- Several of the 11 men sent home are married; two are supervisors
- All the agents have been suspended pending investigation
- The misconduct is believed to have occurred before the President’s arrival in Colombia for the Summit of the Americas
- Hotel employee claimed that the men were drinking heavily
- Five U.S. military personnel confined to quarters over the incident
President Barack Obama said yesterday that ‘of course I’ll be angry’ if allegations that Secret Service agents hired prostitutes are proven true by an investigation.
Obama said the agents represent the United States and are supposed to conduct themselves with the highest levels of dignity anywhere in the world. ‘Obviously, what’s been reported doesn’t match up to those standards,’ Obama said in a news conference wrapping his appearance at a Latin America summit.
Obama’s remarks came after Rep Darrell Issa, claimed the scandal was likely not the first time members of the president’s protection team have invited prostitutes back to their rooms.
Issa, who heads the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, believes the wild hotel party ahead of Obama’s arrival for the Summit of the Americas is evidence that the agency could be covering up other misdeeds in the ranks of America’s most elite civil servants.
And he hinted even more agents than the 11 recalled to Washington last week could be involved in this scandal.
Obama blasted the agents accused of misconduct, saying: ‘We are representing the people of the United States, and when we travel to another country, I expect us to observe the highest standards.’
On Friday, 11 Secret Service agents, including two supervisors, were shipped back to Washington and suspended after local police and hotel security staffers became involved in a dispute between an agent and a Colombian prostitute broke out at the luxury Hotel Caribe — after the agent refused to fork over $47.
Rep Peter King, who was briefed on the incident, said ‘nearly all’ of the agents on the team, many of whom are married, had prostitutes in their rooms that night. Five US military personnel who were helping the agents were confined to their quarters after the Defense Department learned they might have been involved, as well.
Issa said he hasn’t decided whether his committee would independently investigate the prostitution allegations. However, he said he planned to ‘look over the shoulder’ of federal investigators.
The allegations, which could have opened the agents up to blackmail, require the agency to do ‘some soul-searching’ about its personnel are screened and trained.
‘Things like this don’t happen once if they didn’t happen before,’ he said on Face the Nation.
‘We think the number (of agents involved) might be higher, and we’re asking for the exact amount of all the people who were involved,’ he added.
Issa, a California Republican, linked the agents’ misbehavior, which wasn’t illegal, with the General Service Administration controversy, which saw employees of that agency spend $820,000 on a glitzy conference in Las Vegas.
The Secret Service team was in the country to scout out the security situation ahead of Obama’s trip there for the Summit of the Americas this weekend.
They reportedly capped off a week of heavy drinking at the beachfront Hotel Caribe in Cartagena by cavorting with prostitutes.
Rep King, said he was told that anyone visiting the hotel overnight was required to leave identification at the front desk and leave the hotel by 7am.
When a woman failed to do so, it raised questions among hotel staff and police, who investigated.
They found the woman with the agent in the hotel room and a dispute arose over whether the agent should have paid her. Mr King said he was told that the agent did eventually pay the woman.
The incident was reported to the U.S. embassy, prompting further investigation.
During their week-long stay at the five-star hotel in Cartagena, the agents were seen drinking heavily, according to waiters there.
A number of the White House staff and traveling press corps were also staying at the hotel.
The White House said Mr Obama had been briefed about the incidents but would not comment on his reaction.
‘The President does have full confidence in the United States Secret Service,’ presidential spokesman Jay Carney said when asked.
Mr Carney insisted the matter was more a distraction for the media than Mr Obama. But Secret Service assistant director Paul Morrissey said in a statement: ‘We regret any distraction from the Summit of the Americas this situation has caused.’
The Washington Post reported that Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said the accusations related to at least one agent having involvement with prostitutes.
The association represents federal law enforcement officers, including the Secret Service.
Ronald Kessler, a former Post reporter and the author of a book about the Secret Service, told the newspaper that he had learned that among the agents involved, several are married.
Although prostitution is legal in parts of Colombia, the Secret Service is said to consider solicitation inappropriate behaviour for its agents.
Colombia has become known as ‘the Thailand of Latin America’ for its loose laws on prostitution and the easy availability of sex workers.
The incident threatened to overshadow Mr Obama’s economic and trade agenda at the Summit of the Americas and embarrass the U.S.
Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan would not confirm that prostitution was involved, saying, ‘The Secret Service takes all allegations of misconduct seriously.’
‘These personnel changes will not affect the comprehensive security plan that has been prepared in advance of the President’s trip,’ said Mr Donovan of the conference in the Colombian port city attended by Obama and more than 30 world leaders.
He said the allegations of misconduct were related to activity before the president’s arrival on Friday night.
Mr Obama was attending a leaders’ dinner on Friday night at Cartagena’s historic Spanish fortress.
He was due to attend summit meetings with regional leaders on Saturday and Sunday.
Those involved had been sent back to their permanent place of duty and were being replaced by other agency personnel, Donovan said.
The matter was turned over to the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which handles the agency’s internal affairs.
On the steamy streets of Cartagena, a resort city with a teeming prostitution trade, there was condemnation for the Secret Service agents for what residents saw as abusing their station and dishonoring their country.
Edwin Yepes, a souvenir vendor, said: ‘They are supposed to come here and set an example.
We are an inferior culture, and so it’s better if they don’t come than if they damage our image of them.’