The widening Secret Service prostitution scandal, which former Washington Post reporter and author of a whole fancy Secret Service book Ronald Kessler called yesterday "the biggest scandal in Secret Service history," is quickly becoming a lesson in how not kick off a weekend of international diplomacy. It's also getting worse, with new reports indicating that five U.S. personnel may be involved in the scandal as well.
On Saturday, ahead of this weekend's Summit of the Americas news broke that 11 Secret Service agents had been placed on administrative leave from their posts in the Colombian city of Cartagena amid allegations that they brought prostitutes back to their hotel rooms. Though prostitution is generally illegal in Colombia, the country has certain "tolerance zones" according to The Wall Street Journal where police pretty much ignore the activity. It's not yet clear whether the Cartagena hotel the Secret Service agents were staying at was located in such a zone, but one of the agents did allegedly violate hotel policy when one woman stayed in an agent's room past 7 a.m. The woman wouldn't leave, claiming that the agent still owed her money. According to Rep. Peter King (R, N.Y.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee (which oversees the Secret Service), when the agent refused to open his door for the hotel manager, the manager called the police, who then reported the incident to the U.S. embassy. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how a full-blown international sex scandal involving the President's personal retinue of corporeal keepers begins.
President Obama was notified of the agents' dismissal before he left for Cartagena on Friday, and Secret Service director Mark Sullivan replaced the agents with others from Mexico and Puerto Rico, insisting that "there was no gap in security." Despite promises of a rigorous internal investigation, Rep. King notes that, in exposing themselves to potential blackmail, the Secret Service agents might very well have compromised their ability to effectively safeguard the president. Said King,
You can't have Secret Service agents compromising themselves or putting themselves in a position where they could be threatened or blackmailed. That ultimately threatens the safety of the president.
Beyond the probable illegality of bringing prostitutes back to their hotel rooms, as well the blatant cultural disrespect they showed by flouting the laws of a foreign country with all the carelessness of sex tourists who have a limitless expense account, King says that the agents compromised what was supposed to be a secure area. Think about all those times you had to sit in traffic because the president had come to town and the Secret Service shut down a whole road in your home city, or when you had a flight delayed because Air Force One had to taxi down the runway before anyone else could — the Secret Service was on top of its shit then, wasn't it?
Though King fell short of condemning the entire organization, the scandal has already expanded in the day since it became the big weekend news item — according to United States Southern Command, five servicemen assigned to the summit violated curfew and "may have been involved in inappropriate conduct," a deliberately vague accusation that, in light of the Secret Service dismissal, becomes pretty suggestive. This misconduct is alleged to have occurred in the same hotel where Secret Service agents were caught haggling with prostitutes, which should make every tax-paying American who opposes funding something like a women's health clinic think really hard about whether they'd rather have that money go towards the U.S. Military/Government Agency post-spring break break fund, because that's what seems to be happening. Probably not that many of your individual tax dollars are being funneled into recreational sex trips for government workers, but that's not that much of a consolation considering that, even as the president tries to mend some of the United States' strained economic relationships with our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere, the people who protect him are hard at work exploiting semi-legal sex workers and instilling a lasting disdain for Americans among the local Cartagena population.