Secret Service scandal becomes diplomatic embarrassment
The prostitution scandal involving Secret Service agents and military personnel seems not to have caused security breaches. But it is an embarrassment to both institutions, which may be just as serious an offense.
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Violating that responsibility is at issue in today’s scandal, which stemmed from agents boasting that they were in Colombia to protect President Obama, then bringing some 20 women back to their hotel rooms. (The episode might have gone unnoticed but for the row that occurred when an agent argued over paying one of the women.)Skip to next paragraph
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Based on what is known so far, the after-hours carousing by a Secret Service and military advance team in fact appears to have been technically legal. Prostitution is allowed in Cartagena, Colombia (unless it involves under-age girls or boys).
But engaging prostitutes violates the Secret Service code of conduct (as does adultery), which can result in revocation of an agent’s security clearance. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), patronizing prostitutes can lead to a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and up to a year in prison, the Marine Corps Times has reported.
Senator Susan Collins, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said this week the Secret Service is “scrubbing the files and looking at whether there were any hints that there had been previous incidents.”
"Think of all the missions and countries that the Secret Service visits in advance of the president's trips," Sen. Collins told reporters. "I think they should look at disciplinary records, at whether supervisors … had admonished [agents] even informally. My instinct is that this was not one-time."
It’s more than a cliché that Secret Service agents and military personnel represent the United States as unofficial diplomats. Any misconduct can reflect badly on America, which is part of what Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey was talking about when he said, “We let the boss down.”
“What’s striking is the attitude of these agents, who see Colombia as an inferior country, like a bordello,” Senator Armando Benedetti, of Partido de la U, President Juan Manuel Santos’s governing party, told The Daily Beast.
“We are not talking about just anyone,” Sen. Benedetti said. “We’re talking about the first and second circle of the most powerful man in the world, a country that is not just a military power but the leading culture in the West. And when they come like this and humiliate these women by not paying them, this says a good deal about how they view us – as inferiors, as though we’re a second-rate country.”