Over the past 14 years, the Central Intelligence Agency has secretly amassed credible evidence that at least 10 of its employees and contractors committed sexual crimes involving children.
Though most of these cases were referred to US attorneys for prosecution, only one of the individuals was ever charged with a crime. Prosecutors sent the rest of the cases back to the CIA to handle internally, meaning few faced any consequences beyond the possible loss of their jobs and security clearances. That marks a striking deviation from how sex crimes involving children have been handled at other federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Administration. CIA insiders say the agency resists prosecution of its staff for fear the cases will reveal state secrets.
The revelations are contained in hundreds of internal agency reports obtained by BuzzFeed News through Freedom of Information Act lawsuits.
One employee had sexual contact with a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old. He was fired. A second employee purchased three sexually explicit videos of young girls, filmed by their mothers. He resigned. A third employee estimated that he had viewed up to 1,400 sexually abusive images of children while on agency assignments. The records do not say what action, if any, the CIA took against him. A contractor who arranged for sex with an undercover FBI agent posing as a child had his contract revoked.
Only one of the individuals cited in these documents was charged with a crime. In that case, as in the only previously known case of a CIA staffer being charged with child sexual crimes, the employee was also under investigation for mishandling classified material.
The CIA did not answer detailed questions, saying only that the agency “takes all allegations of possible criminal misconduct committed by personnel seriously.”
A spokesperson for the Eastern District of Virginia, where many of the criminal referrals were sent, also did not answer detailed questions, saying the district “takes seriously its responsibility to hold accountable federal government employees who violate federal law within our jurisdiction.”
Four former officials who are familiar with how internal investigations work at intelligence agencies told BuzzFeed News there are many reasons that prosecutors might not pursue a criminal case. One of them, familiar with the workings of the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General, said the agency is concerned that in a criminal case, it could lose control of sensitive information.
The former official, who reviewed the declassified inspector general reports, characterized the concern from CIA lawyers as, “We can’t have these people testify, they may inadvertently be forced to disclose sources and methods.”
The official, who noted the agency has had a problem with child abuse images stretching back decades, said they understand the need to protect “sensitive and classified equities.” However, “for crimes of a certain class whether it’s an intelligence agency or not, you just have to figure out how to prosecute these people.”
Sexual crimes involving children, including the viewing of images of abuse, have been uncovered at other agencies that handle sensitive information. In a November 2009 report, the Department of Defense acknowledged that dozens of Pentagon staff members or contractors had such images. In 2014, the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community found that two officials from the National Reconnaissance Office, which oversees America’s spy satellites, acknowledged viewing images of child sexual abuse during polygraph examinations.
At a symposium in 2016, Daniel Payne, a top Pentagon security official, said that when workers’ computers were examined, “the amount of child porn I see is just unbelievable.”
The child abuse revelations are drawn from an unprecedented release of reports by the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General.
BuzzFeed News gained access to these documents after a decadelong pursuit, which included 13 public records requests and three separate Freedom of Information Act lawsuits.
Those requests, the earliest of which date back to 2012, were for investigations closed by the Office of the Inspector General, which acts independently of the agency to examine misconduct by employees or contractors.
New requests were filed each subsequent year. At first the CIA did not respond to the requests; then, it said it would take years to provide any documents. Those requests were followed in 2014, 2015, and 2020 by lawsuits, and the agency entered into negotiations about what documents to release. The coronavirus pandemic delayed the process by a year, but the agency finally began to release the documents in March and will release the final set in December.
BuzzFeed News is publishing the reports here for public review.
Among more than 3,000 pages, covering the years 2004 to 2019, are investigations big and small involving billing irregularities by contractors, a spy who expensed a visit to an overseas “gentleman’s club,” and an employee who used government computer systems to resell more than 700 items purchased at yard sales.
Other reports have been the subject of previous news coverage, such as the CIA’s involvement in the production of the film Zero Dark Thirty, the torture of detainees held at black site prisons, and a decades-old operation in Peru that led to the death of missionaries.