WASHINGTON — Spurred by complaints from women working for the CIA in war zones, the spy service is stepping up efforts to enforce what it calls a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment by supervisors and co-workers.
David Petraeus, the CIA director, sent a message to agency staff members last month to emphasize the initiative. He ordered a team of managers to meet with senior officers at stations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and possibly in Yemen, Somalia and other countries where the CIA has launched drone missile strikes against militants.
Petraeus also appointed a “counselor and investigator” to field sexual harassment complaints at those posts, CIA spokesman Preston Golson said.
The effort follows surveys of CIA officers in war zones in 2009 and 2011 by the agency’s office of medical services. The surveys, which sought “to capture perceptions” on a wide range of workplace issues, showed no improvement in alleged sexual harassment, Golson said in an email.
Numerous women, who were not identified in the surveys, reported having been harassed, often by supervisors, said two former CIA officials, who requested that they not be identified in discussing an internal matter. They did not know the numbers, and the CIA declined to provide them.
“This has been going on for years, but it seems to have become more serious,” one of the former officials said. “The agency has not come up with an effective tool to stop it.”
The majority of alleged incidents in the surveys “consisted of remarks or jokes of a sexual nature,” Golson said. “Survey results suggested that harassment of a more physical nature may also have occurred, but was not reported.”
Some CIA officials have been punished for sexual harassment in recent years, Golson said. He declined to disclose information about those cases, citing CIA policy of keeping personnel data secret.
A few have come to light, however. In 2010, for example, a senior manager in the National Clandestine Service, which conducts CIA operations, was forced to retire after he had an affair with a female subordinate and her husband complained toLeon E. Panetta, then the CIA director, the two former officials said.
Stories of sexual improprieties are infamous at some CIA stations, especially in high-stress areas. It is a civilian agency, and employees in war zones tend to work long hours, live in close quarters and let off steam by drinking alcohol after work.
Partly as a result of that, former CIA officers said, what would be considered workplace sexual impropriety at corporations and other government agencies has been tolerated at the CIA, and trysts between supervisors and employees are not unusual.
Ilana Sara Greenstein, who served as a CIA case officer in Iraq in 2004-05, said a senior manager who was responsible for her promotions “hit on me” when she worked at CIA headquarters.
“He was married, quite aggressive and wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Greenstein said. “I said no, and it put me in a really awkward position.”
Greenstein, who quit the CIA and is now a lawyer, didn’t file a complaint at the time “because you know that’s the end of your career,” she said. “It sounds cliche, but it’s an old boys’ network, and that kind of comes with the territory.”
By Ken Dilanian, Los Angeles Times
3:04 PM PDT, July 4, 2012Advertisement
Times staff writer Brian Bennett contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times