Sen. Ted Cruz Says Coast Guard Used Illegal Agreements to Silence Sexual Assault Victims

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024. (Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo)

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, accused the U.S. Coast Guard of illegally prohibiting sexual assault victims from sharing information with Congress about their assaults and investigations.

"Directing victims to agree not to discuss what happened to them is particularly reprehensible," Cruz wrote in a letter Monday to Adm. Linda Fagan, commandant of the Coast Guard.

Cruz said illegal nondisclosure agreements were uncovered through his investigation as the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Coast Guard.

Cruz has previously pushed for changes to how the military handles sexual assault. Part of the impetus for that push was the murder of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén, who was found slain after being reported missing from Fort Hood, now known as Fort Cavazos, in 2020.

In his letter, Cruz said that in 2014 the Coast Guard started a six-year investigation called "Operation Fouled Anchor" into allegations the Coast Guard Academy mishandled dozens of sexual assault reports from 1988 to 2006.

The resulting report concluded that the academy "did not adequately investigate allegations as serious criminal matters and hold perpetrators appropriately accountable."

Cruz said it took another two and a half years for the Coast Guard to disclose Operation Fouled Anchor to Congress, however, and only after news media inquiries.

Cruz cites "internal documents" to say the Coast Guard was worried about releasing the report to Congress or the public because it would "risk the initiation of comprehensive Congressional investigations, hearings, and media interest" and reveal that the "rates of sexual assault reporting have not appreciably changed."

Cruz gave credit to the Coast Guard for investigating its past handling of sexual assaults but said his review revealed ways in which the service hampered congressional oversight.

Those include having at least some involved in Operation Fouled Anchor sign a nondisclosure agreement or orally agree to an NDA, forbidding them from speaking about the investigations. That included "victims, subjects, and witnesses," Cruz said in the letter.

He spelled out various laws that prohibit NDAs restricting communication with Congress.

"These NDAs purport to restrict Coast Guardsmen's communications with anyone, including Congress, and thus are plainly illegal," Cruz said.

Cruz also cited resistance to interview requests by the committee.

"The Coast Guard's actions suggest a concerted effort to conceal past sexual assaults at the Academy," Cruz wrote. "Accordingly, I write to request additional information and your personal commitment to withdraw or correct any unlawful NDAs."

In a statement, the Coast Guard said the NDAs were provided to the committee as part of Fagan's "commitment to transparency."

"The Coast Guard's prior use of non-disclosure agreements was to both protect the privacy of victims and the integrity of investigations," according to the statement. "The Coast Guard has provided numerous interviews and thousands of documents to Congress and continues to cooperate with all congressional inquiries and an ongoing DHS OIG investigation. The Coast Guard is committed to victim support and eliminating sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other harmful behaviors from the Service."

The statement did not directly address Cruz's allegation that the Coast Guard had used illegal NDAs.

Cruz said he is formally requesting further investigation by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general, comptroller general and special counsel.

Cruz also requested answers from Fagan by April 22 to a series of questions that include:

  • Will she commit to the service's full and unconditional cooperation with any investigation of Operation Fouled Anchor and related matters by the committee and other authorities?
  • Will she commit to withdrawing or correcting any prohibited NDAs and notifying those who agreed to them of their right to communicate with Congress, inspectors general and relevant oversight agencies?
  • How many times were people asked to agree to an NDA as part of Operation Fouled Anchor?
  • Is it standard practice for the Coast Guard Investigative Service to request victims of a crime to agree to an NDA?
  • Has the victim of a crime who has either signed a Coast Guard Investigative Service NDA or orally agreed to adhere to an NDA ever had criminal, civil, or administrative action taken, or threatened to be taken, against them for violating the NDA?

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