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Blumenthal blasts Coast Guard for failing to curb sex assaults and harassment in CT ahead of hearing

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). (Alex Edelman/Zuma Press/TNS)

A “culture of concealment and cover-up” exists on long-standing issues of sexual assault and harassment, which still persists in the United States Coast Guard, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal charged on Tuesday.

During a news conference outside the State Capitol in advance of a mid-afternoon hearing in Washington of the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Blumenthal said last week’s announced resignation of the person in charge of responding to sexual assaults at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, casts another shadow over the military branch and its long association with Connecticut.

He said that the problems spawned at the academy transition into the wider Coast Guard population, along with “cronyism” and administrators who have been slow to produce requested documents. Hundreds of pages requested by Congress were finally provided on Monday.

Communications officials at the Coast Guard, which is led by Admiral Linda Fagan, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday, but Blumenthal’s hearing had scheduled the admiral as the chief witness. He noted that the active investigation by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations started in September of last year, scrutinizing harassment and assault cases that occurred between 1990 and 2006 that was called Operation Fouled Anchor. A report was prepared in January 2020, then suppressed by the Coast Guard until last year, he said.

“The Coast Guard withheld that report for three years,” Blumenthal said. “The Coast Guard assured us that the problem of sexual assault was a problem of the past, that there would no longer be any concealment and that there would be full cooperation. What our investigation has found so far is that in fact, sexual assault and harassment are very much a problem of the present. That they are persistent and unacceptably prevalent, ongoing within the Coast Guard, not just at the academy. Our investigation also, very sadly, has shown that the Coast Guard is continuing to suffer from a culture of concealment and cover-up.”

He quoted Shannon Norenberg, the sexual assault coordinator who resigned on Sunday, as saying that higher ups in the service “lied to me, worst than that they used me to lie to victims, used me to silence victims and used me in a coordinated effort to discourage victims of sexual assault at the academy from speaking to Congress about their assaults and about the Coast Guard’s investigation of their cases.”

Blumenthal said that while U.S. Coast Guard leaders have said it’s a “new organization,” the facts show that little has changed. He said that “dozens” of Coast Guard veterans have come forward in recent months to complain about the branch’s disregard and dismissal of complaints, while allowing retaliation against those who complain.

He said that survivors of assault wanted to post a video on their claims, but it was suppressed by Coast Guard leaders.

“They need to stop refusing documents to our subcommittee because they are — quote — sensitive, when in fact by sensitive they simply mean they’re embarrassing,” Blumenthal said. “I am hoping that the Coast Guard will, in fact, abandon this culture of cover-up, but it will require also abandoning the present policy that put cronyism over accountability and silence over the survivors.”

Blumenthal said he wanted to hear the admiral promise to actually establish new honest, transparent policies at the Coast Guard and its academy in New London.

“I’m going to demand that the Coast Guard comes clean,” he said, stressing that personnel may have to get changed to advance the cause. “Those changes in leadership have to put accountability ahead of cronyism. They may be hard. They may be embarrassing, but the Coast Guard has to do the right thing and the commandant is the one that ultimately has to be responsible.”

In December, the subcommittee held a hearing during which several current and former Coast Guard Academy cadets testified about the handling of their cases. He noted the longtime association between the state of Connecticut and the Coast Guard, including plans for a new Coast Guard Museum.

“If there is ongoing responsibility people have to be held accountable,” he said, adding that subcommittee requests for documents have been “slow-walked and stonewalled,” culminating in the released of hundreds of documents Monday afternoon, on the eve of the hearing. An initial review of the new batch of records indicates many were “duplicative, redundant and often redacted with key information taken out.”


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