In the wake of an unfolding scandal involving agent misbehavior on assignment overseas, the Secret Service is telling agents they can no longer act like sailors on shore leave.
No more heavy drinking, and especially no more carousing with prostitutes – even when off-duty, and even in ports of call where prostitution is legal. On some trips, senior-level chaperones will accompany agents to make sure everybody behaves.
As laid out in an internal memo reported by several news sources, “alcohol may only be consumed in moderate amounts” and drinking less than 10 hours before reporting for duty is prohibited. (Previous rules included a six-hour limit between drinking and work.)
Most important in light of the recent scandal, foreign nationals other than hotel staff are not allowed in agents’ rooms, and agents are not allowed to patronize “nonreputable establishments” (strip clubs and brothels).
In his memo to agency employees, Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan said the rules "cannot address every situation that our employees will face as we execute our dual-missions throughout the world." (Dual-missions refers to criminal investigations as well as protection services for the president and other high-ranking officials.)
"The absence of a specific, published standard of conduct covering an act or behavior does not mean that the act is condoned, is permissible or will not call for – and result in – corrective or disciplinary action,” Mr. Sullivan warned. "All employees have a continuing obligation to confront expected abuses or perceived misconduct.”
The main concern expressed by members of Congress and others regarding recent agent behavior in Cartagena, Colombia, was for the security of President Obama, who was there for the Summit of the Americas.
Although the agents involved were part of an advance team and not assigned to the President’s bodyguard detail, the scandal has focused on whether or not unauthorized persons – in this case, women the agents had brought back to their rooms – might have had access to schedules and other classified information.
The hammer of “corrective or disciplinary action” Sullivan refers to already has fallen on most of the agents quickly hustled back to the United States, their security clearances pulled, once the episode in Cartagena – a dispute with a prostitute over payment that roused local police – had found its way into the news.
Eight agents (two of them supervisors) have been forced out of the agency, and officials are in the process of revoking the security clearance of another, which would force him to resign. Three of the 12 agents involved have been cleared of serious violations and allowed to remain in their jobs.
Separately, the US military is investigating the involvement in the scandal of 12 enlisted personnel on assignment in Colombia as part of the security detail. Their security clearances have been canceled.
Since the episode in Colombia came to light two weeks ago, questions have been raised about agent behavior in other countries, including El Salvador.
So far, however, lawmakers of both parties have credited the Secret Service in the handling of the scandal.
Rep. Peter King, (R) of New York, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, praised the new rules as "very positive steps by the Secret Service to make clear what is expected of every agent and also makes clear what will not be tolerated."
Another Senate panel is looking for a pattern of misconduct, the Associated Press reports.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told reporters this week that he'll hold hearings on the service's culture and whether clear rules exist on how employees should behave when they are off duty but on assignment.
"I want to ask questions about whether there is any other evidence of misconduct by Secret Service agents in the last five or 10 years," Sen. Lieberman said. "If so, what was done about it, could something have been done to have prevented what happened in Cartagena? And now that it has happened, what do they intend to do?"