Secret Service Colombia scandal: Agents working too hard, or not hard enough?
Twelve US Secret Service agents were sent back to the US from Cartagena, Colombia, after allegedly drinking heavily and consorting with prostitutes. Is the long-veiled agency struggling with an increasingly complex mission?
As many as 12 US Secret Service agents preparing for President Obama’s trip to Cartagena, Colombia, apparently fell short of the service’s motto – “Worthy of Trust and Confidence” – and were sent back to the US, according to published reports, for excessive drinking and consorting with prostitutes.Skip to next paragraph
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Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan wouldn’t confirm the numbers of agents involved or the circumstances for their reprimand. But he said, “The Secret Service takes all allegations of misconduct seriously.”
But the head of a law enforcement union that represents Secret Service agents said at least one accusation involved an agent and prostitutes. While soliciting prostitutes is legal in Colombia, the Secret Service considers it inappropriate.
According to staff at the Hotel Caribe, Secret Service staff drank heavily in the hotel, where White House staff and members of the press were also staying. A separate report said a prostitute complained to police after one of the agents failed to pay her.
A supervisor admonished the agents and sent them back to the US on Thursday. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said the move had no operational impact and did not affect Obama’s security, though it came amid tight security and two separate bomb blasts in Cartagena ahead of the Summit of the Americas.
The scandal may be one of the largest for the buttoned-up agency that’s known for its sunglasses-and-earpiece wearing men who protect the president, vice president, other top US officials, and visiting dignitaries. But it comes just two years after about 100 agents dished dirt about their jobs and the people they’ve protected over the years in “In the President’s Secret Service,” former Post reporter Ronald Kessler’s gossipy peek into the Secret Service’s inner workings.
The scandal also comes at a proving time for the agency, which is dealing both with a boom in cyber-crime – its ancillary responsibility – and growing perceptions of threats against senior US officials, all on top of protecting the first black US president, who receives a steady dose of death threats.
"Once Obama became president," Kessler wrote in his book, "the Secret Service experienced a 400 percent increase in the number of threats against the president, in comparison with President Bush."
Created by President Abraham Lincoln to tackle counterfeiting, the US Secret Service began protecting presidents in 1901, and its role has continued to evolve, especially after 9/11, when it was moved from the Treasury Department to DHS. The constant expansion of mandated protectees by Congress has complicated the agency’s mission, according to the Congressional Research Service, which has suggested Congress consider splitting the agency in two in order to refine its investigative and protective missions.