President Barack Obama has confidence in the director of the Secret Service, his spokesman said, as an investigation widened into allegations that agents consorted with prostitutes while in Colombia preparing security for a summit.
The agency’s director, Mark Sullivan, “acted swiftly” when accusations were made that as many as 11 agents were involved with prostitutes in the resort city of Cartagena before Obama’s arrival for the Summit of the Americas, White House press secretary Jay Carney said today.
“The Secret Service performs admirably” in protecting the president, Carney said told reporters in Washington.
Obama’s agenda at the summit on the economy, trade and engagement in Latin America, which concluded April 15, was overshadowed by reports of misconduct among the U.S. personnel.
The allegations, which prompted the recall of 11 Secret Service agents to the U.S. before the president arrived, also involved members of the military who were in Cartagena as part of the summit preparations.
In addition to the internal investigation by the Secret Service, the Pentagon is conducting its own inquiry.
An investigation is also under way to determine whether any classified information was lost or compromised, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the inquiry is confidential. Authorities are checking the identities of the women involved and whether they may have been recruited by a foreign intelligence service or a group with hostile intentions, the officials said.
Sullivan has asked the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, of which the agency is a part, to begin a probe as well, said Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, in a statement. Marty Metelko, a spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office, declined to comment.
Investigators haven’t discovered any of the women had ties to any such groups or governments, said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King in an interview. King said he was briefed by the Secret Service on the probe.
The 11 Secret Service employees are being investigated for participating in the incident with 11 women, said King, a New York Republican. Some of the Secret Service employees have told investigators the women were prostitutes while others have said they were companions and met at a bar, he said.
Most of the employees are special agents and at least two were uniformed workers, King said. All were part of an advance team that specialized in spotting snipers and dealing with explosives, he said.
At one point, the women felt outnumbered in the hotel rooms and requested that more women join them, Representative Mike McCaul, a Texas Republican, said in an interview. McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management, also said he was briefed on the investigation.
One Secret Service employee got into an argument with a woman over the price for her services, and the Colombian police were called, King said. After the employee paid the woman, the police, who routinely report any incident involving a foreign national, contacted the U.S. embassy, he said.
At a news conference before leaving Cartagena, Obama said he would await the outcome of a “thorough” investigation.
Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told reporters she will ask Sullivan whether such incidents had occurred previously and wants the committee to hold a hearing on the episode.
“I find this to be so appalling,” Collins said. “I can’t help but think: What if the women involved had been spies? What if they’d been members of the drug cartel? What if they’d planted equipment or eavesdropping devices?”
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Secret Service’s budget, has also requested details about the incident, according to a panel staff member who spoke on condition of anonymity because the committee hasn’t commented on the incident.
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