Secret Service prostitution scandal
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey spoke about the sex scandal rocking the elite agents assigned to protect the president.Secret Service agents are often portrayed in popular culture as disciplined, unflappable, loyal — and male. A spiraling prostitution scandal that has highlighted the dearth of women in the agency that protects the president and dignitaries has many wondering: Would more females in the ranks prevent future dishonor?Only about a tenth of field agents and uniformed officers are women, a shortage some attribute to travel demands that can be especially taxing on women balancing families and careers. A scandal that risks portraying the agency as unfriendly to women, however, could set back efforts to close the gender gap.
"I can't help but think that there would be some progress if there was more diversity and if there were more women that were there," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "When you have a diversity of people there, it brings more accountability. What you see is a lack of accountability in this."Women make up about 25 percent of the agency's workforce, but only about 11 percent of agents and uniformed officers, said spokesman Ed Donovan. That's significantly lower than the 19 percent of female special agents in the FBI, though higher than the 9.7 percent of special agents who are women in the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Secret Service does not provide gender breakdowns on the agents assigned to presidential details, though women have been included on those assignments for years.
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 chairman of the Homeland Security Committee 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.
The dust kicked-up after the last Secret Service scandal has not yet settled. Nevertheless we have a new scandal on our plate.
The latest allegation poses a problem for the agency, which had been claiming the recent scandal in Colombia was only an allegation. As a reminder, on April 12,the Colombia scandal erupted when a fight over payment between a prostitute and a Secret Service agent occurred in the hallway of the Hotel Caribe. The agency argued that this is an isolated case and that it will do everything that is necessary to stop things like this from happening again. However, cases like these send a clear message of unprofessional behavior and provoke negative critics of the U.S. Moreover, they hurt diplomatic relations with the countries that are involved in a scandal; they are viewed negatively in Europe and they invoke adverse feelings within the local population.
The newest scandal broke with the threat from a Brazilian woman, Romilda Aparecida Ferreira. She is a Brazilian prostitute who plans to sue the U.S. Embassy, three Marines, and an American staff member after a fight with the Marines in a van left her with a broken collarbone. However, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said that the woman was not pushed out of a van, but injured as she fell while trying to open the door of the moving and locked vehicle.
Even if the incident in Brazil does not end up being true, the whole situation damages the reputation of the Secret Service, and more importantly, the U.S. itself. It is difficult to reconcile the image of courageous agents assigned to protect the lives of the president and his family with the image of a fraternity atmosphere that was shown in these cases. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., praised the Secret Service as "wise, very professional men and women." It is left to be seen in which way the agency will deal with the agents that obviously behaved unprofessionally.
This proves that a thorough investigation about the behavior of federal agents must be conducted, especially in “third world” countries. The fact that all recent scandals occurred in Latin America is very interesting. It is unimaginable that something like this would happen in Europe. This is because the U.S. government pays greater attention to its actions in Europe. European governments would not be very keen to see this happening on their territory. It still remains to be seen what the official stand of the governments of Colombia, Brazil, and El Salvador is.
Last week, Secretary of State Clinton was accused of being a party animal and a disgrace to the State Department. She was also accused of ruining the reputation of the United States. However, scandals like this, involving the Secret Service are much more dangerous, especially because they occur in the countries that are, as it was seen at the last Summit of the Americas, weakening their support for the U.S. actions.
Latin America is a very fragile continent. The U.S. is the biggest and the closest democracy to Latin American countries. It is unnerving to see that mutual relations are in decline because of the irresponsibility of people who are supposed to be the “top of the crop.” Therefore, the Secret Service must investigate these cases thoroughly and provide a public report. And we can only hope that Hillary Clinton’s next beer in the Latin America will help repair the damage.
The three were among 11 agents and 10 US military personnel who allegedly took as many as 21 women back to their Colombian hotel.
They were in the country preparing for US President Barack Obama to attend the Summit of the Americas.
Eleven men have been placed on administrative leave and have had their security clearances suspended.
John Boehner, the US House of Representatives Speaker, told reporters: “I do think that what has gone on is very embarrassing, and I think it’s clear there are investigations going on, both at the Pentagon and at the Secret Service. And I hope they get to the bottom of it quickly.”
The New York Times reported that the scandal only came to light when one escort asked for $800 (€611) to sleep with the agent. The man later reneged on the deal, offering just $30.
Several American politicians say the scandal has highlighted a serious lapse of security around an international visit by the US president.
The night in question took place at the Hotel Caribe, a five-star beachfront resort in Cartagena's Bocagrande district, a popular tourist destinations. According to reports, 22 members of the White House's advance security detail — including five members of the U.S. special forces — capped off a week of "heavy drinking" with a wild night of partying, accompanied by local prostitutes. People familiar with the Secret Service are now calling it the biggest scandal in the agency's history.
Although prostitution is technically only legal in designated "tolerance zones," police enforcement of those restrictions is lax. Luxury hotels like the Hotel Caribe often reserve rooms specifically for prostitutes, and guests pay by the hour. One Trip Advisor review of Hotel Caribe complained that hotel employees tried to pin a special "badge" on his fiancee because they assumed she was a prostitute.
But that's not to say that the hotel is seedy. Travel reviews and photos from the hotel website indicate that the resort is enormous and pretty beautiful, with Caribbean views and the largest hotel pool in Cartagena. So while the agents' behavior was obviously inappropriate, t's not hard to see why they felt like letting loose at this seaside spot.