Gina Haspel took over as acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency on Thursday after Mike Pompeo was confirmed by the Senate and sworn in as the new secretary of state. “It is an honor to lead CIA at this critical time,” Haspel said. She is the first female head of the CIA in the agency’s history. However, she is facing an uphill battle to be confirmed in the Senate as the agency’s permanent director, as veterans from the military and intelligence communities have raised questions about the time she spent overseeing a secret torture site in Thailand.
The Senate confirmed Richard Grenell as President Trump’s ambassador to Germany on Thursday, in a 56-42 vote. Grenell steps into a position that has been vacant since 2017, when Trump fired ambassadors appointed by Barack Obama. A Republican, Grenell worked with Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, at the United Nations, and was reportedly considered for the position of US ambassador to the UN before Nikki Haley got the job. Grenell’s appointment was delayed as Democrats raised concerns about statements Grenell made in the past on Twitter, particularly about women. A spokeswoman for Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) told CNN on Monday that Grenell had a "significant history of making misogynistic and other incendiary statements online." In his rich history of humorous and off-color tweets, Grenell implied than MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow looked like Justin Bieber; suggested that Newt Gingrich’s wife Callista wears “clip-on hair” and called NBC’s “Meet the Press” “a commercial for the Democratic Party & its radical feminist agenda.”Grenell’s appointment comes just one day before German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives in Washington on Friday. Merkel is expected to cover much of the same ground with Trump as French President Emmanuel Macron did in recent days; namely the Iran deal and EU-US trade. Grenell is openly gay, and has been supported throughout his career by Stuart Milk, nephew of gay rights leader Harvey Milk.
President of the European Council Donald Tusk urged Kosovo on Thursday to improve relations with Serbia in order to progress towards its long-term goal of European Union membership. Kosovo and five other Western Balkan nations seeking EU membership must all tackle corruption and organized crime, improve human rights and media freedoms and resolve any disputes with their neighbors before they can join, Reuters said. Kosovo, which is not recognized as an independent state by five current EU members or by Belgrade, is still far from membership talks. In 2013, it committed along with Serbia to an EU-sponsored dialogue to improve ties, although little progress has been made since then. “Without a comprehensive normalization of relations with Serbia and full implementation of the agreements, I don’t see how a breakthrough in relations with the EU could be achieved,” Tusk told a joint news conference with Kosovo President Hashim Thaci in Pristina.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Thursday that he expected a “re-energized” effort against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) militants in eastern Syria in the coming days. “You’ll see a re-energized effort against the middle Euphrates River Valley in the days ahead and against the rest of the geographic caliphate,” Mattis told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, referring to territory held by the group. Mattis said that he was also expecting increased operations against IS militants on the Iraqi side of the border, Reuters reports. France has reinforced the fight against the militant group in Syria with special forces in the past two weeks.
Around 20 workers at a chemical plant in the Czech town of Decine suffered harm after a phenol leak from a truck tanker. “There are around 20 victims, two of them are in a severe and even critical condition,” an emergency services spokesman told AFP. The incident happened early in the morning at the Hemitex plant, which employs around 90 people. Work at the plant was immediately suspended after the leak. Some people suffered after inhaling phenol and other poisonous chemicals, also known as carbolic acid; while others sustained skin burns, according to the spokesman. The leak was caused by a broken hose, through which the phenol had been pumped, said officials in Decine. The town in the northwestern Czech Republic near the German border has 50,000 inhabitants.
French authorities have identified 416 people who gave money to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), France’s top anti-terror prosecutor said Thursday, as dozens of ministers met in Paris to discuss how to cut off funds for extremists. Francois Molins said that French security services had detected 320 fundraisers mainly based in Turkey and Libya who transferred the money to the jihadists, AFP reported. A two-day conference on combating the financing of terror groups began Wednesday at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) bringing together around 80 ministers and 500 experts. French President Emmanuel Macron will close the event with a speech later Thursday.