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Entries in Colombia (18)

Wednesday
May232012

Secret Service Director Apologizes for Prostitution Scandal

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The director of the Secret Service on Wednesday apologized for the distraction caused by last month's sex scandal in Colombia, testifying to Congress that the agency is taking steps to prevent future embarrassing encounters from happening.

Director Mark Sullivan tried to assure a Senate committee that Secret Service agents make appropriate decisions the "overwhelming majority" of the time, but "we had some individuals who made very bad decisions" on the trip to Cartagena before President Obama's arrival.

Sullivan said he is reviewing the Secret Service's ethics policy and training as a result of the investigation into the agents who brought prostitutes back to their hotel after a night of partying.

"Any type of misconduct we take extremely seriously," Sullivan said.

Sullivan had not spoken publicly about the scandal until Wednesday morning.  He appeared nervous at times, once calling Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine "secretary" before correcting himself.

The night before, the Washington Post reported that four Secret Service employees who lost their jobs in the fallout from the scandal are challenging their dismissal.  The agents reportedly say they were made into scapegoats even though the Secret Service has tolerated similar behavior.

The sex scandal and subsequent investigation were an embarrassment for the agency and resulted in a handful of agents losing their jobs, and a dozen military members being accused of hiring prostitutes as well.

"Between the alcohol and, I don't know, the environment, these individuals did some really dumb things," Sullivan told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Republicans have tried to tie the flap to the Obama administration, arguing that the president is responsible for overseeing all federal agencies.  The White House has said that none of its employees were involved in the scandal in the days before Obama arrived in Cartagena.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
May232012

Secret Service Director to Testify on Prostitution Scandal

Brendan Hoffman/Bloomberg via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Secret Service director Mark Sullivan will appear before a Senate committee on Wednesday to give his first public testimony on the agency's investigation of the prostitution scandal in Columbia.

A dozen agents have been accused of drinking heavily and cavorting with prostitutes in Cartagena last month ahead of President Obama's arrival for the Summit of the Americas.  Eight have since been fired and three more face disciplinary action.

Sullivan is expected to tell senators that there were no security breaches as the Secret Service agents prepared for Obama’s arrival in visit.

In prepared testimony, he will say the agents involved did not have sensitive documents, radios or weapons in their hotel rooms.  Sullivan will also testify that they had not received specific information that would have put the president's security in jeopardy.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
May212012

Colombia Secret Service Prostitution Scandal Spreads to the DEA

Eric Kayne/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A month after the Secret Service was rocked by allegations that agents brought prostitutes to a Colombia hotel where they were preparing for a visit by President Obama, the Drug Enforcement Administration Monday announced that at least three of its agents are also under investigation for allegedly hiring prostitutes in Cartagena.

Two of the agents allegedly had encounters with masseuses in the apartment of one of the agents, according to Sen. Susan Collins, the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

"It's disturbing that we may be uncovering a troubling culture that spans more than one law enforcement agency," the Maine Republican said Monday evening. "In addition to the Secret Service scandal, we now learn that at least two DEA agents apparently entertained female foreign national masseuses in the Cartagena apartment of one of the agents. The evidence uncovered thus far indicates that this likely was not just a one-time incident."

The revelations that Secret Service personnel had been drinking heavily and cavorting with prostitutes ahead of Obama's trip to Colombia last month overshadowed the president's trip to the Summit of the Americas. Twelve members of the military were also investigated for allegedly hiring prostitutes.

Eight of the 12 Secret Service employees implicated in the scandal lost their jobs, another is in the process of losing his security clearances, and three agents were cleared of serious misconduct but still could be disciplined. The military has completed its investigation but no disciplinary action has been carried out.

"The Drug Enforcement Administration was provided information from the Secret Service unrelated to the Cartagena hotel Secret Service incident, which DEA immediately followed up on, making DEA employees available to be interviewed by the Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General," a DEA spokesperson said in a statement.

"DEA takes allegations of misconduct very seriously and will take appropriate personnel action, if warranted, upon the conclusion of the OIG investigation," the statement said.

A spokesman for the OIG said the DEA is cooperating in the investigation, which is being coordinated with the Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, and the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service.

