The U.S. Secret Service is not an agency one usually associates with scandal. When the men in suits who stealthily protect the commander in chief make the headlines, it’s usually for actions such as that of Timothy J. McCarthy, who took a bullet shielding President Ronald Reagan from John Hinckley’s assassination attempt.
Now, with a Latin American sex scandal still unfolding and questions about just how widespread the “wheels down, rings off” culture is, the Secret Service has been tarnished.
But it’s more than just whether the agents have a reputation for squeaky-clean moral behavior that’s at stake.
The image of insecurity that this projects to our enemies is damaging — and could have proven fatal in Colombia if the agents, reportedly boasting in the brothel that they were assigned to protect the president, let the wrong person into the bedroom.
Last Thursday, “allegations of misconduct,” in the words of Assistant Director Paul S. Morrissey, were made against 11 special agents and uniformed division officers who were in Cartagena preparing for President Obama’s trip to the Summit of the Americas.
“The nature of the allegations, coupled with a zero tolerance policy on personal misconduct, resulted in the Secret Service taking the decisive action to relieve these individuals of their assignment, return them to their place of duty and replace them with additional Secret Service personnel,” Morrissey said. By Saturday, the agents involved were in Washington for interviews, and all were placed on administrative leave as a result.
Classifying it now as a personnel action, the Secret Service has said it will be tight-lipped about any further comment, which doesn’t help when the White House keeps referring reporters to the Secret Service for information.
But Homeland Security Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.), whose staff are also probing the incident, was briefed on the investigation Tuesday by Secret Service Director Mark J. Sullivan. What we do know so far is that the agents, whose tasks ranged from snipers to explosive detection, had been drinking heavily, but it hasn’t been confirmed if they met the prostitutes in one bar or more than one bar and then brought up to 21 women back to the hotel. Two of the agents were GS-14s, at the top of the pay scale.
Because of Colombia’s prostitution laws, the Secret Service has copies of the women’s IDs that they were required to leave at the front desk.
And though it’s legal in “tolerance zones,” drawing sex tourism to beach cities like Cartagena, sex trafficking and forced prostitution are big problems that the government has tried to combat. As many as 35,000 children are forced into prostitution, including 2,000 from Cartagena, though local authorities say that children are usually pimped through more covert methods such as the Internet.
“The 11 agents are having different recollections about what happened or are not telling the truth,” King said. What is known is that they were busted only because of a dispute over money between one of the hookers and her Secret Service john.