FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — A CIA officer trainee was convicted this week in Virginia of attacking a female colleague with a scarf and kissing her inside a stairwell at the agency’s headquarters in Langley.
The previously unreported criminal case against Ashkan Bayatpour was remarkable for breaking through the CIA’s veil of ultra-secrecy and playing out in a public courtroom where it has emboldened a sexual misconduct reckoning.
At least two-dozen women have come forward in recent months with their own complaints of abusive treatment within the CIA, telling authorities and Congress not only about sexual assaults, unwanted touching and coercion but of what they contend is a campaign by the spy agency to keep them from speaking out.
Here are the key takeaways from the AP investigation:
Bayatpour was accused of coming up from behind a colleague, wrapping a scarf around her neck and speaking plainly as he tried to kiss her on the mouth.
“There are many uses for this,” the woman recalled him saying. “This is what I want to do to you.”
The woman told investigators she shouted for Bayatpour to stop, but when she attempted to flee, he tried a second time to wrap a winter scarf around her neck before grabbing her arm, pulling her toward him and kissing her cheek.
He messaged her later: “You good?”
The 39-year-old Alabama native and former U.S. Navy intelligence officer has remained on the job for more than a year since the woman reported the July 13, 2022, assault to the CIA and nine months since she reported it to the FBI and local law enforcement.
In Wednesday's trial in northern Virginia, an attorney for Bayatpour acknowledged he wrapped the scarf around woman in the stairwell but insisted his actions were intended in jest during a 40-minute walk. The incident, he said, was “a joke that didn’t land the way it was intended to land.”
Fairfax General District Court Judge Dipti Pidikiti-Smith found Bayatpour guilty of a state misdemeanor charge of assault and battery, and sentenced him to six months’ probation.
FLOOD OF COMPLAINTS
Complaints to the CIA’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity about sexual harassment and discrimination this year have already doubled last year’s total, detailing 76 separate incidents.
Congressional aides told the AP they have interviewed or had contact with at least two-dozen women CIA employees this year. They described misconduct ranging from lewd remarks about sexual fantasies at after-work happy hours to a case in which a senior manager showed up at a subordinate’s house at night with a firearm demanding sex.
An attorney for some of the women says one claims she was given alcohol on her first day at a new posting and then sexually assaulted by the most senior official. Another contends her supervisor told her on her first day of work that they were “soulmates” and followed up with text messages suggesting sexual trysts.
Washington attorney Kevin Byrnes said many of the women were told they could not identify their attackers, go to law enforcement or even speak to family members about their claims due to national security concerns or the risk of divulging unspecified classified information.
“The CIA apparently believes that it is not subject to federal law,” he said.
WHAT IS CONGRESS DOING?
The top Democrat and Republican overseeing the CIA, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have called for a watchdog investigation and are considering hearings into why the agency has failed women in their ranks for so long. Since 2018, out of 290 total employment-related complaints, the agency has substantiated just a single case based on sex.
“Sexual harassment and sexual assault are unacceptable in any workplace,” Warner told the AP. “The Senate Intelligence Committee will continue to be watching this closely.”
WHAT DOES CIA SAY?
The CIA wouldn't comment on Bayatpour's case or even confirm his CIA affiliation. However, in May, it announced a series of reforms to streamline claims, support victims and more quickly discipline those behind misconduct.
That includes hiring a psychologist steeped in victim advocacy to lead the agency’s fledgling Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office and replacing the leadership of the CIA office where many of the women say they were discouraged from making complaints.
“Our officers deserve no less than our laser sharp focus on ensuring they have a safe and secure work environment,” said CIA spokeswoman Tammy Kupperman Thorp.