A dozen Secret Service agents, providing security for President Obama at an international summit in Cartagena, Columbia, have been sent home amid allegations of misconduct reportedly related to prostitution.
The Secret Service released a statement Saturday morning, saying:
There have been allegations of misconduct made against Secret Service personnel in Cartagena, Colombia prior to the President’s trip. 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. This entire matter has been turned over to our Office of Professional Responsibility, which serves as the agency’s internal affairs component.
These personnel changes will not affect the comprehensive security plan that has been prepared in advance of the President’s trip.
More information was not forthcoming from official channels, but numerous reports emerged that the misconduct had to do with prostitution. According to former Washington Post reporter Ronald Kessler, who called the scandal the biggest in the history of the agency, one of the agents failed to pay a prostitute. She went to the police, who then alerted the State Department. The Washington Post was the first to break the story, which was quickly picked up by other major news outlets.
The news, which sent ‘Secret Service’ briefly trending on Twitter, has the potential to embarrass the United States and overshadow President Obama’s agenda at the sixth annual Summit of the Americas. The alleged misconduct occurred before the President’s arrival.
Heading into this year’s summit, the two hot-button issues were the War on Drugs and Cuba. Central American countries such as Mexico and Guatemala have been devastated by cartel-related violence. Mexico’s troubles, in particular, have received a great deal of coverage in the United States as it is both a neighbor and a popular tourist destination. Cartels are essentially at open war with the government in Mexico, but Guatemala has experienced similar levels of violence.
But the summit will also attempt to address numerous other, less controversial issues, such as the rebuilding of Haiti, still reeling from earthquake damage, as well as economic and trade policy. The US’s relationship with the Caribbean will also be discussed, with Obama meeting separately with Caribbean leaders after the summit finishes.