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Female General Accuses Peer of Sex Harassment

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The highest-ranking woman in the U.S. Army has filed a sexual harassment complaint accusing a fellow general of groping her during a 1996 encounter in her Pentagon office, officials said Thursday.

In the latest high-profile case of alleged sexual misconduct in the military, Lt. Gen. Claudia J. Kennedy, the Army’s top intelligence officer, has requested an investigation by the Army inspector general.

Army and Defense Department officials declined to publicly confirm or deny that an investigation had been launched, citing concerns that it would threaten the investigation and jeopardize the privacy of Kennedy and the unidentified accused officer. Kennedy did not return calls to her office.

“All the principals have made clear they don’t want to talk about it,” said one defense official.

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News of the allegations stunned and puzzled many people at the Pentagon, who saw Kennedy as a die-hard Army loyalist and as a woman who handles her own disputes without turning for assistance to those higher up.

The investigation represents a setback for the military’s effort to lay to rest the sexual misconduct issue, which has dogged it since a series of sensational cases at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in November 1996.

Kennedy, 52, is one of the highest-profile officers in the Army and has been held up as an example of the opportunities the service offers to women, who now make up 14% of the active-duty force. Though she was part of a 1997 study group that found harassment throughout the service, Kennedy has publicly defended the Army’s treatment of such cases and urged women to come forward with their grievances.

“The Army does its very best to provide a great work environment for its soldiers,” she said two years ago in an interview with USA Weekend magazine.

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News of the investigation was first disclosed in Thursday’s Washington Times.

At the time of the incident, Kennedy was a major general and assistant deputy chief for intelligence. She is one of only three female officers with three stars in the military.

She has been named in several surveys as one of the nation’s most admired women and even has been mentioned as a possible candidate for vice president.

On Thursday, some defense officials insisted that the alleged offense was not as serious as it might appear. One noted that sexual harassment that takes place between peers is not nearly as serious as between a senior soldier and a subordinate because it lacks a coercive element. Even so, this official acknowledged that the allegation, if true, could drive the accused general to early retirement.

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These days, “almost anything can,” the official said.

Military lawyers said that the Army inspector general’s report will be sent to Army Chief of Staff Eric K. Shinseki. If investigators find a basis for the allegations, Gen. Shinseki will have a choice between using an administrative remedy, such as a reprimand, or seeking a general court martial.

But several lawyers predicted that he would be far more likely to use the administrative remedy, which likely would force the accused general into retirement.

Experts said, however, that there may be little solid evidence in the case beyond contradictory “he said, she said” assertions, especially since the alleged incident took place more than four years ago.

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One government official said that, when the incident took place in 1996, Kennedy tried to handle it directly on a “peer to peer” basis and was satisfied that she had resolved the problem. But more recently, when the accused groper was promoted, she became concerned and sought the investigation, according to this official.

Another government official disputed this version of events but declined to say which details were incorrect.

In recent years, the military has struggled through accusations against a series of senior officers and enlisted personnel.

Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston was dropped as a leading candidate to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff because of disclosures of a past adulterous affair. The Army’s chief enlisted man, Sgt. Major of the Army Gene C. McKinney, was court-martialed in 1998 on sexual misconduct charges. He was cleared of all allegations except obstruction of justice.

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Kennedy, who as an intelligence officer has no chance of winning a fourth star, is scheduled to retire Aug. 1.

“This I don’t understand at all,” said one officer who has worked with her.

Susan Barnes, a Colorado lawyer who has represented a number of military women in high-profile sexual misconduct cases, speculated that Kennedy had sought this investigation as she prepared to retire “as a way of pointing out that there are still problems and even generals have them.”

The disclosure stirred concerns on Capitol Hill.

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Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Congressional Women’s Caucus, said that--if the allegations are true--Kennedy’s story shows that “even a general is not immune from a woman’s need to protect her own boundaries. The Army has standards, training and enforcement processes that I hope will be followed.”

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Army officials to inquire about the investigation and said she intends to follow its progress, a spokesman said.

Kennedy, a native of New York City, joined the Women’s Army Corps in 1969. She was a cryptological officer in 1978, when the corps was absorbed into the Army.

Kennedy has an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Southwestern College (now Rhodes College) in Memphis, Tenn., and graduated from the Army War College, an institution for rising mid-career officers. She speaks three languages and in a 28-year career served two tours in Germany and one in Korea.

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