I know a little something about the protection of dignitaries. Decades ago I was an Air Force Security Policeman on board the National Emergency Airborne Command Post. Part of my job was the security of the National Command Authority to include the President of The United States. I am not going to divulge particulars of the mission but suffice to say we did our job day in and day out. How do you know this? You probably never heard of the National Emergency Airborne Command Post until now and if you have heard of it, you have never heard of mistakes being made regarding security of the aircraft or it’s occupants.
The same can be said for the United States Secret Service. 365 days a year, these dedicated agents put their lives on the line to protect the President of The United States. Think about that for a minute. Everywhere the President goes…everywhere…the Secret Service is there providing protection that is, arguably, the best in the world. A group of Secret Service agents and officers sent to Colombia ahead of President Barack Obama were relieved of duty and returned home amid allegations of misconduct that involved prostitution, according to two U.S. government sources familiar the investigation.
Roughly a dozen Secret Service members are being investigated over early findings that they allegedly brought back several prostitutes to a hotel in Cartagena, the sources told CNN Saturday. None of the agents or officers were part of the president’s personal protective detail. The incident overshadowed the start of the sixth Summit of the Americas, where the president was to focus on trade, energy and regional security. There was a dispute between at least one Secret Service member and a woman brought back to his hotel over a request to be paid, the U.S. government sources said. At least one of the women brought back to the hotel complained to police, and complaints were filed with the U.S. Embassy, the sources said.
A spokesman for Colombia’s National Police declined to comment, referring questions to the Secret Service. Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovon said that the matter was being turned over to the agency’s internal affairs unit, but declined to provide details about the accusations or the number of agents involved. Before the president’s arrival, he said, a group of Secret Service agents in Cartagena were relieved of duty and replaced after “allegations of misconduct,” he said. “Because of this, those personnel are being relieved of their assignments, returned to their place of duty, and are being replaced by other Secret Service personnel. The Secret Service takes all allegations of misconduct seriously,” he said.
Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post reporter who has written a book about the Secret Service, said the incident was “clearly the biggest scandal in Secret Service history.” The Washington Post, which was the first to report the story, said it was alerted to the investigation by Kessler. Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, cautioned against characterizing the “isolated incident” as a scandal. “That’s just sort of an overdramatic interpretation of an isolated incident,” he said. “We have to trust the process of the internal review.”
While soliciting prostitution is legal in Colombia, it is considered a breach of the agency’s conduct code, the government sources said. High-level officials in the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security were outraged over the incident, the sources said, noting that the investigation indicated the prostitutes were brought back to a hotel that had been secured for Obama’s visit. The U.S. government sources stressed that there was no threat to Obama. Because the trip already had a large security detail, only some of the recalled agents and officers were replaced, the sources said.
The president arrived in the Colombian coastal resort city Friday, a visit that will mark the most time a U.S. president has spent in that country, where security concerns had limited previous presidential trips. Amid the reports that Secret Service agents were being replaced, two small blasts occurred nearly back-to-back in Cartagena. The explosions, one near a bus station and another near a shopping mall, occurred well away from where the world leaders were gathering for the start of the summit, said Alberto Cantihho Toncell, a spokesman for the Colombia National Police. There were no casualties, and only minor damage was reported, Toncell said.
The explosions came on the heels of a similar one earlier in the day near the U.S. Embassy in the capital city of Bogota, authorities said. The blasts were a reminder of the violence that has gripped Colombia as it battled powerful cocaine drug cartels. Violence has significantly fallen off in recent years as the Bogota government, aided by U.S. extradition efforts, has successfully picked apart the cartels. More than 7,600 police officers and thousands more troops have been deployed in the walled colonial city of Cartagena as part of stepped up security for the summit. Submarines are patrolling in the coastal waters near the city, armed helicopters are hovering at the ready and snipers in strategic locations are watching for suspicious activity, officials said before the summit’s start. Anti-explosive robots and radiation detectors are also part of the security detail.
Calling this the “biggest scandal” in the history of the Service is ludicrous. The biggest scandals are the service’s failures which a few and far between. I am not saying this does not warrant a full investigation and that those involved should not be penalized and perhaps fired but its important to remember that this agency performs it’s duties without blemish all of the time and again we are talking about questionable behavior not a breach of security.