The DEA has agents posted in Colombia to work on counter-narcotic and drug interdiction missions with Colombian authorities. According to officials the agents were among those assigned in Colombia, they were not specifically working on the President's trip.

The revelations about the DEA agents comes ahead of a hearing scheduled on Wednesday with Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May082012

Secret Service Scandal: ‘Significant Gaps’ in Pentagon’s Handling?

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- After receiving a briefing Tuesday from Department of Defense officials on their investigation into alleged misconduct by Secret Service and military personnel in Colombia, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., says there were “significant gaps” in the Pentagon chain of command in handling the incident. Levin chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“The investigation has found gaps, some significant gaps, that existed in a number of ways,” Sen. Carl Levin said, ticking through the gaps as follows:

1. There was a failure to notify the chain of command of the assignment of certain personnel in their chain of command to Colombia.

2. There was a failure to notify the chain of command promptly of the events that took place in Colombia, including the decision to keep suspected people there. The Secret Service people were immediately sent back to the U.S., but the Department of Defense personnel who were suspected of misconduct were not.

3. The decision to keep those suspected personnel on the mission was made without the input of the higher-ups on the chain of command.

Levin said that the defense officials assured the senators Tuesday that the gaps would be “corrected.”

Levin was briefed along with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the ranking Republican on the committee, for over an hour by DOD officials on the status of their investigation into the incident.

The senators said the investigation is “basically complete.” They said that the Pentagon’s Southern Command, which oversees operations in South America, should be releasing a statement soon with its report and recommendations as to whether or not there should be charges of misconduct against the 12 members of the military involved in the scandal.

The senators said the investigation also shows that “to date there is no evidence of additional risk to the security of the president or the presidential party or to the summit,” Levin said.

McCain added that there were “no classified information or weapons” in the hotel in Cartagena, Colombia where the case began.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Apr272012

State Department 'Take Your Child to Work Day' Features Adult Topics

U.S. State Department(WASHINGTON) -- When State Department officials brought their young children to work Thursday to watch the daily press briefing, they likely expected that reporters from some of the world’s most prestigious news agencies would be asking the usual complex foreign policy questions on subjects like human rights and nuclear power. But the briefing was mostly about hookers, strippers and sex acts that may or may not have been committed by department employees working overseas.

Spokesperson Victoria Nuland looked embarrassed as she answered the various questions. “What a topic to be talking about on Bring Your Kids To Work day,” Nuland said. “Parents, you can explain all of this later.”

Some of the reporters tried to be sensitive with their questions considering  the underage audience, using code terms like “type of business” when referring to  strip clubs, or “engaging in activities” as a euphemism for hiring prostitutes.

But the story in question, a widening of the Secret Service scandal in Colombia to include foreign service employees behaving badly in other countries like Brazil and El Salvador, demanded some straight talk and answers.

Nuland at one point ended up reading straight from the Foreign Service manual. “Members of the Foreign Service are prohibited from engaging in notoriously disgraceful conduct which includes frequenting prostitutes and engaging in public or promiscuous sexual relations or engaging in sexual activity that could open the employee up to the possibility of blackmail, coercion or improper influence,” she said.

When reporters pressed for specifics, particularly regarding hiring prostitutes in countries where prostitution is legal, Nuland minced no words.

“The department’s view is that people who buy sex acts fuel the demand for sex trafficking, and given our policies designed to help governments prevent sex trafficking, etc., it is not in keeping with the behavior that we want to advocate and display ourselves,” she told reporters.

None of the children in the room asked any questions, or looked particularly shocked.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr262012

Report: Secret Service Agents Partied with Strippers, Hookers in El Salvador

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A group of Secret Service agents allegedly visited a strip club and paid for sexual favors during an advance trip to El Salvador just days before President Obama's official visit there in March 2011, an unnamed source told CBS Seattle affiliate KIRO-TV.

The Secret Service acknowledged Thursday it is investigating the claim, which comes days after the agency fired eight agents for their meetings with prostitutes in Colombia ahead of a presidential visit. "The recent investigation in Cartagena has generated several news stories that contain allegations by mostly unnamed sources," Secret Service spokesman Max Milien told ABC News. "Any information that is brought to our attention that can be assessed as credible will be followed up on in an appropriate manner."

