President Donald Trump’s pick to head the CIA helped Mother Teresa call former President Ronald Reagan while stationed overseas in the 1980s.
That revelation is part of newly declassified information on Gina Haspel, the career CIA operative who currently serves as acting director since Mike Pompeo’s confirmation as secretary of state. Haspel faces a difficult confirmation fight in the Senate as her career also includes politically difficult associations with black sites and the CIA’s aggressive counter-terrorism techniques, including waterboarding.
According to the CIA, Haspel met Mother Teresa during her first overseas assignment when the famous missionary nun was looking for a way to get in touch with the American president about wheat shortages, The Wall Street Journal reported. Haspel helped Mother Teresa — who is now a saint — get in touch with Reagan through the State Department.
After helping arrange Mother Teresa’s call, the nun invited Haspel to visit children at an orphanage, people familiar with Haspel’s career told WSJ.
It’s unclear when and where this meeting and phone call took place — that part of the story remains classified.
Mother Teresa did call Reagan in 1986 and ask for his help to save a starving Sudanese town, according to Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura, now the U.N. special envoy for Syria, who told the story to Vatican magazine La Stampa in 2016.
De Mistura was then working with the World Food Programme in Khartoum, Sudan, trying to get a plane filled with food and provisions to Juba, which was under siege by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. The SPLA guerrillas had shot down two planes with SAM-7 heat-seeking missiles, and threatened to shoot down any other plane flying into the city.
Mother Teresa approached de Mistura and told him to call the Sudanese president, whom she believed was preventing the flights, and tell him to let the plane take off. De Mistura explained that the Sudanese president was in the U.S. for a United Nations meeting, so Mother Teresa said, “No problem, let’s speak to Ronald. He’s a good person.”
What followed was an awkward call de Mistura made to the White House switchboard, where Mother Teresa had to tell where she had last met Reagan and former first lady Nancy Reagan. Then the group made a trip to the U.S. embassy where the nun finally connected with the president.
Following Mother Teresa’s call, Reagan sent his vice president, George H.W. Bush, to meet with the Sudanese president, according to La Stampa, and the plane eventually took off — with Mother Teresa on board — and arrived in Juba without incident. De Mistura notes they also sent a decoy plane on the trip, just in case.
If Haspel was involved in this event, it’s unclear what role she played. The CIA did say her first assignments in the late 1980s were in Africa and Europe, before she was stationed in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union.
If confirmed, Haspel would be the first woman director of the CIA. Democrats and some Republicans have vowed to oppose her nomination over alleged connection to enhanced interrogation methods and possibly with the destruction of taped interrogations. The CIA denies Haspel’s involvement in the destruction of torture evidence.
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