Secret Service boss: security not hurt in Colombia

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By ALICIA A. CALDWELL and LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan says his officers' contact with prostitutes at a Colombian hotel last month produced no breach of national security plans for President Barack Obama's visit to the South American country.

"At the time the misconduct occurred, none of the individuals involved ... had received any specific protective information, sensitive security documents, firearms, radios or other security related equipment in their hotel rooms," Sullivan said in testimony prepared for his first public accounting Wednesday of the humiliating scandal that tarnished the historic agency. The officers, he added, had not yet received their briefing on Obama's attendance at a Latin American summit in the coastal resort of Cartagena.

But senators on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee set to hear from Sullivan still have concerns and questions, chiefly about whether the night of heavy drinking and paid sex was an isolated incident and how it may have exposed the Secret Service employees to blackmail.

"This reckless behavior could easily have compromised individuals charged with the security of the president of the United States," Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the panel's top Republican, said in her own prepared remarks. "This misconduct was almost certainly not an isolated incident."

"I want to hear what the Secret Service is doing to encourage people to report egregious behavior when they see it," Sen. Joe Lieberman, the committee's chairman, said.

Their comments highlight the widespread skepticism Sullivan is likely to face as he recounts the unclassified results of his internal investigation alongside Charles K. Edwards, acting inspector general of the Homeland Security Department.

But don't expect lawmakers to demand Sullivan's walking papers.

At a time when Republicans and Democrats agree on few matters, they appear united on letting Sullivan keep his job. The Secret Service boss ousted many of the supervisors and officers involved in the scandal, allowed Edwards to monitor his own investigation and kept key lawmakers in the loop.

The White House on Tuesday reasserted its confidence in Sullivan.

Obama "has great faith in the Secret Service, believes the director has done an excellent job," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "The director moved very quickly to have this matter investigated and took action very quickly as a result of that investigation."

The sordid affair became public following a morning-after argument April 12 between a Secret Service officer and a prostitute over payment for her services at a Cartagena hotel. The Secret Service was in the city in preparation for the summit.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee is the first congressional committee to hold an oversight hearing and Lieberman, I-Conn., was expected to frame it tightly around one question: Was the cavorting with prostitutes and rampant drinking a lone incident or agency tradition in far-flung locales?

Lieberman told reporters Tuesday that his committee received details from the agency that raise questions about whether the Secret Service "had reason to see this coming." He declined to be more specific.

A dozen Secret Service officers and supervisors and 12 other U.S. military personnel were implicated. Eight Secret Service employees, including two supervisors, have lost their jobs. The Secret Service is moving to permanently revoke the security clearance for one other employee, and three others have been cleared of serious wrongdoing.

Prostitution is legal in Colombia, but Sullivan quickly issued new guidelines that made it clear that agency employees on assignment overseas are subject to U.S. laws.

Interviews in the six weeks since the incident revealed widespread suspicion among lawmakers that the Cartagena incident was not isolated, and officials familiar with Wednesday's hearing expected tough questions about how Sullivan ruled out the possibility of more parties.

In his testimony, Sullivan said he directed agency inspectors to investigate a tale of similar misconduct in San Salvador. After 28 interviews with hotel employees and managers, State Department officials and others, "no evidence was found to substantiate the allegations," Sullivan said in the prepared remarks.

There also have been reports of other incidents, some dating back to the Clinton administration.

"I will give the director the benefit of the doubt and listen to his testimony," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said.

This week the Drug Enforcement Administration said the Justice Department's inspector general was investigating possible misconduct by two or more DEA agents in Colombia. That probe is unrelated to the Secret Service scandal, but is based on information provided to the DEA by the Secret Service.

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