According to the report, a U.S. government subcontractor who "worked extensively with the Secret Service advance team" saw a majority of the group of about a dozen Secret Service agents and a few U.S. military specialists who were on the trip get "wasted" at the strip club in San Salvador before paying to enter a VIP area and receive sexual favors.

At least two of the agents brought escorts, who may or may not have been strip club employees, into their hotel rooms during the trip, according to the report. The source claims he attempted to dissuade the agents, but that they boasted that they "did this all the time" and "not to worry about it." The new report adds to the allegations of misconduct against Secret Service agents, after a scandal erupted around Secret Service agents' meetings with prostitutes during a trip earlier this month to Cartagena, Colombia ahead of President Obama's arrival there for an international summit.

This week, the Secret Service announced that it had dealt with all 12 agents and supervisors implicated in the Cartagena scandal, with eight losing their jobs over their involvement in the ordeal.

During a trip to Brazil Tuesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta apologized for an incident in 2011 when three Marine guards allegedly fought with a prostitute in a car and then allegedly tossed her out of their moving car, injuring her. Two Marines were demoted and a U.S. embassy employee was removed from his post in connection with the incident. A State Department spokeswoman denied the woman was thrown from the car, and said she was injured when she tried to get back into the car.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that if the Cartagena scandal had been part of a pattern, "that would be a surprise to me."

The new allegations were reported Thursday by KIRO's Chris Halsne, who recently returned from a trip to El Salvador, where he interviewed the source. Halsne said he initially heard the allegations from the same source last year while he was covering a separate story in El Salvador. Halsne said he planned to name the names of the agents allegedly involved.

He also interviewed the owner of the strip club, who claimed that Secret Service agents were at his club on at least three consecutive nights, and that his club has hosted U.S. Embassy employees, DEA agents and FBI agents when they are in town. The club owner denied, however, that he allows prostitution in his establishment. Prostitution is legal in El Salvador and Colombia.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr242012

More Secret Service Agents Fall in Colombia Scandal

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Secret Service will announce Tuesday night that two more agents are resigning under pressure as a result of the Cartagena, Colombia, prostitute scandal, and that the process has begun for a third employee to leave, ABC News has learned. Two others have been cleared.

Six Secret Service employees, including two supervisors, have already been forced out of the agency as a result of an investigation into a night of partying in Cartagena before President Obama's arrival, in which they allegedly drank heavily and mingled with prostitutes.

The Secret Service had said 12 employees were being investigated, and the military said another 12 of its service members were being looked at, too.

Republicans have tried to tie Obama to the scandal by arguing that he oversees government operations. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan didn't offer to resign when he briefed Obama recently on the investigation.

In an effort to cleanse itself from the scandal, Carney also announced that a White House lawyer conducted an internal and official review of Obama's "advance team" in Colombia over the weekend, and that the review found nothing improper to report. But Carney declined to discuss any details of the process, such as how many people were interviewed.

"I don't think it's useful to get into the details of how the review was conducted," Carney said.

The press secretary's refusal to talk about the review he himself announced sparked indignation among Capitol Hill Republicans, some of whom are already busy investigating the General Services Administration for a spending scandal.

Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tuesday called for an investigation of White House staff members to be done by someone not in the White House.

"I'm not going to be satisfied until we get some independent look at this," the Iowa senator said.

Carney said Tuesday that he hadn't seen a letter from Grassley asking for details of the White House's review.

"I have no response to that letter," he said.

Obama called the agents who were implicated "knuckleheads" in an interview with the late-night comedian Jimmy Fallon.

"The Secret Service -- these guys are incredible," Obama said. "They protect me. They protect our girls. A couple of knuckleheads shouldn't detract from what they do. What these guys were thinking, I don't know. That's why they're not there anymore."

The Defense Department confirmed Monday that the latest military member to be investigated in the scandal works for the White House Communications Agency, a military group that gives information to the president and his staff members.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Apr232012

Secret Service Scandal: Soldier Is Latest Military Member Under Investigation

Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The 12th military service member under investigation for links to the the prostitution scandal in Colombia is an Army soldier working for the White House Communications Agency (WHCA), Defense Department officials confirm to ABC News.

