On Wednesday, CIA officer Ashkan Bayatpour was convicted of assault and battery for accosting a female colleague in a stairwell at CIA headquarters. According to court records, the offending male officer put a scarf around her neck and tried to kiss her. “There are many uses for this,” the woman recalled him saying. “This is what I want to do to you.”

In recent months, multiple women have reported sexual assault and harrassment at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, only to be silenced by higher-ups who warn them that speaking out jeopardizes their careers and national security.

The Associated Press reports that 76 separate incidents have been filed with the CIA’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity so far in 2023. At least 24 women have claimed to have been subjected to sexual misconduct and abuse, ranging from lewd comments to physical coercion. One complaint describes how a CIA manager showed up at a female employee’s house brandishing a gun and demanding sex; another details sexual assault by a senior official. 

“We are extremely concerned by what we have learned to-date about the nature of these allegations and CIA’s response to them.”

One female CIA employee has alleged a pattern of harassment dating to 2014, when a male co-worker threatened her, made sexual advances and entered her office “uninvited and attempted to ‘airplane’ feed her pasta, which he spilled on her and then offered to clean off the front of her shirt in an attempt to feel her breasts.

In April, the Senate Intelligence Committee called on the CIA inspector general to initiate an investigation into the accusations.

“We are extremely concerned by what we have learned to-date about the nature of these allegations and CIA’s response to them,” stated the letter issued by Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va. and Marco Rubio, R-Fla. “We write to request that you immediately initiate an investigation to examine CIA’s adherence to all applicable laws and Agency regulations, guidance, protocols, and practice to ensure a workplace free from sexual assault and harassment, to include the extent to which perpetrators — and not the victims — of such conduct are held to account under the law and CIA regulations.” 

Washington attorney Kevin Byrnes told the AP that female CIA employees are told they cannot speak to family members about alleged abuse — much less make official reports — because of national security concerns and the risk of divulging unspecified classified information. Multiple women who disregarded these warnings say their cases were dismissed as “untimely.” Noted Byrnes, “The CIA apparently believes that it is not subject to federal law.”

Kristin Alden, a Washington, D.C., employment lawyer, told The Intercept that women face a culture of silence across the intelligence community. 

“This issue — of chilling women from reporting sexual harassment — is a problem across all federal agencies,” said Alden. “But it is particularly bad in the context of the intelligence community, not just the CIA. These women are remarkable and brave. They deserve to be heard and their concerns investigated.”

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