Defense

Head of Missile Defense Agency sexually harassed staffers for 7 years, Pentagon watchdog finds

The former top civilian at the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) sexually harassed two women in his office for seven years before retiring after a complaint was filed, the military’s watchdog agency has found.

John James, the former MDA executive director, “engaged in a pattern of misconduct in which he sexually harassed” the two employees from 2012 through 2019, according to a recently released Defense Department inspector general’s report.

James “repeatedly sought out and made deliberate, unwelcomed physical contact” with one woman “with whom he would normally have little or no professional interaction,” including asking for her personal cellphone number and taking a picture of her buttocks as she walked away from him.

James on two occasions massaged the second woman behind a closed door in his office while saying, “I love this.” The woman eventually left the agency due to James’s behavior, the report found.

He also made an inappropriate comment to a third employee in 2017, for which he received counseling about his behavior, though he continued to harass the two other employees for another two years.

James told investigators that his interactions with the women were “part of a mentoring relationship,” though the inspector general found no evidence to support the assertion.

The inspector general’s office in August 2019 first received a complaint about James through the MDA, which researches, develops and buys missile systems to defend the United States and allies. The inspector general then opened an investigation into the allegations in September 2019.

James in November was reassigned within the MDA to assistant director for cybersecurity before retiring in late February, though the inspector general’s office continued its investigation.

Investigators interviewed 11 witnesses, including the three employees affected, and reviewed 421,800 emails, messages and other documents as well as government-issued cellphones, tablets and laptops. 

In speaking with investigators, James denied taking a photo of the first woman and massaging the second woman and said that he did not recall a number of the scenarios that the women recounted. He said he believed the complaints were from a disgruntled male employee passed over for promotion at the MDA.

“There’s a modicum of truth in the interactions, but no intent for sexual harassment, or favors, or anything of that nature,” he said, according to the report. 

The report is another blow to the military, which has struggled for years with how to curtail sexual harassment and assault within its ranks and in the Pentagon.

In April, the Pentagon found that reports of sexual assaults across the military increased by 3 percent in 2019.

The report also comes on the heels of a similar incident last year, when the Pentagon watchdog found that Guy Roberts, a former top Defense Department civilian, sexually harassed three women on his staff, frequently touching them and making sexual comments. Roberts resigned from his role before the report was made public.

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