Gina Haspel is tainted by her torture involvement. But she understands Russia.

Though she never served in Moscow, former colleagues say she ran operations against Russian targets in several postings. And as deputy chief of the Russian operations group of the Central Eurasia Division from 1998 to 2000, she reviewed most sensitive operations involving Russia. Michael Sulick, who ran the division at the time, remembers she would give a balanced assessment of the risks and benefits of every potential Russian recruitment.

Haspel also learned the special tradecraft that’s required to keep agents alive in hostile “denied areas” such as Russia. These are the CIA’s most precious secrets, and Haspel is one of the few initiates. “She has a Ph.D. in the FSB, SVR and GRU,” jokes Dan Hoffman, a former Moscow station chief who worked closely with Haspel, referring to the initials of the three main Russian intelligence agencies. “That gives her a gravitas within the building and with our foreign liaison partners.”

Haspel is also said to have built a strong relationship with MI6, Britain’s spy service, when she was London station chief from 2014 to 2017. Britain remains America’s indispensable partner in operating against hard targets such as Russia and China.