The U.S. Coast Guard apologized Friday for not taking “appropriate action” years ago when it failed to adequately handle cases of sexual assault and harassment at the service’s Connecticut academy. The service also acknowledged it did not widely disclose its six-year internal investigation into dozens of cases from 1988 to 2006.
Two U.S. senators on Friday said in a statement that the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which has oversight of the Coast Guard, was not informed of the probe until a recent informal briefing with Senate staff. Known as “Operation Fouled Anchor,” it was conducted from 2014 to 2020.
“This information is disturbing,” Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin wrote in a joint letter dated Friday to Admiral Linda L. Fagan, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. They demanded documents and records related to the investigation, which identified 62 substantiated incidents of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment that occurred at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, or by academy cadets.
The internal Coast Guard investigation was first reported by CNN.
The Democratic senators said they're seeking additional information “to determine if the Coast Guard complied with the law and to inform potential legislative actions." Besides documents, they want answers to questions including whether any individuals with substantiated claims are now employed by the Department of Homeland Security, including the Coast Guard, and whether they have security clearances.
Cantwell and Baldwin said the committee staff were told that 42 individuals may have had substantiated claims made against them, “yet it does not appear that the Coast Guard appropriately investigated at the time the incidents were reported" and that some of the accused may have been allowed to rise up in the ranks.
The Coast Guard, in a written statement provided by a spokesperson, acknowledged Friday it “may have further traumatized the victims” and “prevented some cases from being referred to the military justice system for appropriate accountability” by “not having taken appropriate action at the time of the sexual assaults.”
“The Coast Guard owns this failure and apologizes to each of the victims and their loved ones,” the statement said.
The Coast Guard also acknowledged the internal investigation “was not disclosed widely at the time” when it was completed in 2020 and the service recognizes “transparency is critical to building the trust not only of victims, but all cadets and personnel at the Academy."
The Coast Guard Investigative Service, according to the statement, became aware in 2014 of a sexual assault allegation that occurred years earlier “and the matter had been mishandled.” The service then conducted a broad investigation that “followed up on all leads related to sexual assaults that were alleged to have occurred between 1988 and 2006," a period before changes were made to the academy's sexual assault and harassment policies.
The Coast Guard said it ultimately “took action to hold accountable those known perpetrators who remained within CGIS’s jurisdiction," but did not say how many. The statement also said Coast Guard officials reached out to all known victims and “invited them to individual, in-person meetings to provide each of them with information on their specific cases and access to support services.”
The senators noted that two officers accused of misconduct were allowed to retire as commanders and currently have pension and veteran's benefits. Both people, the senators said, were confirmed for promotion by the Senate at least once during the course of the investigation.
“The Committee was not notified that the officers were under investigation when the Coast Guard provided the promotion lists to the Senate resulting in their confirmation,” they wrote. “It is unclear how many other officers had substantiated claims against them, were not disciplined, and remained in positions of leadership or management.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, a Democrat whose eastern Connecticut district includes the academy, said the lack of action by the Coast Guard “left dozens of survivors with no pathway to justice or recovery while assailants have been afforded unchecked opportunity to advance their careers" and ultimately prevented Congress from correcting policy gaps.
He noted the lack of disclosure came as the academy was being scrutinized for its handling of racial discrimination cases, saying the “lack of transparency and accountability here is deeply disappointing.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal called the Coast Guard's failure to protect cadets “a shameful legacy” for the service, while U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy accused the Coast Guard's leadership of hiding the report, saying that “anyone involved in this cover-up should be terminated. It’s that simple.” Both Connecticut senators are Democrats.
Federal officials are aware that unwanted sexual contact has been an issue at the elite academy. A 2019 Pentagon survey found almost half of female cadets said they were sexually harassed and about one in eight women reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact. Almost 20% of male cadets reported experiencing sexual harassment.
Associated Press Writers Dave Collins and Pat Eaton-Robb in Hartford, Connecticut contributed to this report.