Secret Service agents assigned to protect President Barack Obama at a summit in Colombia were relieved of their assignments and sent back to the U.S. after allegations of misconduct, a spokesman for the agency said.
At least one Secret Service agent is being accused of getting into a dispute over payment to a prostitute in Cartagena, according to Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which provides legal representation for Secret Service agents.
Obama was told about the allegations yesterday and the issue “has been more of a distraction for the press” than for the president at the Summit of the Americas, spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at a briefing in Cartagena.
At least a dozen Secret Service agents were questioned about the incident though they weren’t necessarily involved in any alleged misconduct, Adler said.
“By way of practice, any time an allegation is directed at a team member, all team members will be interviewed to ascertain the veracity of the allegation,” Adler said in an interview. “There is no implication that those being interviewed are culpable or accused of anything.”
Secret Service Statement
“There have been allegations of misconduct made against Secret Service personnel in Cartagena, Colombia, prior to the president’s trip,” Special Agent Edwin Donovan said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. “The Secret Service takes all allegations of misconduct seriously. This entire matter has been turned over to our Office of Professional Responsibility, which serves as the agency’s internal affairs component.”
Carney referred all further questions to the Secret Service. Donovan wouldn’t disclose the nature of the misconduct or the number of agents involved.
Agents involved in the allegations had stayed at Cartagena’s Hotel Caribe, where several members of the White House staff and press corps also stayed, the Associated Press reported.
In addition, five members of the military who were staying at the same hotel violated the curfew set by the senior U.S. defense official at the American embassy in Colombia, according to Colonel Scott Malcom, the public affairs officer for the U.S. Southern Command. The five Department of Defense members had been sent to Colombia to support the summit, in part by providing security, Malcom said.
Restricted to Hotel
The five 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 rank or the branch of the military in which they serve.
“We are going to do an investigation as soon as they get back,” Malcom said in a telephone interview. The U.S. Southern Command, headquartered in Miami, is the combatant command responsible for the 31 nations of Central and South America and the Caribbean. Its largest permanent presence is in Colombia, Malcom said.
A hotel employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing his job, told the AP that the Secret Service agents arrived at the beach-front hotel about a week ago and were drinking heavily during their stay. According to Malcom, when the police arrived, the hotel manager provided them with a list of all U.S. government personnel who were guests.
Adler said in an e-mailed statement that he trusted the agency to ‘investigate this matter professionally.”
“It would be both reckless and premature to jump to judgment that either the President’s safety or his mission in Colombia were jeopardized by the allegations in question,” Adler said.
Obama arrived in Colombia yesterday for a summit with other leaders of North and South America over the next two days. He attended a dinner with the summit participants last night at Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, an historic Spanish fortress in Cartagena.
“These personnel changes will not affect the comprehensive security plan that has been prepared in advance of the President’s trip,” Donovan said.