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CIA Director Brennan selects new head of clandestine unit

By Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - CIA Director John Brennan has chosen a 30-year veteran of the spy agency to head the clandestine service, which conducts covert operations and recruits agents overseas.

CIA spokesman Todd Ebitz on Tuesday described the new head of the National Clandestine Service as a "talented and effective intelligence officer who has had rich substantive and operational experiences worldwide over the course of his almost 30-year Agency career."

The new spy chief, who was an officer in the clandestine unit, is officially undercover and cannot be named.

In choosing this official to take charge of the agency's covert activities, Brennan avoided giving the job to a woman who had been serving as the Clandestine Service's acting director.

Her candidacy was questioned by some lawmakers because of her involvement in an aggressive interrogation program used on terrorism suspects after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, expressed reservations to Brennan about the woman because she had once headed up a CIA "black site" where harsh interrogation techniques were used. The woman also remains undercover and cannot be named.

Ebitz, the CIA spokesman, said, "The assertion she was not chosen because of her affiliation with the CT (counterterrorism) mission is absolutely not true."

Feinstein said she was "supportive" of the clandestine service chief that Brennan has chosen.

In his own Senate confirmation process to be director, Brennan had to overcome the hurdle of his leadership role at the agency when interrogation techniques such as waterboarding - or simulated drowning, which critics call torture - were being used. Brennan has said he was not involved in overseeing that program.

The new director of the clandestine service has worked in Pakistan, Africa and Latin America and is "well-liked" by his colleagues, unlike some of the rumored candidates who were "polarizing," a former intelligence official told Reuters.

Brennan also made two other appointments as he shapes his senior leadership team.

Meroe Park is the new executive director, the first time a minority has been appointed to the agency's third-highest position, which is responsible for running the day-to-day operations, Ebitz said. Deb Bonk, who held a variety of posts in her 27 years with the agency, will be Brennan's new chief of staff.

Brennan has worked with all three appointees over the years.

"They are all very experienced, it's certainly not an old-boy network," the former intelligence official said.

(Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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