By Sam Combest —

CIA Director Gina Haspel spoke to a packed Bigelow Hall Monday as the first speaker of the McConnell Center Distinguished Speaker Series. She recounted her career up to her controversial appointment as a dozen protestors assembled outside.

Haspel was the 52nd speaker for the McConnell Center. She follows previous high profile officials like U.S Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer in Feb. 2018, U.S Supreme Court Justice Niel Gorsuch in Sept. 2017, and U.S Senator Marco Rubio in March 2013.

Both Haspel and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell went to both the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky. McConnell joked that Haspel’s ability to hold her love for UK basketball a secret helped her with her role in the CIA.

Haspel made history as the first woman to direct the C.I.A and the first Kentuckian as well.

During Haspel’s confirmation hearing this past Spring, she was questioned about the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. She said she would never reinstate them if confirmed.

She served in the C.I.A since 1985, completing seven tours abroad. She was chief of station on several of those tours.

U of L alumni Scott Jennings, a CNN contributor, moderated.

In the history of the CIA 129 officers have been killed, 42 since 9/11. Haspel mentioned Johnny Micheal Spann, the first American to die in Afghanistan during the decades-long war on terror.

Haspel gave McConnell scholars advice for their future endeavors, “Raise your hand when the hard jobs come to you.”

In her speech, Haspel said the opioid crisis has killed more Americans than any previous war.

Jennings asked Haspel about the most recent assessment about North Korea’s nuclear program and whether or not they still posed a threat. Haspel said North Korea has tested 124 missiles and three Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.

“I believe that the North Koreans knew that their capability could be used as leverage, and I don’t think they want to give it up easily. There does seem to be that Kim Jong Un understands and wants to take steps to improve the economic plight of the North Korean people,” she said.

Jennings jokingly asked if alien shows often broadcast late at night should be a concern. Haspel responded “I can’t discuss that.”

Audience members were met outside of the event with protestors chanting “Bloody Gina” and calling Haspel a “war criminal.”

U of L Junior Jennifer Bencomo said Haspel is a “renowned war criminal,” saying, “This has nothing to do with benefitting the student body.”

Bencomo said ULPD, LMPD and CIA officers tried to move the protestors away from where Haspel was, offering them another place in the building. They declined. Instead the protestors waited outside for attendees from the private event to see their full display.

Bencomo referred to the request to move as an “infringement on our freedom of speech.”