being a high-profile leader who has to have some public presence, even as a CIA director. And she didn't mention the president, actually, in her speech. She only referred to him when she was asked about North Korea. So let's have a listen to that.


HASPEL: After years of failure, I do think that President Trump has shown a lot of wisdom in reaching out his hand to the North Korean leader and to suggest to them that there might be a different future for the North Korean people.

MYRE: And as we've heard, North Korea announced a weapons test today. Haspel didn't address this in the same way she seemed to steer clear of the Mueller report on Russian interference. And this very much reflects a CIA director who wants to stay out of the headlines even on big news days. And in fact, this was only her second public speech in the year that she's been CIA director.

CORNISH: That's NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre in Auburn, Ala. Thanks for your reporting.

MYRE: My pleasure, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Greg Myre
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.