Obama guards linked to sex scandalAgence France-Presse, Associated Press
CARTAGENA, Colombia—An embarrassing scandal involving prostitutes and Secret Service agents deepened on Saturday as 11 agents were placed on leave, and threatened to eclipse President Barack Obama’s charm offensive to Latin America.
The controversy also expanded to the US military, which announced five service members staying at the same hotel as the agents may have been involved in misconduct as well. They were confined to their quarters.
Ronald Kessler, author of a book on the Secret Service, told CNN the scandal erupted when one of the agents “did not pay one of the prostitutes, and she complained to the police.”
Republican Rep. Peter King, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, told the New York Times that while prostitution is legal in designated areas in Colombia, such behavior would violate Secret Service rules of conduct because it could expose the agents to blackmail, facilitate espionage and help an enemy get inside a security perimeter.
All the alleged activities took place before Obama arrived on Friday for meetings—dubbed “Summit of the Americas”—with 33 other Latin American leaders.
The allegations were an embarrassment for an American president on foreign soil and threatened to upend White House efforts to keep his trip focused squarely on boosting economic ties with fast-growing Latin America.
‘Shame on the gringos’
The controversy overshadowed weightier topics at the two-day summit.
“I had a breakfast meeting to discuss trade and drugs, but the only thing the other delegates wanted to talk about was the story of the agents and the hookers,” chuckled one diplomat.
Locals were upset about the bad publicity for their historic city.
“Obama’s guards expelled in Colombia over prostitution—shame the gringos think that Latin America is a brothel and they act like it too,” commented left-leaning Venezuelan political commentator Nicmer Evans.
The Secret Service did not disclose the nature of the misconduct. The Associated Press confirmed it involved prostitutes.
“The president does have full confidence in the United States Secret Service,” presidential spokesperson Jay Carney said.
King told AP that “close to” all 11 of the agents involved had brought women back to their rooms at a hotel separate from where Obama was now staying. He said the women were “presumed to be prostitutes.”
King said he was told anyone visiting the hotel overnight was required to leave identification at the front desk and leave the hotel by 7 a.m. When a woman failed to do so, it raised questions among the police, who investigated. They found the woman with the agent in the room and a dispute arose over whether the agent should have paid her.
King said he was told that the agent did eventually pay the woman.
None of the 11 agents were assigned to directly protect Obama. All were sent home and replaced.
Another jolt came when the US Southern Command said five service members assigned to support the Secret Service violated their curfew and may have been involved in inappropriate conduct. Carney said it was part of the same incident involving the Secret Service.
The 11 Secret Service agents had stayed at the five-star Hotel Caribe. Several members of the White House staff and press corps subsequently stayed at the hotel.
A hotel employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing his job, said the agents arrived at the hotel about a week ago and left on Thursday, a day before Obama arrived.
Three hotel waiters described the agents as drinking heavily during their stay.
Obama avoids subject
Making no reference to the scandal, Obama tackled head-on accusations he had neglected Latin America while dealing with conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and other faraway priorities.
“We’ve never been more excited about the prospect of working as equal partners with our brothers and sisters in Latin America and the Caribbean,” Obama said. He hailed the potential to boost trade between the “nearly a billion consumers” of North and South America.
Originally posted: 8:07 am | Sunday, April 15th, 2012