not-so-secret service

The Secret Service Scandal Has at Least One Hero

A general view of the Hotel Caribe in Cartagena, Colombia on April 15, 2012. US secret service agents who have been accused of misconduct amid a sex scandal had reportedly stayed at the Hotel Caribe before being set back to the US.
Cartagena’s Hotel Caribe. Photo: MAndel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

On Friday, Secret Service director Mark Sullivan finally sat down with President Obama to discuss his agency’s widely publicized bad behavior in Cartagena, Colombia, which has so far resulted in the departures (or firings) of six agents, with five others being placed on administrative leave. (One employee has been cleared of misconduct.) In addition to the Secret Service investigation, the Pentagon is now investigating eleven members of the U.S. military, including those serving with the 7th Special Forces Group, the Marines, the Navy, and the Air Force.  

Meanwhile, the Washington Post, which first broke the news of the scandal two weeks ago, has turned the spotlight on Paula Reid, the newish Secret Service boss for the South American region. Reid, who was charged with the stressful-sounding task of dealing with the situation when it first emerged, is said to be highly “businesslike” and “always serious when on the job” — qualities that were very much on display when, upon hearing of her subordinates’ “egregious misconduct” with prostitutes on April 12, she “swiftly rounded up 11 agents and officers” and “ordered them out of the country.”  

According to sources familiar with agency, the tough response was “not without risk” to Reid, a 46-year-old black woman in a mostly white, male organization: 

The moment …[opened] her to a potential internal backlash for ruining the men’s careers and, once the news became known, embarrassing an agency that prides itself on maintaining a stoic public face. Officials familiar with the probe said Reid had Director Mark Sullivan’s endorsement as she took swift steps to handle the matter, and that he gave the final decision to remove the agents. But some service members said another senior manager might have been less aggressive.

Those who know Reid said the move revealed a steely resolve that has marked her 21-year rise through the ranks of an agency whose macho reputation has again come under scrutiny. Her story offers a counterbalance to critics who contend the Secret Service has been slow to clean up its act from the “Mad Men”-era days when some agents joked that their off-duty mantra was “wheels up, rings off.”

Reid, for her part, said through a spokesman that she is “confident that as an agency we’ll determine exactly what happened and take appropriate action.” As an anonymous former agent told the Post, “If every boss was Paula Reid, the Secret Service would never have a problem. It would be a lot more boring, but never a problem.” 

During a joint appearance on this morning’s This Week, Democratic congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Republican senator Susan Collins backed up that idea. Discussing Reid’s role at the Secret Service, which is currently only 11 percent female, the two lawmakers suggested that the boy’s-clubby agency could really benefit from some diversity, especially in light of this particularly fratty scandal:

[Reid] acted decisively, appropriately, and I can’t help but wonder if there’d been more women as part of that detail if this ever would have happened,” said Ms. Collins, ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Ms. Maloney said that in a conversation she had with Mark Sullivan, the Secret Service director, he had commended Ms. Reid’s leadership. “She really went in there and cleaned up the mess,” said Ms. Maloney, a member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

“I can’t help but keep asking this question,” Ms. Maloney continued. “Where are the women? We probably need to diversify the Secret Service and have more minorities and more women.”

All this as increasingly salacious (and absurd) details surrounding that night at Hotel Caribe continue to leak out, including a New York Daily News story suggesting that some of the involved women (or girls) could have been underage. The AP reports that the 42-year-old cab driver who chauffeured Colombia’s Most Famous Prostitute from the hotel has become something of a local celebrity, disappearing for hours with “scoop hungry” journalists willing to pay $280 to ride in his taxi. The wire service also says that a lawyer for the aforementioned prostitute, whose name is (maybe) Dania, has big plans for his client: “Just wait. She’ll be on the cover of Playboy magazine.”

Obama adviser David Axelrod spoke to CNN’s State of the Union about the White House meeting this morning, saying that, while investigators “obviously have to get to the bottom of” the scandal, it’s important to remember that “things can go wrong” in any organization. At around the same time, Representative Peter King of the House Homeland Security Committee was on NBC’s Meet the Press to say that he “would suspect within the very near future to have several other Secret Service agents leaving the agency.” 

Secret Service Scandal Has at Least One Hero