Photo: (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
President Barack Obama’s trip to Colombia this weekend has been overshadowed by a prostitution scandal involving at least 11 Secret Service agents assigned to the White House’s advance security detail.Since the Washington Post first broke the story Saturday, details have started to leak about the incident, which took place during a wild night of partying at a hotel in Cartagena Wednesday night, two days before Obama’s arrival in Colombia.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the staff at the Hotel Caribe were first alerted to the Secret Service agents’ cavorting by a dispute between at least one local woman and at least one Secret Service agent over a bill for services rendered. When the agent would not open the door for the hotel manager, the hotel called the local police.
The hotel then checked to see who might have brought the call girls to the party, and initially came up with a list of 22 Americans — 17 Secret Service agents and five members of the U.S. special forces — who may have been involved in the partying.
The U.S. Embassy was then informed and 11 agents were recalled from Colombia on Thursday. The Secret Service said in a statement tonight that all 11 agents were put on administrative leave today following interviews about the incident with agency officials in Washington.
The Daily Mail reports that “close to all” of the agents had prostitutes in their rooms, and that “many” of them are married, according to U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, which oversees the Secret Service.
“This incident is not reflective of the behaviour of our personnel as they travel every day throughout the country and the world performing their duties in a dedicated, professional manner,” the agency said in a statement. “We regret any distraction from the Summit of the Americas this situation has caused.”
None of the agents involved were on the President’s personal security detail, according to the statement.
The 5 special forces members involved in the incident remain in Colombia, but have been confined to their quarters and have orders not to have any contact with anyone, according to defence Department officials.
A hotel employee told the AP that the agents arrived at the hotel about a week ago and had been drinking heavily during their stay.
The White House was informed of the scandal Thursday, and the President was told on Friday, the day he arrived in Cartagena, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters in Colombia today.
The issue “has been more of a distraction for the press” than the President, Carney said. He referred all questions about the incident to the Secret Service.
Prostitution is generally illegal in Colombia, but allowed in designated “tolerance zones.”
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