The CIA's top officer in Algeria has been returned to Washington amid allegations that he drugged and raped two women at his Algiers residence, an accusation that presents the Obama administration's new intelligence team with an unexpected legal and diplomatic crisis even before it officially takes office.
The 41-year-old Algiers station chief was ordered home by the State Department after a months-long investigation of alleged sexual assaults in September 2007 and February of last year, U.S. officials confirmed Wednesday. The two women involved in the incidents told U.S. diplomats that they became unconscious after receiving what they believed were knockout drugs served to them in drinks.
The alleged assaults, if confirmed, are viewed as particularly serious because they could potentially damage diplomatic relations with Algeria, a U.S. ally, and undermine U.S. efforts to improve its image in the Muslim world, former diplomats and foreign policy experts said.
The CIA and State Department declined to comment on the alleged assaults, which were first described in an Internet report Wednesday by ABC News. State Department spokesman Robert Wood confirmed that an investigation was ongoing and that the officer involved had been recalled to Washington.
“The U.S. takes very seriously any accusations of misconduct involving any U.S. personnel abroad,” Wood said.
Mark Mansfield, a CIA spokesman, said the spy agency “would take seriously, and follow up on, any allegations of impropriety.” He declined to confirm the name of the station chief or to give details on the agency's internal investigation.
However, the women's allegations are described in detail in an affidavit by a State Department investigator assigned to the case. In the affidavit, filed in federal court in Washington, the women give similar accounts of being assaulted by a man described as an official of the U.S. Embassy in the Algerian capital. The official is identified in the affidavit as Andrew Warren, an “employee of the U.S. government” assigned to the embassy.
The first woman, an Algerian national who also holds a German passport, told embassy officials she was assaulted by Warren after meeting him at a party at his residence. She said Warren offered her a mixed drink, which he prepared out of her sight. Later, she said, after consuming more of the drinks, she became ill and experienced symptoms “nothing like the physiological effects of alcohol” she had previously experienced, the affidavit states. The next morning she awoke “on a bed, completely nude, with no memory of ... what had occurred.”
The second woman, a married Algerian national living in Spain, told embassy officials she became violently ill after consuming two drinks at Warren's residence last Feb. 17. She reported fading in and out of consciousness and awakening to find Warren having sex with her. She said she blacked out again and could not recall afterward how she had gotten home.
In the affidavit, the investigator said there was “probable cause” to believe Warren had committed aggravated sexual assault.
Warren has not been charged in the case. Attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.
ABC, quoting unnamed officials, said the women's accounts were backed up by videotapes that were found in the CIA officer's residence. The tapes, apparently secretly made, allegedly show the CIA officer engaged in sex acts with several women, including one of the alleged victims in the case who appears to be in a semiconscious state, the network reported.
The Justice Department, which is participating in the investigation, declined to comment on the case. A spokesman for the Algerian Embassy in Washington said his government had no immediate response to the report.
Mark Zaid, a private attorney who represents current and former CIA officers, said the case raises questions about the adequacy of the agency's self-policing of its senior officers. All CIA officers are required to report any unofficial contact with foreign nationals, although in practice, the agency sometimes looks the other way when its employees engage in romances overseas, Zaid said.
While cases of rape would be “unbelievably rare,” the reality is that some agency employees “are sleeping around while posted overseas — sometimes brazenly — and no one does anything about it,” he said.
Isobel Coleman, director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program of the Council on Foreign Relations, said it was vitally important that the U.S. government pursue the investigation vigorously and publicly, given the particular cultural sensitivities of Muslim cultures toward sexual crimes.
“We need to show that we take it very seriously,” she said.