Coast Guard ‘stymies’ Senate’s investigation of sexual assault

Lawmakers said the records related to Operation Fouled Anchor are highly redacted and include a large number of duplicates.

The Coast Guard’s failure to provide Congress with sufficient information regarding the service’s handling of sexual assault cases points to a “continuing culture of cover-up,” lawmakers said Tuesday during a highly-anticipated congressional hearing on the Coast Guard’s investigation of sexual misconduct at the service’s academy.

Last year, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee requested all records related to Operation Fouled Anchor, the Coast Guard’s internal investigation of sexual assault cases at the Coast Guard Academy. Lawmakers said the records provided to Congress are highly redacted and include a large number of duplicates.

“We were told that there are 25,000 to 30,000 pages of responsive documents. We received about 17,000,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

“I did talk to an admiral yesterday. I suggested the only way to get through this hearing with integrity is to turn over the remaining of those documents unredacted. We got about 1,000 pages but in redacted form. This is what we get. This is not full transparency.” 

Operation Fouled Anchor, which investigated sexual assault cases that occurred between 1990 and 2006, ended in 2020, but the service didn’t disclose operation-related information to Congress until 2023. 

Shannon Norenberg, the Coast Guard Academy’s sexual assault response coordinator for the past 11 years, resigned last week ahead of the Tuesday oversight hearing, saying that the service used her as part of a coverup of Operation Fouled Anchor.

Norenberg said the Guard did not provide victims with a government form proving that they reported their incident while still in the military. The form would allow victims to obtain available services and disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In addition, the talking points document she was to reference during an “apology tour” four years ago stated that the service had briefed Congress about the investigation even though Congress didn’t learn about it until last year. 

Meanwhile, the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability is conducting its own investigation into the Guard’s handling of sexual assault cases. The committee sent a letter to Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan Tuesday expressing concern about the service’s inability to provide investigation-related documents in a timely fashion.

“We are concerned about the Coast Guard’s decision to produce only 8,338 pages of the 1.8 million potentially responsive pages it has identified since the investigation began nearly one year ago. Of further concern, on May 8, 2024, USCG informed the Committee that it could not provide a briefing regarding its upcoming production schedule or any specific information about its plans to produce additional documents in response to the Committee’s outstanding requests,” the letter reads.

Adm. Fagan said she is “working in good faith” with the committee and trying to provide congressional investigators with the requested documents. 

“We began this process last summer, added people and resourcing to ensure that we’re able to get into a regular production of documents. This is an unprecedented undertaking for the organization,” said Fagan.

She said she was aware of Norenberg’s allegations and that her allegations would be part of the Homeland Security Office of Inspector General’s investigation into the cover-up.

“I have not read her statement, I am aware of the reporting of her concerns. Shannon has been an incredible employee. She’s made an incredible difference as a sexual assault advisor at the Coast Guard Academy. We are a smaller organization with her departure, but the allegations she has made will be part of the [Inspector General investigation],” said Fagan.

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