The Hotel Caribe in Cartagena, Columbia has a policy that “visitors” to its suites (bow-chicka-wow-wow!) must clear out by 7:00 AM the following morning. When they found themselves with a visitor who refused to respect the curfew, they called the local police. It transpired that the visitor was a prostitute, and she insisted on standing her ground until her cheapskate customer paid up.
This became a huge global story because the tightwad in question turned out to be an agent of the United States Secret Service, doing advance work for President Obama’s visit to the Summit of the Americas, hosted by the Hotel Caribe. It was later discovered that ten other Secret Service officials and supervisors on the advance team were allegedly creating shovel-ready jobs in the Cartagena hospitality industry.
The Secret Service declared a Code Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, and the frisky officers were shipped back to the United States to face tough questions at Secret Service headquarters. They have also been placed on administrative leave.
They might also end up talking to the House Oversight and Homeland Security committees. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who heads up the Homeland Security committee, provided the only bright spot in this debacle when he assured us that the Cartagena prostitute eventually did receive the $47 she was owed.
Bloomberg News quotes Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) of House Oversight worrying that the scandal might even grow broader:
Representative Darrell Issa of California, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, suggested there may be more than 11 officials involved, saying on CBS’s “Face the Nation” today that there may be “20 or more” and that “we’re asking for the exact amount of all the people.”
“I don’t want to presume anything,” King said. “I wouldn’t want this used to indict the entire Secret Service.”
Issa is reportedly considering hearings into the matter, while King seems more confident that the Secret Service has the matter in hand, although he’s got some staffers keeping an eye on the situation. From the Wall Street Journal:
Mr. King said he was disturbed by the situation because of the potential compromise to the president’s security.
“You can’t have Secret Service agents compromising themselves or putting themselves in a position where they could be threatened or blackmailed,” he said. “That ultimately threatens the safety of the president.”
He added that bringing strangers like this into a potentially secure area is “just wrong.” In addition, he said, they might have overheard sensitive information. Plus, he noted, the hotel manager had seen the women’s identifications.
“The hotel manager can blackmail you for the rest of your life,” he said.
Mr. King said he was pleased how Mr. Sullivan, the agency director, handled the situation, and said he has “a lot of faith” in him.
“I’m not going to indict the entire Secret Service because of this,” he said. “The question is what you can do to minimize them from happening and how do you take action to make sure it does not happen again and conduct is not being tolerated.”
He said none of the 11 agents involved had any prior offenses or irregularities.
The New York Times quotes the disappointed reaction of President Obama:
“What happened here in Colombia is being investigated by the director of the Secret Service,” Mr. Obama said in response to a question at a news conference wrapping up the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena. “I expect that investigation to be thorough and to be rigorous. If it turns out that some of the allegations made in the press are confirmed, then of course I’ll be angry.”
He added, “We’re representing the people of the United States when we travel out of the country.”
Happily, this grim news did not cast a shadow over the trip for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who showed up after midnight at the Café Havana, “slugged back a beer, and kicked up her heels,” according to the New York Post. Clinton’s spokesman refused to comment on the big party, as he said he was “in my hotel room, reading” at the time.
And the President himself wasn’t too upset to appreciate the charms of Columbia. As he said to a panel at the Summit of the Americas, according to a CNS News report:
“I want to thank President Santos and the people of Colombia for the extraordinary hospitality in the beautiful city of Cartagena,” said Obama. “We’re having a wonderful time. And usually when I take these summit trips, part of my job is to scout out where I may want to bring Michelle back later for vacation. So we’ll make sure to come back sometime in the near future.”
(Emphasis mine.) Don’t cry for me, Cartagena!
The Secret Service is both a legendary team of highly-trained, incredibly dedicated professionals, and a Washington bureaucracy. The dreary language of bureaucratic inertia has begun suffusing this scandal, as we hear about putting “safeguards” and “procedures” in place to prevent such incidents from occurring again. But does any agent – or supervisor! – really need to be told why cavorting with prostitutes is wrong?