not-so-secret service

Three Secret Service Personnel to Exit Amid Scandal [Updated]

US President Barack Obama (L), surrounded by US Secret Service agents, walks to greet guests upon arrival on Air Force One at Tampa International Airport in Tampa, Florida, on April 13, 2012. Obama arrived in Tampa to speak at the Port of Tampa, before continuing to the Summit of the Americas in the Colombian city of Cartagena. AFP PHOTO/Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo: SAUL LOEB/2012 AFP

The Secret Service has announced the departure of three employees implicated in the embarrassing prostitution scandal stemming from a trip last week to Cartagena, Colombia, and involving members of President Obama’s security detail. “These guys have the clearest cases,” one government official said of the first men to be punished; they include one supervisor who has been recommended for firing, another who will be allowed to retire, and a nonsupervisory employee who has resigned.

In total, eleven Secret Service employees — some agents, some staff — are under investigation, and the remaining suspects are on administrative leave. Ten military personnel may also have been involved. The Secret Service said in a statement that it was “utilizing all investigative techniques available,” including polygraph examinations. The agency is also interviewing witnesses in Colombia, including maids who cleaned the rooms where the agents apparently tried to negotiate bargain prices for the prostitutes.

According to ABC News, the agents planned in advanced, booking a party space at Hotel Caribe, and attending the “Pley Club” brothel, where they were serviced by prostitutes and continued on their way, some women in tow. In all, “twenty or twenty-one women foreign nationals were brought to the hotel.” Officials are also looking into potential drug use.

The Washington Post reports that current and former agents are furious over the involvement of the two seasoned, senior supervisors who were there to oversee the younger members of the group. “I was really disappointed. I’ve learned a lot from both of these guys,” said one agent.

Some details have also emerged about the exposure of sensitive security information by the partying agents. In a letter to Mark J. Sullivan, the director of the U.S. Secret Service today, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Darrell Issa and ranking committee member Elijah Cumming wrote:

The facts as you described them raised questions about the agency’s culture. 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.”

The letter offered no further information about the “sensitive security information.” Were papers in the same room? Open on a desk? The extent of the error(s) isn’t yet clear. The full letter reviews Sullivan’s briefing on the entire incident, including his recitation of facts and steps the agency would take to investigate the matter and prevent a recurrence.

These are the first steps,” said Representative Peter King of the House Homeland Security Committee. “It’s certainly not over.”

Three Forced Out in Secret Service Scandal