But as senators began to press her on her views on torture, Ms. Haspel, 61, shrugged off the mantles of everyday citizen and spy-novel protagonist, revealing the disposition of a hardened secret agent.
She rejected Democrats’ suggestions that she declassify more information about her background, saying that the director should be subject to agency guidelines on keeping its secrets. She bristled and pushed back on suggestions that the interrogation program was immoral, insisting that her own “moral compass is strong,” and fought to describe what she said were its successes in capturing the United States’ most-wanted men.
The interrogation program “has cast a shadow over what has been a major contribution to protecting this country,” she said, citing the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, as an example of the C.I.A.’s “extraordinary work.”
Her comments reflected how, years after the methods used by C.I.A. on Qaeda suspects were outlawed, there remains a deep ambivalence about the program inside the agency. Few want to see a return to torture. But many veterans of the detention program remain in the C.I.A.’s ranks, and they are seen within the agency as having faithfully done their jobs using methods that the Bush administration had declared legal.
The program was effectively ended in 2007 and its techniques prohibited by President Barack Obama in 2009. In a sweeping report in 2014, the Intelligence Committee excoriated the agency for practices that it said were far less effective than the C.I.A. led either the Bush administration or the public to believe.
Ms. Haspel defended herself, saying she embraced the chance to serve after the terrorist attacks.
“After 9/11, I didn’t look to go sit on the Swiss desk — I stepped up,” she said. “I was not on the sidelines. I was on the front lines in the Cold War, and I was on the front lines in the fight against Al Qaeda.”
Democratic senators peppered her with confrontational questions from the outset. They repeatedly asked for details on Ms. Haspel’s role in some of the most notorious episodes of the interrogation program, including her conveyance of an order from her superior to destroy videotapes documenting 92 of the interrogations.
In her first public account of the destruction, which occurred in 2005, she said there were concerns about the “security risk” the tapes posed — that the lives of undercover agency officers might be put in danger if they were to become public.