AFP - Federal investigators have launched a probe of the CIA's former station chief in Algeria, the State Department said Wednesday after US media reported allegations that he drugged and raped two women.
The station chief, a 41-year-old convert to Islam who was in his post since September 2007, was ordered home in October after two women came forward last year with separate allegations they were raped in the official's residence in Algiers, ABC News reported.
It said both women had provided sworn statements to federal prosecutors in preparation for a possible criminal case against the officer, with a grand jury likely to consider an indictment on sexual assault charges as early as next month.
"The US takes very seriously any accusations of misconduct involving any US personnel abroad," State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement.
"The individual in question has returned to Washington and the US government is looking into the matter," Wood said, referring further media inquiries to the Justice Department.
A Central Intelligence Agency spokesperson would not name the agent, and refused to confirm to AFP that a Justice Department investigation of the station chief had been launched. Both the Justice Department and FBI declined to comment.
But in a statement, CIA director of public affairs Mark Mansfield said: "I can assure you that the Agency would take seriously, and follow up on, any allegations of impropriety."
The explosive allegations could potentially deal a major blow to the US image abroad at a time when President Barack Obama has called for "a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect" with the Muslim world.
Algeria in particular is seen as a hotspot because of the presence of Al-Qaeda's North African branch there. A suicide bombing in August in Issers, 37 miles (60 kilometers) east of Algiers, left 48 people dead.
The case "will be seen as the typical ugly American," former CIA officer Bob Baer told ABC News. "My question is how the CIA would not have picked up on this in their own regular reviews of CIA officers overseas."
According to an affidavit filed in federal court by the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service, a copy of which was posted on the Web by ABC News, the first alleged victim said she was raped by the officer in September 2007 after being invited to a party with US embassy employees at his residence.
She said that while there, she was served mixed drinks of cola and whiskey that were prepared out of her sight.
Later in the evening, after the final drink served by the officer, she suddenly felt ill and vomited, and woke up in the officer's house the next morning nude after being apparently raped, according to the affidavit. She said she had no recollection of having intercourse.
The second alleged victim described a similar incident that occurred in February 2008, according to the affidavit.
CNN said pills and other evidence, including about a dozen videotapes showing the officer engaged in sexual acts with women, some of whom are believed to have been in a semi-conscious state on the videos, turned up when a search warrant was executed on the officer's residence.
Officials told ABC that prosecutors have broadened the investigation to Egypt because the date on some tapes matched the time when the officer was posted in Cairo.
The affidavit said Valium and Xanax, drugs FBI toxicologists described as "commonly used to facilitate sexual assault," were found in the officer's home in Algiers.
"Drugs commonly referred to as date rape drugs are difficult to detect because the body rapidly metabolizes them," former FBI agent Brad Garrett told ABC News. "Many times women are not aware they were even assaulted until the next day."
When interviewed by diplomatic security investigators, the officer claimed he had "engaged in consensual sexual intercourse," according to the affidavit.
Algerian ambassador to the United Nations Mourad Benmehidi told ABC News that the US had not notified his government of the rape allegations or the criminal investigation.