Officials in Washington expressed more shock and sadness today amid additional allegations that Secret Service agents and some members of the military consorted with prostitutes and engaged in other forms of misbehavior while assigned to Cartagena, Colombia, last week to protect President Obama during an international conference.
There were fresh allegations that some of the agents went to a brothel and bragged about their roles in protecting the president, raising concerns about security breaches and the possibility of blackmail.
As several inquiries into Secret Service lapses were proceeding, Pentagon officials said they are looking into allegations that U.S. military personnel also acted improperly. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters, "I can speak for myself and ... my fellow chiefs. We're embarrassed by what occurred in Colombia." He said "several of our members" engaged in conduct that diverted attention in a negative way from the president. "We let the boss down," Dempsey added.
But it is the behavior of the Secret Service agents that is causing the most consternation. There have been occasional lapses, such as when agents recently allowed a socialite couple into a dinner with the president and first lady even though the pair didn't have an invitation. But the Secret Service has long been one of the most respected agencies of government. "You always assumed the Secret Sevice was the best," a former senior adviser to a Republican president told me.
It was also disclosed that the agents who are under investigation--apparently about a dozen--have had their security clearances revoked and have been placed on administrative leave.
Ronald Kessler, author of In the President's Secret Service, told MSNBC that the Secret Service is too eager to "cut corners" and "wink and nod" as its standards erode. "There very well could be an assassination, given all this corner cutting," he claimed.
President Obama said if the allegations in the media are true, he would be "angry." He declined further comment pending the outcome of the investigations.