Senators ask US spy chief to do more against sexual harassment: Letter

US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, US, on Oct 13, 2017.
US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, US, on Oct 13, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the US spy chief to step up efforts to counter sexual harassment in national security agencies after scores of women complained of inadequate protections, according to a letter by senators.

The letter dated Dec 19 and seen by Reuters, was sent by Democratic panel members Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris and Republican Susan Collins from the full committee, appealing to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to "ensure that women can work free from fear and can be confident that their gender will not affect their opportunities".

They asked Coats to review a Nov 28 open letter to national security officials by a group calling itself "#metoonatsec".

Brian Hale, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told Reuters: "Under DNI Coats' leadership the intelligence community unequivocally supports all efforts to tackle discrimination and harassment issues head-on." Representatives of the Defence Department and the State Department did not respond to requests for comment.

The November letter signed by 223 women working in national security and related jobs said: "We, too, are survivors of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse or know others who are." They said sexual harassment and abuse are "not just a problem in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, newsrooms or Congress" and that women hold only 30 per cent or less of the senior national security jobs in most agencies.

While the agencies all have policies in place against sexual harassment, the women said, these are "weak, under enforced and can favour perpetrators". Two days after the #metoonatsec group posted its letter, Coats circulated a message to all US intelligence agencies, saying he and his principal deputy, Sue Gordon, were serious about curbing sexual harassment in the workplace, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters.