CNN: USCG Academy Neglected and Covered Up Reports of Sexual Assault

USCG sexual assault allegations
USCG took responsibility after a CNN report alleged a cover up and failure to investigate allegations of sexual assault at the Academy (USCG file photo)

Published Jun 30, 2023 5:49 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Coast Guard and officials at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy late today took responsibility pledging to address allegations in a CNN report that the service had failed to reveal a harshly critical report on the service’s handling of sexual assault allegations and attempted to cover up a long history of misconduct. The news agency broke the story reporting that the U.S. Congress had only been briefed this month on the investigation, which began in 2014, after CNN made inquiries to the USCG and began its reporting.

According to CNN, U.S. Coast Guard investigators launched “Operation Fouled Anchor” in 2014 after a Coast Guard Academy graduate claimed that her allegations of rape from years earlier had never been investigated. They report that the woman told investigators that she was pressured not to pursue her allegations and that the individual she accused had gone on to be a top officer in the Air Force. In that case, there was a military court convened but the charges were ultimately dismissed on appeal saying the military had waited too long to prosecute after the USCG had not investigated the claims for nearly two decades.

They report that investigators digging into the records found nearly 40 similar cases where the Coast Guard no longer had jurisdiction and the criminal statutes had long run out. CNN said in addition agents found more than two dozen reports of misconduct that had essentially been buried by academy leaders. Further, CNN reports after reviewing a confidential version of the draft report, that agents unearthed more than 90 potential assault allegations from the years ranging from the late 1980s to 2006. U.S. senators who have now seen the report have reportedly said there are more than 60 substantiated incidents of rape, sexual assault, and harassment committed by academy cadets or otherwise in the report that were not followed up on.

Coast Guard Commandant, ADM Linda Fagan, and Rear Admiral Michael Johnstone, the new Superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy, issued a statement saying they take the allegation seriously and that they are committed to doing “everything we can to eliminate sexual assault and the behaviors that enable it.” In her message, ADM states “We own this failure” and apologized to the victims and their loved ones.

Operation Fouled Anchor reportedly involved 75 agents, hundreds of interviews, and nearly 20,000 hours of investigation. CNN writes that the report ultimately found “the academy’s leadership ‘did not adequately investigate allegations as serious criminal matters and hold perpetrators appropriately accountable’.” CNN contends the operation was “quietly closed by agency leaders.” They cite two instances where accused perpetrators were “discreetly pushed to retire.”

After CNN began its investigation and interviews, they content Coast Guard officials briefed members of the U.S. Congress about the report. 

They report that Senators Maria Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Tammy Baldwin, sent a letter today to the Coast Guard questioning why the report had been kept secret, even from those in Congress with oversight authority over the agency. CNN saw a copy of the letter in which they say the senators are requesting additional information to “help the committee ‘determine if the Coast Guard complied with the law and to inform potential legislative actions’.”

The U.S. Coast Guard declined to comment to CNN. The news agency is continuing its investigation and is looking for individuals who might have information or were interviewed during the Coast Guard investigation.

It is the latest in a series of sexual assault investigations and reports of alleged coverups within the U.S. military. The branches of the military and their service academies as well as the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy have been accused in the past of taking a lax approach, failing to investigate, or covering up allegations of rapes, assaults, and other serious misconduct within their institutions.