The Central Intelligence Agency uncovered evidence that at least 10 of its employees and contractors committed sexual crimes involving minors over the past 14 years, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News and reported Wednesday. Most of those cases were referred to U.S. attorneys for prosecution, but all but one were sent back to the agency to resolve on its own.
After obtaining hundreds of pages of internal agency reports through Freedom of Information lawsuits, BuzzFeed News found that in most cases where the CIA passed on evidence of sex crimes involving minors, prosecutors left the agency to resolve the issues on their own.
Out of 10 cases where CIA staff and contractors were referred for criminal charges by the agency’s inspector general, five were fired or resigned. Four others were referred to a personnel board or the Office of Security, which typically investigates classified leaks.
One employee alleged to have had sexual contact with a two-year-old and a six-year-old was fired. Another employee alleged to have purchased three sexually explicit videos of young girls filmed by their mothers, resigned. A contractor accused of arranging for sex with an undercover FBI agent who posed as a child had his contract revoked.
Another agency employee estimated that he had viewed up to 1,400 sexually abusive images of children while working on agency assignments. The CIA documents do not identify what, if any, punitive action was taken.
In one case — where 10 child sexual abuse images were discovered on a CIA computer that had been left unattended — the employee to whom that device was assigned claimed he switched computers while he was overseas and denied ever viewing the illicit material.
In only one case revealed in the documents, the CIA passed on evidence to prosecutors who then charged the employee with child sex crimes. In that case, as in the only other known case of a CIA staffer being charged with child sex crimes, the employee was also under investigation for mishandling classified material.
According to BuzzFeed News, the way cases of child sex crimes have been handled among CIA employees differs strongly from how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have handled such cases.
The CIA did not answer any of BuzzFeed News’ questions about how it handles such cases. Representatives for the agency said only that it “takes all allegations of possible criminal misconduct committed by personnel seriously.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, where many of the criminal referrals have been sent, also didn’t answer detailed questions from the news site. The spokesman for the district attorney’s office said it “takes seriously its responsibility to hold accountable federal government employees who violate federal law within our jurisdiction.”
BuzzFeed News reported CIA insiders have said both the agency and federal prosecutors are hesitant to ever prosecute such criminal allegations, out of fear that such cases could expose state secrets.
One former CIA official, who reviewed the agency’s declassified documents, told BuzzFeed News that the attitude of CIA lawyers has been, “We can’t have these people testify, they may inadvertently be forced to disclose sources and methods.”
The official said the agency has had a problem with child abuse for decades, and while there’s a need to protect “sensitive and classified equities,” the employee said, “For crimes of a certain class whether it’s an intelligence agency or not, you just have to figure out how to prosecute these people.”
In some cases, it was unclear why prosecutors did not move forward with cases against CIA employees. In the 2009 case of the employee who allegedly had sexual contact with a two and six-year-old, the employee admitted to the illicit contact and a subsequent inspector general investigation found he had “extensively downloaded child pornography,” including 63 videos of children between eight and 16.
Despite the admissions and the evidence that investigators found, prosecutors from the Eastern District of Virginia declined to take up that criminal case. Those prosecutors told the inspector general there were “taint issues” — a term typically used to refer to mishandled evidence. A prosecutor also said that people found in those videos had not been “previously identified child pornography victims,” making it harder to prove they actually were minors.