Coast Guard clarifies use of non-disclosure agreements targeted by Sen. Ted Cruz

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

Cruz said last month that he had uncovered non-disclosure agreements that prevented “victims, subjects and witnesses” from speaking about investigations into the handling of sexual assault allegations.

That violates laws that prohibit such agreements from restricting communications with Congress, Cruz wrote in a letter to Adm. Linda Fagan, commander of the Coast Guard. In the letter, Cruz denounced the practice and demanded answers.

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

He said during a committee hearing Wednesday 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 non-disclosure agreements, including with victims of sexual assault,” Cruz said. “Within a day of notifying the commander of the issue, the Coast Guard put an end to this indefensible practice.”

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

Adm. Steven Poulin, deputy commander of the Coast Guard, sent an official service-wide message on April 18 to clarify the “purpose and effect” of non-disclosure agreements and the policies surrounding them.

The notice 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 the Special Counsel and other internal investigative bodies.

The memo states that current and former service members and employees may have signed non-disclosure agreements or been verbally advised not to disclose or discuss confidential matters. The goal 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 limit the right of any individual to make protected disclosures to Congress, the Office of the Inspector General, the Office of the 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,” the memo said.

The Coast Guard launched a six-year investigation in 2014, called Operation Fouled Anchor, into allegations that the Coast Guard Academy mishandled dozens of reports of sexual assault between 1988 and 2006.

The investigation found that the academy “failed to adequately investigate the allegations as serious criminal matters and to hold perpetrators appropriately accountable.”

Cruz said the agency has resisted oversight of Operation Fouled Anchor, including through “illegal” non-disclosure agreements.

Investigations into the handling of Operation Fouled Anchor are still ongoing. Cruz’s original letter to Fagan referred the matter to the inspector general, as well as the comptroller general and the special investigative council.

In addition, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations investigated Operation Fouled Anchor. The top Democrat and Republican on that panel wrote to Fagan last week, expressing concerns about a lack of transparency and inviting her to testify later this month.

The Coast Guard previously released a statement saying the NDAs were provided to Cruz as part of Fagan’s “commitment to transparency” and that the agency is committed to supporting victims and eliminating sexual violence. That statement did not directly address Cruz’s claim that the Coast Guard used illegal non-disclosure agreements.