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How CNN’s Coast Guard Academy cover-up came about

A version of this story appears in CNN’s What Matters newsletter. Sign up for free to get it in your inbox here.



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It’s been almost a year since CNN first reported on a cover-up at the Coast Guard Academy.

That first report on how the academy kept secret its own review of decades of sexual violence cover-up continues to reverberate.

This week, Coast Guard Academy official responsible for sexual assault prevention Shannon Norenberg resigned in protest, saying the Coast Guard unknowingly made her complicit in a cover-up.

“I can no longer in good conscience be part of an organization that would betray me, betray victims of sexual assault, and betray the system I helped build to hold perpetrators at the academy accountable,” Norenberg said in a statement declaration. Watch her performance on “Anderson Cooper 360°”.

Individual, The Coast Guard’s first female commander, Adm. Linda Fagan, will testify about the scandal on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, where she will face tough questions about why current or former leaders have not been held accountable for covering up misconduct.

How does this type of investigative reporting come about? It took a team of journalists from CNN Investigates, including Melanie Hicken, Blake Ellis, Audrey Ash, Curt Devine and Pamela Brown. I sent an email to Hicken and Ellis, reporters who have worked on this story from the beginning. Our conversation is below.

WOLF: You’ve been working on this Coast Guard story for a while now. What was the first thread you pulled, and how did it unravel?

HICKEN and ELLIS: Our Coast Guard reporting all started with a young woman named Hope Hicks, who was studying at another service academy, the US Merchant Marine Academy. In an anonymous blog post, she wrote about how she was raped by her boss while at sea – sparking a reckoning in the commercial shipping industry.

As we started looking into her business, we became fascinated by this little-known industry. We spent months talking to merchant mariners who were attacked while working on commercial ships and learned more about how the legal process works in the commercial shipping world. Ultimately, we discovered that a number of sexual assaults went unpunished and that it all happened offshore. The guard’s watch. So that was the turning point where we started turning our attention to the Coast Guard.

It was only through this initial reporting on the Coast Guard and the maritime industry that we were finally able to break the news about the Fouled Anchor scandal. It took months to gain the trust of sources, obtain key data and conduct sensitive interviews with victims.



04:27 – Source: CNN

She accused her boss of rape. A year later: no solution

WOLF: An important part of the story is Operation Fouled Anchor, the secret internal investigation into cover-ups. Has the Coast Guard acknowledged a cover-up?

HICKEN and ELLIS: Reporting on this story was so interesting because Fouled Anchor was ultimately a front for previous cover-ups. The internal investigation corroborated years of sexual abuse at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and revealed how victims’ complaints were ignored and sometimes covered up, allowing some perpetrators to advance to high-ranking positions in the Coast Guard and other military branches.

Through our reporting, we learned that there were original plans to open up Congress on the After the report and its damning findings, Coast Guard leaders ultimately chose to bury it — even going so far as to list the pros and cons of disclosure.

The current leader of the Coast Guard has apologized to the workforce and Congress, but has been careful not to label the suppression of the Fouled Anchor investigation as a cover-up.

WOLF: Has there been any follow-up research done on some of these attacks from years ago?

HICKEN and ELLIS: Operation Fouled Anchor itself was launched in 2014 to look into those previous attacks, when an academy graduate claimed her rape allegations from years earlier had never been investigated and that her attacker had become a top officer in the Air Force. Despite credible evidence of abuse dating back to the late 1980s, Fouled Anchor investigators found that most of the alleged perpetrators had not been criminally investigated at the time.

However, even after the cases were reopened during Fouled Anchor, few alleged perpetrators were held accountable. The attacker in the case Fouled Anchor started was the only person to face criminal charges in military court as a result of the investigation, but an appeals court ultimately ruled in his favor and dismissed the charges, saying the military had missed his chance. prosecuted because the Coast Guard waited nearly two decades to investigate the victim’s allegations.

We have learned that two other accused perpetrators were discreetly forced to retire from the Coast Guard, but that there were nearly forty cases in which the Coast Guard no longer had jurisdiction over the alleged attackers and that local and federal criminal laws have long since ceased to exist. were applicable. no action was taken at all.

As for what’s happening now, we know that the Coast Guard is currently investigating an officer for sexually harassing and groping a cadet who reported him to the Coast Guard Academy 20 years earlier (the officer’s attorney denies the allegations).

The former cadet raised the allegations during testimony at a congressional hearing last year, but the Coast Guard did not launch the criminal investigation until months later, after the woman said she put his name on a promotion list for senators.

Another woman has asked Congress to reopen her 2005 rape case. The Coast Guard has argued that the latter cannot proceed despite findings at the time that he had “non-consensual” sexual intercourse with her, as he is not currently under Coast Guard jurisdiction.

WOLF: There’s a hearing in Congress this week. Shannon Norenberg resigned in protest. Is there already accountability at the Coast Guard Academy or the Coast Guard?

HICKEN and ELLIS: It appears the current leader of the Coast Guard, Commander Admiral Linda Fagan, will face many tough questions during the hearing. So far, she wanted the agency to focus on the future and make changes to policies that she hopes will help prevent sexual violence and better support survivors.

But many Coast Guard members are frustrated by two major issues: that to date the leaders who covered up Operation Fouled Anchor have not yet been held accountable and that Fagan has failed to recognize just how big a problem sexual assault is today. still is. .

Shannon Norenberg was angry that she was used as part of what she described as a “cruel cover-up” that deceived both victims and Congress, but she’s also frustrated that more hasn’t changed at the Coast Guard Academy — she says perpetrators are still face little accountability.

WOLF: Now that we’ve discussed this for so long, what is it about the Coast Guard Academy that has allowed this kind of cover-up culture to develop? Is this a problem specific to the Coast Guard or the academy?

HICKEN and ELLIS: Many of the issues we saw at the Coast Guard Academy and the Coast Guard in general, such as fear of retaliation for speaking out about attacks, a lack of accountability for alleged perpetrators, and a boys’ club culture, were very similar to what we heard from people from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy community when we first started this reporting several years ago.

We’ve also heard from assault survivors across the military who say our country still has a long way to go in the fight against military sexual assault and in efforts to nurse survivors back to health.

Some in the organization have also told us that because the Coast Guard is not under the Department of Defense like the other military branches, it has historically escaped the same level of scrutiny. Many are hopeful that might change, as people who were terrified of speaking up finally feel like they can.

WOLF: You include your email addresses at the end of your stories and ask for tips to research. Will they ever become stories?

HICKEN and ELLIS: Yes! We’ve received so much helpful information through tips in response to our stories, and many of the sexual assault survivors we’ve spoken to in our reporting originally contacted us through our tips email ([email protected]) .

Many current and former Coast Guard employees have also anonymously shared information with us that has greatly informed our reporting and led to several follow-up stories.

We’re always looking for new story ideas, and a lot of our past research has come from reader tips, so we welcome emails!