The CIA is an organization necessarily shrouded in secrecy. But some whistleblowers are pushing for more transparency with recent sexual misconduct allegations.

As POLITICO first reported in April, “[a]t least three female CIA employees have approached the [House Select Permanent Committee on Intelligence]…since January to tell them that the agency is discouraging women from making sexual misconduct complaints” and has made it difficult for these same employees to speak with law enforcement. Among the alleged obstructionists is an official in the agency’s own Equal Employment Opportunity office.

Three such complaints would itself be notable; yet a subsequent review of U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) records by The Intercept found dozens more similar cases spanning the last decade. Many of the cases were rejected by the CIA’s internal EEO office for the sole reason that the complainant missed the agency’s short 45-day filing window. Complainants blame those delays on the EEO office itself, who they say initially discouraged them from filing a complaint or erected bureaucratic hurdles. And just weeks after the first POLITICO story, 10 more female CIA employees reportedly emerged to report prior sexual assaults.

The cumulative volume of allegations stands in stark contrast to initial reported comments by an unnamed senior CIA official that “the issue did not seem to affect many employees.”

“While one incident is too many, this may not be a pervasive problem throughout the agency. We take every single one of these allegations seriously, but it does not appear to be really widespread,” the official reportedly claimed.

In the wake of the news, however, the CIA is taking aggressive action to overhaul its process for receiving and investigating sexual harassment complaints. This includes hiring an expert on sexual assault prevention, better training managers on how to handle sexual assault allegations, and creating a new board to mete out discipline when officers are found to have committed wrongdoing.

“We have no higher priority than taking care of our people,” said CIA Director William J. Burns, adding “we will continue to act quickly and systematically to address concerns, and to improve our approach to these critical issues. More reforms will be coming. We must get this right.”

The whistleblowers say that to “get this right,” the agency’s scrutiny must extend to its security office, which also allegedly impeded the filing of sexual assault reports by raising dubious classified information claims.

 

This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Although the information is believed to be accurate as of the publication date, no guarantee or warranty is offered or implied. Laws and government policies are subject to change, and the information provided herein may not provide a complete or current analysis of the topic or other pertinent considerations. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

 

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Sean M. Bigley retired from the practice of law in 2023, after a decade representing clients in the security clearance process. He was previously an investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management) and served from 2020-2024 as a presidentially-appointed member of the National Security Education Board. For security clearance assistance, readers may wish to consider Attorney John Berry, who is available to advise and represent clients in all phases of the security clearance process, including pre-application counseling, denials, revocations, and appeals. Mr. Berry can be found at https://www.berrylegal.com/.