The Director of the CIA today addressed recent allegations by a gay CIA contractor who said he was harassed while on a dangerous deployment by other CIA contractors and staff officers, saying his spy agency has “zero tolerance” for such behavior and indicating the agency is moving swiftly in response.
“We have a zero tolerance policy and whenever there is a situation where there is an allegation and that allegation is found to be well-founded, we take action immediately,” John Brennan told reporters at a meeting in New York about diversity within the CIA. “I think you can understand I can’t obviously address any particular case or allegations that may be working their way through a system.”
Brennan made the comments in response to ABC News' questions about Brett Jones, a gay former Navy SEAL and 13-year CIA contractor. In an exclusive television interview late last month, Jones alleged that on his most recent deployment to Afghanistan this summer, he encountered a disturbing pattern of harassment and witnessed blatant homophobic, racist and sexist behavior from his own teammates -- both contractors and CIA officials. It became so bad, Jones said, that he eventually feared for his life and had to invent a family emergency as a cover story to leave the country early.
Before he left, though, Jones said he made copies of some evidence including a PowerPoint presentation that he said was shown to the men just before a dangerous mission – in which the slides had been altered to include extremely vulgar, sexual and racist language. He also copied what he said was a myriad of offensive images from an official CIA computer, including one that appeared to make a racist joke about President Obama.
“I just had no idea where it ended or where it began and if I was to raise my hand and say, ‘Hey, this is a problem,’ people would lose their jobs. In an environment where everyone is armed and at a heightened sense of awareness, a little stressed out, maybe a little PTSD floating in there somewhere, that’s not the environment for me to do it in,” he told ABC News. “When people’s livelihoods and careers and everything are threatened, they tend to do some pretty crazy things.”
The CIA did not dispute Jones’ account, but declined to comment on his specific allegations or acknowledge Jones' work with the agency. Today the agency declined to say if Brennan had seen the offensives images or slides.
Despite Brennan’s comments, the CIA has also repeatedly declined to tell ABC News exactly what the agency is doing in response. Jones said he’s been in contact with a CIA representative and is working with them on their investigation -- an investigation the CIA won't confirm is ongoing.
Overall, Brennan said today he’s “very, very proud of what the agency’s record has been on LGBT [the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender issues].”
“As someone who came in at a time when individuals were prevented from joining the agency for sexual preference, we, I think, have been leading in some respects of the last two decades,” Brennan said, citing the work done by the CIA’s internal LGBT support organization, the Agency Network of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Employees (ANGLE). “That’s not saying that as a large organization that’s a microcosm of U.S. society that there’s still not places where we need to work on it. But the track record is strong there.”
In his interview with ABC News, Jones agreed and said that the CIA hired him back in the early 2000s well aware that he was gay. Jones praised the organization and said that beyond some fairly common low-level incidents, he’s never had a major problem with harassment, until this latest deployment.
Still, Jones said the whole point of him coming forward was to make sure there is a “change within the organization... to where these kids that are coming through training and going into their prospective careers can go in there knowing that they’re not going to have to deal with stuff like that.”
He said today he’s eager to see what the CIA will do and "not just at the CIA, but all the special operations groups [like Navy SEALs or Army Rangers]."
"I would like to see them be proactive in eliminating negative sub-cultures in all branches of the service," he said.