The CIA says it has taken action to improve how the agency handles sexual assault cases after lawmakers began investigating complaints that it had mishandled sexual misconduct allegations.
The CIA appointed a new director for the office that oversees sexual assault complaints, Taleeta Jackson, a psychologist who served in a similar post in the Navy, and plans to form an internal task force that will seek advice from outside experts, Director William 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,” Burns said. “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."
The move came after the Office of the Inspector General for the CIA launched an inquiry into how the spy agency has responded to sexual assault and harassment cases following a request last month from the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, and the top Republican on the committee, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
“We are extremely concerned by what we have learned to-date about the nature of these allegations and CIA’s response to them,” the senators wrote in an April 26 letter to the CIA’s inspector general, Robin Ashton.
The Office of Inspector General has initiated a “special review” of the matter, a CIA official said.
The Republican chairman and the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee also recently wrote to the CIA asking about allegations that it had failed to respond properly to allegations of sexual assault or misconduct. On Thursday, the lawmakers praised the CIA’s plans to change how it handles sexual misconduct complaints.
“Sexual assault and sexual harassment have no place in the intelligence community. We must protect our men and women bravely serving our country and punish the individuals who commit assaults,” Reps. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, and Jim Himes, D-Conn., said in a statement Thursday.
“We appreciate the CIA’s willingness to work with the House Intelligence Committee and their commitment to implementing meaningful changes within the agency that address this serious matter,” they said.
Politico first reported the allegations and the House committee’s inquiry.
A female employee approached the committee in January saying the CIA failed to punish a male co-worker who she alleged assaulted her and tried to forcibly kiss her, said Kevin Carroll, a partner with the law firm Hughes Hubbard and Reed who is representing one of the employees pro bono. Other employees have since reached out to the committee with complaints about how the agency responded to their cases, Carroll said.
Carroll called the CIA announcement “a great first step” and praised the agency for appointing Jackson to lead its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.
But Carroll said the CIA will have to resolve how to manage future criminal cases to ensure justice for victims while safeguarding national security secrets.
“It’s not something that CIA, which is not a law enforcement agency, can handle on its own,” said Carroll, who said he worked for the spy agency earlier in his career.
Carroll has alleged that his client and other employees were discouraged from contacting law enforcement about sexual misconduct or that they were advised what to say to authorities.
Without commenting on specific allegations, a CIA official said the agency is making it clear to employees that they can contact law enforcement about sexual misconduct, as well as report incidents internally.
The official added that discussions with employees made it clear that the current process for sexual assault complaints is “confusing” and “isn’t working."