The agency is staffed by military members who provide technical and communications support at the White House as well as on domestic and international presidential trips.

“A military service member attached to the White House Communications Agency is under investigation related to the incident in Cartagena,” a Defense official said. “The individual has been relieved of his duties pending the outcome of the investigation. The White House Communications Agency provides information services to the executive branch, Secret Service and others as directed, but it reports to the Defense Information Systems Agency.”

The Secret Service is investigating 12 of its agents and officers regarding allegations of misconduct with prostitutes in Colombia before President Obama’s arrival in Cartagena for the Summit of the Americas two weekends ago. Six Secret Service members have resigned or been asked to step down from their posts.

The military service members now under investigation for their activities in Colombia include seven Army soldiers, two Marines, two Navy sailors and an Air Force airman.

White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed earlier Monday that a WHCA employee was now under investigation.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday that several service members under investigation have had their security clearances suspended while the investigation’s underway.  Several officials said the soldier working for WHCA is assumed to be one of the ones referred to by Panetta.

Panetta made the comments while en route to Colombia for a previously scheduled trip to meet with defense officials there.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Apr232012

Calls for More Women in Secret Service Amid Prostitution Scandal

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Washington has begun asking if the Secret Service needs more women in the organization in the wake of the prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, that has led to six agents being fired or resigning.

The call comes after it became public on Saturday that a woman named Paula Reid, who heads the Miami field office for the Secret Service, which also overseas South America, was the supervisor who moved quickly to contain last week’s incident.

Eleven agents were pulled from their assignments as part of the advance staff preparing for President Obama’s trip to Cartagena after allegations emerged that one of the agents had a dispute over payment with a prostitute.

“I can’t help but wonder if there’d been more women as part of that detail if this ever would have happened,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) during an appearance on ABC News’ This Week on Sunday.

While Reid wasn’t in charge of Obama’s security detail, she was the agent who notified Washington about the incident.  Sources say it was ultimately the decision of Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan to pull the men out of Colombia.

“I can’t help but keep asking this question, ‘Where are the women?’” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) on This Week.  “We probably need to diversify the Secret Service and have more minorities and more women.”

Secret Service officials insist that there are plenty of women in key roles.  Currently, there are at least two deputy assistant directors -- the head of the legal department, and the head of the Paris field office -- who are women.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Apr202012

More Secret Service Resignations Amid Colombia Scandal

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Three additional Secret Service agents involved in the Colombian prostitution scandal have resigned, ABC News has learned.

The identities of two supervisors who lost their jobs were reported on Thursday, and another agent was reportedly leaving the agency voluntarily. The Washington Post reported that one of the supervisors, David Chaney, joked about Sarah Palin on his Facebook page during the 2008 campaign.

The other ousted supervisor, Greg Stokes, an agent in the K-9 unit, plans to come forward early next week to publicly challenge his dismissal from the Secret Service, a source tells ABC News.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said at his briefing with the press on Friday that he was not "in a position to answer questions" about whether the prostitutes came into contact with confidential information. He also said he's "not prepared to address" whether Secret Service director Mark Sullivan's oversight has been insufficient.

Chaney reportedly once posted on Facebook a photo of himself on the job behind Palin during the 2008 campaign and wrote next to it, "I was really checking her out, if you know what i mean?"

Palin, always quick to fire back, used the friendly atmosphere on Fox News to rib the ex-agent.

"Well, this agent, who was kind of ridiculous there in posting pictures and comments about checking someone out -- well, check this out, bodyguard. You're fired," Palin said on Greta Van Susteren's show Thursday night.

Chaney's Facebook posting was reported by The Washington Post, which said the 48-year-old Secret Service veteran is married and has an adult son.

"It's our ultimate position that nothing they may or may not have done in Colombia negatively impacted the efficiency of their mission," the agents' lawyer, Lawrence Berger, told the paper. "Nothing that has been reported to have been done has impacted negatively their mission or the president's visit."

ABC News has learned that some of the prostitutes who allegedly met with the agents in Colombia have been interviewed by investigators, but American officials are still looking for others.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radi







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