CIA botched its handling of sexual assault allegations, House intel report says

The House Intelligence Committee found the CIA botched its response to reports of sexual assault and harassment inside the agency, with victims forced to navigate a process marked by “confusion and disorder,” according to an investigation by lawmakers.

Employees who reported sexual assault and harassment saw “little to no accountability or punishment for the perpetrators,” the committee’s report said.

The process for reporting sexual assault and assessment at the CIA was marked by “confusion and disorder,” victims were reluctant to come forward as they could not remain anonymous, staff members lacked training to identify cases, and the agency had an “inconsistent approach” with law enforcement agencies, said the committee’s bipartisan report, which was released Monday.

“Over the course of the investigation, the Committee discovered that CIA failed to handle allegations of sexual assault and harassment within its workforce in the professional and uniform manner that such sensitive allegations warrant,” it said.

The CIA did not dispute the committee’s findings, which were first reported by Politico. A spokesperson said it has taken a number of steps to improve how it responds to sexual assault complaints and praised a new law that allowed the agency to expand the office handling sexual misconduct cases.

“We are absolutely committed to fostering a safe, respectful workplace environment for our employees and have taken significant steps to ensure that, both by bolstering our focus on prevention and strengthening the agency’s handling of these issues when they arise,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence launched an investigation into the CIA’s response to sex-related offenses after a female employee approached lawmakers in January 2023 alleging she had been sexually assaulted and harassed. After she came forward, more than 20 other employees followed, saying they had suffered sexual assaults and harassment.

The unnamed employee’s case led to her CIA colleague’s conviction in state court for misdemeanor assault and battery.

The CIA later terminated the female employee, who had reported being sexually assaulted in a stairwell at the agency and who accused the CIA of trying to discourage her from filing a criminal complaint. Her lawyer claimed it amounted to unlawful retaliation, but the CIA strongly rejected the allegation.

As a result of the reports of sexual assault and harassment, lawmakers passed legislation last year designed to fix gaps in how the CIA handles sexual assault cases, requiring it to set up a standard sexual misconduct investigation procedure and annual reports to Congress.

Kevin Carroll, the lawyer for the unnamed employee, said that the House committee’s report was “excellent” and that it vindicated his client and other female employees who raised concerns over the issue.

“This investigative report and the legislation it spurred have their origin in the bravery of a young female trainee with the integrity to speak truth to power at the cost of her own CIA career to try and prevent other agency women from suffering as she did,” Carroll said.

The Republican chair of the committee, Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, and the ranking Democrat, Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, said in a joint statement that they would keep up efforts to track how the agency handles sexual misconduct.

“For more than a year, the House Intelligence Committee has investigated the responsiveness of the Central Intelligence Agency to personnel who have survived sexual assault and sexual harassment. We heard directly from whistleblowers who courageously shared their stories in order to push for change and accountability,” the two lawmakers said.

“Our Committee has put in place significant legislative reforms to address failures, and we will continue to monitor progress to ensure there is no slippage in the Agency’s commitment to addressing sexual assault and harassment,Turner and Himes said.

The CIA’s Office of Inspector General also is conducting a “special review” of the issue.

The House committee’s report was based on interviews with 26 whistleblowers, 15 briefings from CIA officials and a review of 4,000 pages of CIA documents, according to the committee. The report said the committee also benefited from cooperation by the CIA, which it said has shown “an eagerness to effectively prevent and respond to sexual assault and harassment instances.”

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