CIA chief announces new steps to address sexual assault, harassment allegations

U.S. Intelligence chiefs testify on worldwide threats during Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - CIA Director William Burns on Thursday announced the appointment of the former head of the U.S. Navy's sexual assault prevention program as part of a new effort to improve how the premier U.S. spy agency deals with sexual assault and harassment allegations.

The moves follow a U.S. Senate intelligence committee letter in April requesting that the CIA inspector general investigate charges by some CIA female officers that the agency "grossly mishandled" allegations of sexual assault and harassment.

"We have no higher priority than taking care of our people,” Burns said in a statement. "We will continue to act quickly and systematically to address concerns, and to improve our approach to these critical issues. More reforms will be coming."

Burns announced the appointment of Taleeta Jackson, a psychologist with 18 years of experience in victim advocacy and sexual assault response and prevention, as the new head of the agency's Sexual Assault and Response Office.

She formally oversaw the U.S. Navy's sexual assault and prevention program at more than 70 installations.

“I am pleased that Dr. Jackson has joined our team and will bring her extensive experience to this crucial new role," Burns said. "I have personally met with several affected officers to hear their concerns and solicit their feedback on ways we can improve as an agency. I have heard these concerns loud and clear."

The CIA also is moving to streamline procedures for addressing incidents of sexual assault and workplace harassment, including establishing an internal task force that will be advised by outside experts, the statement said.

By the end of the month, the agency will issue "new, clear guidance" on how personnel report incidents of sexual assault and harassment, it said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by David Gregorio)