The US Senate has launched a formal inquiry into the Coast Guard’s handling of a secret, yearslong investigation that found rapes, sexual assaults and other serious misconduct at the agency’s academy had been ignored and, at times, covered up by high-ranking officials.
Dubbed “Operation Fouled Anchor,” the investigation was kept confidential by Coast Guard leaders until CNN started making inquiries into the report.
In the wake of CNN’s reporting, Coast Guard officials briefed congressional leaders about the investigation, which substantiated dozens of assaults and found that some of the accused had ascended to top roles at the Coast Guard and other military agencies. Many of the alleged victims, meanwhile, left the academy after reporting their assaults and had spent decades coping with severe negative effects to their careers and mental and physical health, according to the report and interviews with former academy cadets.
Lawmakers in the Capitol were outraged that the Coast Guard had withheld the findings from them for years. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, where the academy is based, called the suppression of the report “probably the most shameful, disgraceful incident of cover-up of sexual assault that I have seen in the United States military ever.”
“This delay in disclosure raises serious questions about why information about the conduct of USCG personnel and safety of cadets was withheld for so long,” Blumenthal, chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations wrote in a letter, along with ranking member Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. The letter was sent this week to US Coast Guard Commandant Linda Fagan, notifying her of the subcommittee’s inquiry.
“The public deserves to know why so many reported cases of sexual assault and harassment were allowed to go uninvestigated for so many years,” they wrote. In the letter, the senators requested a litany of documents from the agency, including all documents from the Fouled Anchor investigation and all investigations into sexual assault at the academy from 2006 to present.
Earlier this year, members of Congress said they were particularly troubled that Fouled Anchor had been kept from them at a time when they were already investigating the academy’s handling of bullying and harassment allegations prompted by whistleblower Kimberly Young-McLear.
“In both these instances, when confronted with allegations of mistreatment raised by those in subordinate positions (the majority were women), the Service failed to prioritize the appropriate investigation of the allegations, and then it resisted addressing forthrightly the institutional failures that enabled the mishandling of such allegations,” House Democratic Reps. Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, ranking members of the House Oversight and Homeland Security committees, respectively, wrote to Fagan in July.
Following CNN’s story on the investigation, Coast Guard leaders apologized to to the agency’s entire workforce, assault survivors and Congress. The agency launched its own review of policies on assault and harassment. House and Senate lawmakers have said that doesn’t go far enough, calling for independent investigations and pressing the agency for more information.
Last month, former vice commandant Adm. Charles Ray retired from his position at a Coast Guard Academy leadership institute after CNN reported he helped keep Fouled Anchor secret.
“There has been a great deal of public discourse on decisions I was a part of during my last two years of service,” he said in a statement at the time. “I fully accept the criticism for my actions and have learned from reflecting on them.”
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