3 agents to leave Secret Service in wake of prostitution scandal
Officials said it appeared that none of the 11 Secret Service agents who allegedly brought prostitutes to their hotel rooms in Colombia had weapons, radios, schedules or other potentially sensitive material in their rooms.
WASHINGTON — Three Secret Service agents implicated in a prostitution scandal in Colombia — including two supervisors — are leaving the agency as investigators seek to determine whether the embarrassing episode led to a security breach.
Officials said it appeared that none of the 11 Secret Service agents who allegedly brought prostitutes to their hotel rooms in Cartagena before President Obama arrived for the Summit of the Americas last weekend had weapons, radios, schedules or other potentially sensitive material in their rooms. They were not part of the elite unit responsible for guarding the president.
Paul Morrissey, assistant director of the Secret Service, said in a statement Wednesday that one agency supervisor was allowed to retire, another was "proposed for removal for cause," and a nonsupervisory employee had resigned amid the widening repercussions of a case that has discomfited the White House.
Morrissey said the supervisor being fired had 30 days to appeal. None of the three was identified.
The inquiry is in its early stages, Morrissey said, and it involved "all investigative techniques available to our agency." That includes polygraphs, interviews with the agents and supervisors involved, and witness interviews conducted in Cartagena, he said.
Eight other agents implicated in the incident are on administrative leave. Their security clearances have been suspended pending the outcome of the inquiry.
Ten members of the U.S. military who also stayed at the hotel face a separate Pentagon investigation on charges of misconduct.
Investigators have identified and begun to interview at least 20 women believed to be prostitutes who were brought into the hotel.
The allegations — and accompanying negative publicity — have deeply angered rank-and-file members of the Secret Service, severely lowering morale.
In interviews, current and former agents said they are particularly outraged by the alleged involvement of the two senior supervisors, both of whom have two decades of experience and were sent on the trip to oversee the less-experienced members of the team. Both of those supervisors have spent significant time on presidential protective details, dating to the Clinton administration, according to current and former agents. They are based in Washington.
"I was really disappointed. I've learned a lot from both of these guys," said one agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. "I was surprised they were involved. Especially because they are senior people."
Those familiar with details of the investigation said the two supervisors were sent to Cartagena as leaders of Secret Service "jump teams," squads made up of several dozen special agents and uniformed officers that are deployed to a site in the days before the president arrives.
It is customary for the jump teams to fly aboard giant Lockheed military transport aircraft, nicknamed "car planes," which also carry the presidential limousine and vehicles that make up the president's motorcade.
Several of the agents reportedly were part of the elite counterassault team, which reports to the special-operations division, not the presidential-protective detail. The rest were uniformed officers who work with bomb-sniffing dogs or magnetometers.
When members of the group arrived in Cartagena, they joined an advance team of White House staff, military and Secret Service members, and U.S. Embassy officials who had been on the ground for two weeks, holding nightly "countdown meetings" to mark their planning progress.
But for the Secret Service agents and officers on the car planes, who were among the last to arrive, there wasn't a lot to do before Obama showed up, according to people familiar with the trip. The advance team had developed a plan, and it would be up to the car-plane personnel to implement it once Air Force One touched down.
So for a day or two, the men had ample downtime — amid a handful of planning meetings and rehearsal walk-throughs — to eat at restaurants, hit the hotel gym and explore the Cartagena night life.
"That may be one reason these guys felt they were not on duty until the president arrived," said a retired agent who has been heavily involved in Secret Service training over the years. "They just didn't have anything to do."