President Barack Obama said he expects the investigation into alleged inappropriate behavior by Secret Service agents in Colombia to be thorough and he’ll be “angry” if the accusations prove true.
“When we travel to another country, I expect us to observe the highest standards,” Obama said at a news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as the Summit of the Americas concluded in Cartagena. “Obviously, what’s been reported doesn’t match up with those standards.”
Eleven U.S. Secret Service agents, working in advance of Obama’s arrival at the summit, were returned to the U.S. and placed on administrative leave April 12 because of allegations including contact with prostitutes, according to a statement yesterday from Secret Service spokesman Paul S. Morrissey.
The matter has been turned over to the Secret Service Office of Professional Responsibility.
The incident was sparked when a Cartagena prostitute refused to leave the hotel room occupied by the U.S. Secret Service until she was paid, according to U.S. Representative Peter King, who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, which has oversight responsibility for the agency.
Visitors of guests at the Hotel Caribe, near the site of the Summit of the Americas, were required to leave identification at the front desk and had to be out by 7 a.m., according to King, who said he was briefed on the incident twice yesterday.
When hotel officials noticed that one guest hadn’t left by the curfew, they knocked on the room door and were refused admittance, King said. The hotel called the local police, and the woman in the room wouldn’t leave because she was owed money, according to King. The agent paid the money and the police filed a report because it involved a foreign national, according to King, a New York Republican.
Two or three of the 11 were uniformed officers and two were Secret Service supervisors, and all had previously untarnished records, said King.
“They were questioned all day yesterday at Secret Service headquarters,” King said today in an interview. All 11 were believed to have brought women to their Cartagena, Colombia, hotel rooms, said King, whose staff “is going to begin an investigation” to examine procedures in place at the time and how they might be changed to prevent a recurrence.
The agents involved weren’t assigned to Obama’s protective detail, according to Morrissey. After they were withdrawn from the country, their duties were “backfilled” by replacements brought in from Florida and Puerto Rico, King said.
“These actions have had no impact on the Secret Service’s ability to execute a comprehensive security plan for the President’s visit to Cartagena,” Morrissey said. “This matter was turned over to our Office of Professional Responsibility, which serves as the agency’s internal affairs component.”
The story of the agents’ alleged misbehavior became public just as leaders of the Western Hemisphere were beginning talks on trade, drug legalization in South America and creating greater transparency among South American governments.
Obama was told about the allegations April 13 and the issue “has been more of a distraction for the press” than for the president at the summit, spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at a briefing yesterday.
Morrissey said, “We regret any distraction from the Summit of the Americas this situation has caused.”
In addition, five members of the U.S. military who were staying at the same hotel violated a curfew set by the senior U.S. defense official at the U.S. embassy in Colombia, according to Colonel Scott Malcom, the public affairs officer for the U.S. Southern Command.
The five had been sent to Colombia to support the summit, in part by providing security, Malcom said. They will remain in Colombia during the summit because their skills and knowledge are needed, Malcom said, adding that they will be restricted to their hotel rooms when not carrying out official duties.
The military has yet to determine whether the five violated any rules beyond the curfew, Malcom said. He didn’t provide their ranks or military branch.
To contact the reporters on this story: Kate Andersen Brower in Cartagena, Colombia at firstname.lastname@example.org; Roger Runningen in Cartagena, Colombia at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at firstname.lastname@example.orgU.S. President Barack Obama. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg