Secret Service begins swift crackdown on carousing agents

As Congress demands action, the Secret Service is moving rapidly to punish agents connected to the scandal involving prostitutes in Colombia. Three have been forced out so far.

By , Staff writer

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    In this 2008 photo, a Secret Service agent stands near then presidential candidate Barack Obama at a rally in Norfolk, Va. Moving swiftly, the Secret Service forced out three agents Wednesday in a prostitution scandal.
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With lawmakers of both parties demanding swift action, the US Secret Service is moving rapidly to punish those responsible for the scandal involving agents and prostitutes in Colombia last week.

Three agents – two of them supervisors – are leaving the Secret Service. One resigned, one has been allowed to retire, and one has been told he will be fired for cause. Another eight agents have been placed on administrative leave and had their security clearances suspended.

"The Secret Service continues to conduct a full, thorough and fair investigation, utilizing all investigative techniques available to our agency,” Paul Morrissey, assistant director of the US Secret Service Office of Government and Public Affairs, said in a statement. “This includes polygraph examinations, interviews with the employees involved, and witness interviews, to include interviews being conducted by our Office of Professional Responsibility in Cartagena, Colombia.”

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Meanwhile, the top Republican and Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform have laid out the information they want Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan to provide members of Congress.

As outlined in a letter to Mr. Sullivan from committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R) and senior Democrat Elijah Cummings, this includes “a complete description and account” of anyone involved or who knew about misconduct by agents and officers on the night of April 12-13, when agents allegedly brought prostitutes to their hotel rooms.

Lawmakers also are demanding a factual timeline of events, information regarding the age of the women involved (whether any were minors), summaries of any disciplinary actions taken against Secret Service agents and officers going back to 2007, as well as “agency failures or lapses that the US Secret Service identified that contributed to this incident.”

“The incident in Cartagena is troubling because Secret Service agents and officers made a range of bad decisions, from drinking too much, to engaging with prostitutes, to bringing foreign nationals into contact with sensitive security information, to exposing themselves to blackmail and other forms of potential compromise,” Reps. Issa and Cummings wrote.

The White House and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney continue to express confidence in Secret Service Director Sullivan, as do members of Congress.

“Today’s personnel actions, combined with the swift removal and investigation, are positive signs that there is a serious effort to get to the bottom of this scandal,” Sen. Charles Grassley, (R) of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement late Wednesday. “I’ve always said that if heads don’t roll, the culture in a federal agency will never change,”

Investigators have identified and begun to interview at least 20 women believed to be prostitutes who were brought into the hotel, the Associated Press reported. Officials knew who they were because they were required to leave personal identification at the front desk. Local police were called after a disturbance broke out, reportedly over whether one of the prostitutes would get paid.

At this point, it appears that none of the agents involved had weapons, radios, schedules or other potentially sensitive material in their rooms, nor were they part of the elite unit responsible for guarding President Obama when he arrived that morning for the Summit of the Americas.

Ten US military members who also stayed at the hotel face a separate Pentagon investigation on charges of misconduct involving prostitutes.

Two US military officials have said they include five Army Green Berets, reports the AP. One of the officials said the group also includes two Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal technicians, two Marine dog handlers, and an Air Force airman.

Rep. Peter King (R) of New York, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told Politico he expects an investigation into the culture of the Secret Service, especially how agents conduct themselves on trips.

“To me, if you are a sniper, you shouldn’t be drinking at all” before protecting the president, Rep. King said.

“I will tell you that I find it very hard to believe that this was a one-time incident,” Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, told reporters. “There were too many people involved and that really troubles me and that’s something that I’ve pressed the director on.”

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