Coast Guard Clarifies Use of Nondisclosure Agreements Targeted by Sen. Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) talks with members of the media in Washington, D.C.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) talks with members of the media on March 22, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, welcomed recent U.S. Coast Guard guidance that any nondisclosure agreements, including those signed by sexual assault victims, must allow information to be shared with Congress and other official investigators.

Cruz said last month he had uncovered nondisclosure agreements that barred "victims, subjects, and witnesses" from speaking about investigations into the handling of sexual assault allegations.

That runs contrary to laws that prohibit such agreements from restricting communication with Congress, Cruz wrote in a letter to Adm. Linda Fagan, commandant of the Coast Guard, denouncing the practice and demanding answers.

Cruz is the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Coast Guard.

He said during a committee hearing Tuesday that his letter produced results.

"I also want to thank the Coast Guard for quickly addressing the serious problem my office uncovered: the Coast Guard's use of illegal nondisclosure agreements, including with victims of sexual assault," Cruz said. "Within a day of my letter alerting the commandant to the issue, the Coast Guard ended this indefensible practice."

The Coast Guard did not respond to an emailed request for comment Tuesday.

Adm. Steven Poulin, vice commandant of the Coast Guard, sent a servicewide official message on April 18 to clarify the "purpose and effect" of nondisclosure agreements and policies surrounding them.

The message noted the rights of military members, civilian employees and contractors to make protected disclosures and whistleblower complaints to Congress, the office of the inspector general, the office of special counsel and other internal investigative bodies.

The memo said current and former service members and employees may have signed NDAs or been verbally advised not to disclose or discuss confidential matters. The purpose was to protect individual privacy, preserve the integrity of investigations and protect sensitive material, the memo said.

"The intent of such policies and agreements has not been, and is not, to restrict any individual's right to make protected disclosures to Congress, the Office of the Inspector General, Office of Special Counsel, or to make internal reports to any person or organization in the chain of command, the Coast Guard Investigative Service, or other authorities responsible for investigating or processing complaints of alleged violations," according to the memo.

The Coast Guard started a six-year investigation in 2014 called Operation Fouled Anchor into allegations the Coast Guard Academy mishandled dozens of sexual assault reports from 1988 to 2006.

The investigation found the academy "did not adequately investigate allegations as serious criminal matters and hold perpetrators appropriately accountable."

Cruz said the service has hampered oversight of Operation Fouled Anchor, including through "illegal" NDAs.

There are still ongoing investigations into the handling of Operation Fouled Anchor. Cruz's original letter to Fagan referred the matter to the inspector general, as well as the comptroller general and special counsel for investigation.

Separately , the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has been investigating Operation Fouled Anchor. The top Democrat and Republican on that panel wrote to Fagan last week raising concerns about a lack of transparency and inviting her to testify later this month.

The Coast Guard previously issued a statement saying the NDAs were provided to Cruz as part of Fagan's "commitment to transparency" and that the service is committed to supporting victims and eliminating sexual assault. That statement did not directly address Cruz's allegation that the Coast Guard had used illegal NDAs.

© 2024 The Dallas Morning News.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Story Continues