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    Tuesday, June 18, 2024

    Whistleblower alleges Coast Guard officials lied to cover up ‘Operation Fouled Anchor’

    New London ― A whistleblower who alleges officials orchestrated lies to victims of rapes and sexual assaults at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy has gone public on the eve of the Coast Guard commandant’s appearance before a U.S. Senate panel looking into the service’s cover-up of an internal review of the sexual misconduct cases.

    On Sunday, Shannon Norenberg, who served for 11 years as the academy’s sexual assault response coordinator, announced online that she has resigned after learning the Coast Guard had used her to lie to victims as part of its cover-up of “Operation Fouled Anchor.”

    Norenberg’s statement was posted on the website of Maritime Legal Aid & Advocacy Ltd., a nonprofit organization.

    “The Coast Guard lied to me,” wrote Norenberg, who resigned May 20. “Worse than that, they used me to lie to victims, used me to silence victims, and used me in a coordinated effort to discourage victims of sexual assault at the Academy from speaking to Congress about their assaults and about the Coast Guard’s investigation of their cases.”

    The academy referred a request for comment Tuesday to Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C., which had not responded by the end of the day.

    Norenberg, 54, who was unavailable Monday, will attend a hearing the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations is holding Tuesday, titled “Coast Guard Oversight: Sexual Assault and Harassment,” according to her attorney, Ryan Melogy. She has spoken to the panel members’ staff and has indicated she’s willing to testify in public, Melogy wrote in an email.

    She has not publicly identified by name any Coast Guard or Coast Guard Academy official who instructed her to lie.

    Adm. Linda Fagan, the Coast Guard commandant, is scheduled to testify at Tuesday’s hearing. In September, the subcommittee, headed by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., opened an inquiry into “Operation Fouled Anchor,” which reviewed sexual misconduct cases that occurred at the academy between 1990 and 2006.

    The review, which documented the Coast Guard’s original mishandling of the cases, was withheld from Congress and the public. Completed in 2020, its existence was revealed last June by CNN, the cable news network.

    In her public statement, Norenberg said she learned of “Operation Fouled Anchor” in late 2018 after being summoned to Coast Guard Headquarters, where she attended a “very secretive and highly unusual” meeting with a few others, including an agent from the Coast Guard Investigative Service and a Coast Guard attorney.

    Years later, Norenberg said, she learned the Coast Guard required many people aware of “Operation Fouled Anchor” to sign non-disclosure agreements preventing them from talking about it. She, however, was never asked to sign an NDA.

    Norenberg said she learned dozens of sexual assaults investigated in connection with “Operation Fouled Anchor” had not been entered into a Department of Defense database, in apparent violation of protocol. She said she was told she would join the Coast Guard investigator and the Coast Guard attorney in setting up visits with all the sexual assault victims who had been interviewed as part of “Operation Fouled Anchor.”

    Then, she said, the three of them would travel around the country meeting with those victims who agreed to in-person visits.

    “The way it was pitched to me was that this would be a kind of ‘apology tour,’” Norenberg said in her statement. “Apology was not the term the Coast Guard used, however. Instead, we were to offer the victims an ‘Official Expression of Regret.’”

    She said she, the investigator and the attorney were given a list of “talking points” to present to the victims, about 25 to 30 of whom they met with during a four-to-five-month period in 2019. She became uncomfortable, she said, upon being told they would not be offering victims the “CG-6095,” an official form used when people report sexual assault.

    “Having this form makes it much easier for survivors of Military Sexual Trauma to obtain services from the VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) to deal with their trauma, Norenberg said.

    She said she concluded Coast Guard leaders deliberately withheld VA military sexual trauma benefits and services from sexual assault victims to prevent “Operation Fouled Anchor” from being discovered by Congress.

    Further, she alleged, Coast Guard officials didn’t want the victims “to have any proof that their cases even existed or had ever been investigated.”

    Norenberg said she was stunned to learn of the “Operation Fouled Anchor” cover-up, and only recently came to understand her unwitting involvement in it.

    “We weren’t sent out there to help these people, I realized,” she said. “We were sent out there as part of an elaborate coverup of ‘Operation Fouled Anchor’ designed to hide the existence of the investigation from Congress and the public.”

    In her statement, Norenberg issues a personal apology to “Operation Fouled Anchor” victims, and acknowledges she is herself a survivor of military sexual trauma, having been raped by a drill sergeant after graduating from Army boot camp at Fort Jackson, N.C.

    b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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