The Central Intelligence Agency has terminated a female employee who reported being sexually assaulted by a colleague in a stairwell at the agency and who accused the CIA of trying to discourage her from filing a criminal complaint, according to her lawyer.
The unnamed employee’s case, which led to her colleague’s conviction in state court last year for misdemeanor assault and battery, has prompted at least two dozen others at the agency to come forward alleging sexual misconduct at the spy agency as well as an inquiry from the CIA Office of Inspector General.
The dismissal of the female employee comes as the CIA has faced scrutiny from Congress over its handling of sexual assault and misconduct complaints, with some critics accusing the agency of tolerating a culture that discourages victims from reporting abuses.
The employee’s lawyer, Kevin Carroll, called her termination “unlawful retaliation against a whistleblower to Congress, the inspector general and law enforcement about workplace sexual violence at the agency.”
He added: “The only reason to terminate her is to intimidate all the other women from coming forward (about alleged sexual misconduct).”
The CIA rejected the lawyer’s allegations.
“This statement is factually inaccurate. To be clear, CIA does not tolerate sexual assault, sexual harassment, or whistleblower retaliation,” agency spokesperson Tammy Thorp said in a statement.
Carroll, a partner with the law firm Hughes Hubbard and Reed, said his client had failed the CIA’s clandestine officer training program. In such cases, those employees are then permitted to apply to other positions at the agency. His client applied for another job but was not selected and was dismissed on Monday, according to Carroll.
He said the agency told his client she had failed her training due to her poor writing skills. Carroll said he had corresponded with his client for months and found her to be an excellent writer, and that it was puzzling how the agency could come to a different conclusion, especially given what he said was his client’s accomplished academic record.
Thorp, the CIA spokesperson, rejected any suggestion that the agency’s training was unfair or biased.
“Regarding allegations related to the agency’s rigorous training, as you would expect, CIA uses consistent processes to ensure the fair and equal treatment of every officer going through training. Our mission demands no less,” she said.
A significant portion of trainees do not pass the CIA’s famously demanding clandestine officer training. For those who wash out of the program, there is no guarantee they will be hired for other positions at the agency, former CIA officers say.
The CIA colleague whom the female employee accused of wrapping a scarf around her neck and threatening her, Ashkan Bayatpour, was convicted of a state misdemeanor charge of assault and battery in a Virginia court last year.
The criminal case was highly unusual for the intelligence agency, which is accustomed to handling personnel cases out of the public eye.
The female employee has also filed a federal lawsuit alleging the CIA retaliated against her for reporting her sexual assault claim to local police and relaying her experience to lawmakers in a closed-door congressional hearing.
The lawsuit alleges the CIA improperly shared her personal information with lawyers for the former colleague convicted of assaulting her and gave her negative performance reviews.
The lawsuit is now the subject of settlement negotiations.
The CIA says it has carried out reforms in recent years to improve how sexual assault and misconduct allegations are handled, ensuring officers are aware they can report complaints to law enforcement authorities and that disciplinary measures are consistent and hold people accountable.