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Two Navy Admirals Removed in Tailhook Scandal

September 24, 1992 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Navy’s acting civilian chief today accepted the resignation of two admirals accused by the Pentagon of botching the Navy’s Tailhook sex scandal investigation. He said a third admiral would be reassigned.

Sean O’Keefe, the acting secretary of the Navy, said that Undersecretary Dan Howard would remain in his job even though he came under strong criticism in a Defense Department report on Tailhook released today. O’Keefe called him merely a ″referee″ in the botched investigation.

O’Keefe said he accepted the two admirals’ requests for retirement, and he vowed that in the future the Navy would have an improved capability to investigate allegations of misconduct.

At a noontime Pentagon news conference, O’Keefe announced that he was replacing Rear Adm. Duvall M. Williams, commander of the Naval Investigative Service, which handles criminal inquiries, and replacing him with a senior civilian official.

He said Williams had requested retirement.

O’Keefe also announced that Rear Adm. John Gordon, the Navy Judge Advocate General, ″will step down″ from his post and will be granted his request for retirement. Gordon is the Navy’s chief legal officer.

It appeared from O’Keefe’s remarks that Gordon and Williams would be permitted to retire in their current grade, although all retirements of flag officers must be confirmed by the Senate.

Rear Adm. George Washington Davis, the Navy Inspector General, will be reassigned within the Navy, O’Keefe said, after the Senate confirms his replacement. O’Keefe said the inspector general post would be upgraded from an two-star to a three-star admiral’s position.

O’Keefe made his announcements shortly after the release of a Defense Department Inspector General’s report that recommended considering the removal of Gordon, Davis, Williams and Howard.

O’Keefe said he had decided not to remove Howard because he was confident that he had performed as well as possible during the Tailhook investigation. He said the failure was not Howard’s but that of officials and officers reporting to Howard.

O’Keefe, who has been the acting Navy secretary for 2 1/2 months, pledged at the news conference to change the ″culture″ of the sea service to avoid future sex scandals and to improve the Navy’s ability to investigate itself.

″Sexual harassment will not be tolerated,″ he said. ″And those who don’t get the message will be driven from our ranks.″

The Navy has come under increasing criticism for failing to pursue aggressively the Navy and Marine Corps officers who sexually assaulted at least 26 women at the Tailhook convention a year ago.

″The principals in the Navy investigations erred when they allowed their concern for the Navy as an institution to obscure the need to determine accountability for the misconduct. ...,″ said today’s report by Pentagon Inspector General Derek Vander Schaaf.

In particular, Vander Schaaf cited Williams and Gordon, saying ″appropriate disciplinary action″ should be taken against them. Williams repeatedly attempted to halt the investigation, while Gordon was cited for ″poor professional judgment.″

Williams, the NIS commander, was singled out for his attitude toward women in the military, an opinion that should have raised concerns about his ability to conduct a full and proper investigation, the report said.

He said ″men simply do not want women in the military″ and appeared to share that view himself, according to the report.

The report said that Williams, in a ″screaming match″ with a senior female Navy civilian ″made comments to the effect that a lot of female Navy pilots are go-go dancers, topless dancers or hookers.″

Williams argued to halt the investigation in December 1991, and said his office didn’t have ″a fart’s chance in a whirlwind″ of getting to the bottom of it all, the report said.

For his part, Gordon ″failed to ensure that the Navy fully addressed the issues″ in the investigation, and failed to provide the service with ″a comprehensive report″ that the service could use to correct its problems.

Davis ″did not ensure that his reports had a factual basis,″ and relied too heavily on the NIS’s work, the report said.

Howard was faulted for a ″failure to provide effective leadership and direction,″ which was deemed a ″key failure″ in the Navy’s handling of the scandal.

Howard should have handed the investigation over to the Pentagon inspector general for a full-scale inquiry instead of letting the Navy’s inspector general and NIS handle it, the report said.

The NIS was criticized for failing to follow up on information they had been given about ″improprieties and other possible crimes″ at the convention, and failing to pass what they knew up the chain of command.

During the Tailhook Association convention in Las Vegas, women were pushed through a gantlet of Navy and Marine Corps officers in a hotel hallway. The men grabbed at the women’s breasts and crotches, and some were disrobed.

The Navy’s own investigation of the incident - which included interviews with 1,500 people - resulted in only two aviators being identified as primary suspects.

As the scandal grew, it claimed the job of Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III, who resigned after taking responsibility for a ″failure of leadership″ that had allowed the incident to occur.