Under fire, CIA moves to overhaul its handling of sexual assault
Several female CIA employees have said their cases of being sexually assaulted at the agency were mishandled.
The CIA is hiring an expert on sexual assault prevention and announcing a number of new other steps as it attempts to address allegations of mishandling sexual assault and misconduct in its workforce.
To lead its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, the agency has hired Taleeta Jackson, a psychologist who most recently oversaw the U.S. Navy’s sexual assault prevention program for more than 70 of its installations.
“I am pleased that Dr. Jackson has joined our team and will bring her extensive experience to this crucial new role,” CIA Director Bill Burns said in a statement. “I have personally met with several affected officers to hear their concerns and solicit their feedback on ways we can improve as an Agency. I have heard these concerns loud and clear, and Dr. Jackson’s appointment is just one of several steps we are taking to address them.”
Several female CIA employees have said in recent years that their cases of being sexually assaulted while working at the agency were mishandled. They went to Congress earlier this year to say that the agency was discouraging women from making sexual misconduct complaints and making it difficult for alleged victims to speak to law enforcement.
That prompted the House intelligence committee to open an investigation into the allegations, POLITICO reported last month. The CIA’s inspector general did the same at the request of the Senate intelligence committee. Since the story, about 10 female CIA employees who said they were victims of sexual assault have contacted Kevin Carroll, an attorney representing the first woman who went to the House committee.
The agency is also creating an internal task force to look for ways to improve its organizational structure and processes for how employees report sexual assault or workplace harassment, according to a senior CIA official. The group, which is being advised by several outside experts, will help the agency issue new guidance to employees by the end of May about how to report such incidents.
“It has become very clear to me that we need to change our processes,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal workings of the agency. “The feedback I hear is it’s not working.”
The task force will work to reform the agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity process for reporting sexual assault, which one lawyer representing alleged victims told POLITICO last month was discouraging people from filing complaints. The person said it did so by claiming that it would not be in the best interest of the women or would trigger disclosure of classified information.
The task force is also looking at how to train managers so they properly handle allegations of sexual assault.
“Managers don’t know what to do,” said the official. “Sometimes they freeze. We need to do a better job training them. We have to up our game.”
The official added that sometimes managers don’t know when their employees have been disciplined or what was in a worker’s case file when they move to different jobs in the CIA.
The CIA recognized that disciplinary action wasn’t always being meted out evenly. In response, it is creating a new board to ensure that when officers commit wrongdoing they are properly disciplined and that senior officials are aware of such cases, according to the official.