After CIA employees told Congress that their cases of sexual assault at the agency were mishandled, the House intelligence committee is pushing new legislation that would make it easier for victims of sexual harassment and assault at Langley to seek assistance.
The committee, driven by Chair Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and ranking member Jim Himes (D-Conn.), is including the provision, details of which were obtained by POLITICO, in the Intelligence Authorization Act that was marked up this morning in a closed-door session.
The provision creates an Office of the Victim and Whistleblower Counsel at the CIA to serve as a single point of contact for alleged victims and to provide them with legal assistance and advocate on their behalf as they try to get justice.
It also requires the CIA to implement new reporting mechanisms for cases of sexual assault and harassment that both protect the identity of people coming forward alleging such behavior and doing a better job of ensuring perpetrators are held accountable.
The provision also mandates the creation of Special Victim Investigators to pursue any allegations of these types of crimes and work with law enforcement to prosecute such cases.
Himes said in an interview that CIA director Bill Burns has “already started the process of beefing up what was probably a bare bones operation to deal with these cases internally.” He said that in mid May, the committee held a classified roundtable with the CIA’s version of an HR office as part of its investigation into allegations brought by a number of women. Himes said while that was “satisfying to a point, it was very clear that this HR unit hadn’t done a lot of thinking about the broader culture.”
Himes said that Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), a former CIA officer, provided “absolutely gripping” remarks about her own experiences as a CIA employee and a woman inside the agency.
“It was just harrowing to hear Abigail talk about some of the things that she witnessed,” he said. “And so it became clear that the solution here had to both be about modernizing and streamlining the support and accountability processes inside the CIA.”
Turner said in an emailed statement that the provision “takes important steps to protect the men and women in the IC from harassment and predatory behavior.”
CIA spokesperson Tammy Thorp said in a statement that the agency takes concerns about the CIA’s handling of such allegations “extremely seriously.”
“We will continue to move quickly to get this right, and ensure the safe, respectful workplace environment that each of our officers deserves,” she added. “We’re cooperating fully with the House Permanent Select Committee’s investigation and are fully committed to working with them on their proposal as it moves through the legislative process.”
At least three female CIA employees who say they were victims of sexual assault at the agency have approached the committee since January to tell them that the agency is discouraging women from making sexual misconduct complaints. An attorney representing some of them said that the CIA also was making it difficult for alleged victims to speak to law enforcement.
The women coming forward led the committee to launch its investigation into whether the CIA was mishandling cases, a probe POLITICO revealed in April and which is still ongoing. A committee aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a continuing investigation, said dozens of women have reported issues with sexual misconduct, and committee investigators have talked to a subset of them.
In May, the CIA announced it had hired an expert on sexual assault prevention and created an internal task force to look for ways to improve its processes for how employees report sexual assault or workplace harassment. The task force has already made recommendations that the agency says have resulted in improvements to their EEO and reporting processes for these types of claims. The CIA has also established an accountability board to ensure that disciplinary action is consistent across the agency and made it easier for crimes to get referral for prosecution.
Himes said that part of the macho culture of the agency has to be modernized for the modern era to have zero tolerance for sexual assault at Langley.
“In certain parts of the CIA, there’s a macho ethic, probably macho, probably suck it up in orientation,” he said. “And that may be good to a point, but it’s obviously not good if it is discriminatory or allows for egregious behavior.”
Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.), who chairs the CIA subcommittee and was influential in writing the provision, said it was inspired by the victims who had come forward.