WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The U.S. Secret Service said today it revoked the top security clearance of 11 agents and uniformed division personnel over alleged misbehaviour in Colombia, and the Pentagon said more of its personnel may have been involved than was first reported.
George Ogilvie, a Secret Service spokesman, said of the 11 agency personnel: “Pending investigation, their top secret clearance has been revoked.”
The 11 already had been put on administrative leave following alleged misconduct involving prostitutes, in an incident that marred President Barack Obama’s weekend trip to Colombia and brought unwelcome attention to the Secret Service.
Before Obama arrived on Thursday, some U.S. agents brought a number of prostitutes back to a beach front hotel in Cartagena near where the president was due to stay, according to a local police source, sparking a weekend of scandal.
Initial reports from Colombian police said that five U.S. military service members also were involved in the incident.
But Army Colonel Scott Malcom, a spokesman for U.S. Southern Command, said an interim investigating officer who began working to collect evidence in the case found information indicating more than five may be involved.
Pentagon spokesman George Little declined to say whether the service members involved were members of the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. But one Pentagon source said all four services were involved.
Little also declined to describe the nature of the service members’ role at the summit Obama was attending, saying only that “they were not associated with presidential security” and “they were performing a support mission to the U.S. Secret Service.”
The top U.S. military office, General Martin Dempsey, said that the service members had let Obama down by distracting from Obama’s meeting with Latin leaders in Cartagena, and had embarrassed the Pentagon’s top brass.
“We let the boss down because nobody’s talking about what went on in Colombia other than this incident,” Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a news conference Monday with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. “I can speak for myself and my fellow chiefs, we’re embarrassed by what occurred in Colombia.”
Panetta said General William Fraser, the head of Southern Command, had begun an investigation to determine the facts of the incident.
The Secret Service personnel were sent home, but the five members of the military service remained through the summit and finished their work, although they were confined to their rooms, officials said.
The only current charge against the five U.S. service members is that they violated curfew. That could mean they were not in their rooms when they should have been, or showed up late or had someone in their room who should not have been there, Malcom said.