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CIA employees are not being prosecuted for sexually abusing children

BuzzFeed bombshell highlights the difference between journalism and conspiracy theory
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A recent report by Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier at BuzzFeed makes a staggering claim:

Over the past 14 years, the CIA 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.

The details are bad, even if you already have a pretty good idea of what the intelligence agency is capable of:

  • One employee was fired when it was discovered he’d had sexual contact with a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old, as well as used government wi-fi to download child abuse videos that he then distributed to others
  • Another employee resigned after purchasing sexually explicit videos of young girls filmed by their mothers
  • An agency contractor was fired after arranging for sex with an undercover FBI agent posing as a child
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The ten employees were investigated by the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General, according to FOIA documents obtained by BuzzFeed. Five were subsequently fired or resigned, four others were referred to the Office of Security for further investigation, and the outcome of one investigation is unknown.

Why aren’t these people being prosecuted? It comes down to national security, just like in the movies — the agency doesn’t want to see a CIA employee or contractor go on the stand and reveal sensitive information. In fact, in the only two known criminal cases that resulted from a CIA child abuse investigation, both were accused of “serious offenses related to classified information,” according to BuzzFeed, which sounds like someone is prioritizing “dirty tricks” over the well-being of children.

All of this calls to mind another CIA child abuse scandal, one that falls squarely in the category of “conspiracy myth.” The Finders was a counterculture collective based in Washington, D.C. accused of abusing children as part of some sort of CIA mind-control plot in the 1980s. There is no truth to the rumor, although conspiracy theorists have been publishing books and podcasts “exposing” this group ever since. This story, and many like it, is the basis of the QAnon conspiracy theory that plays an oversized role in politics today.

While reading the BuzzFeed story, I am struck by the difference between what Leopold and Cormier do versus what online conspiracy researchers do. The two journalists have been working on this story since 2012, when they filed the first of thirteen public records requests and three separate Freedom of Information Act lawsuits. All told, it took a decade to get their hands on the 3,652 pages of redacted CIA documents. The scope of the story is kept narrow — it doesn’t begin with Operation Paperclip after World War II, or pederasty in ancient Greece, or the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago — which in itself is refreshing. There’s also the fact that the reporters actually spoke to people familiar with the matter, which is something that the majority of conspiracy researchers somehow seem to find unimportant.

Most conspiracy theories are fascinating, if flawed, reflections of reality, and I don’t necessarily blame the conspiracy theorists for trying. When you can’t trust institutions like law enforcement and the media, sometimes you have to do it yourself. It’s no wonder that people believe conspiracy theories; they’re stand-ins for the truth when oftentimes the truth just isn’t available.

BuzzFeed News has released the reports that the CIA handed over, all 3,652 pages of them, and I can’t wait to see what the conspiracy researchers do with that trove of documents.