The Secret Service is in the line of fire, though this time it has nothing to do with heroics. This weekend, the Secret Service recalled 11 personnel who had been assigned to provide security for President Obama's trip to Colombia, after the agents reportedly invited prostitutes to the hotel in Cartagena where Obama was soon to be staying. The alleged misconduct, considered a flagrant breach of security, has prompted an investigation and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says the scandal reflects a "pattern of behavior" deeply ingrained in Secret Service culture. Here, a guide to the controversy:
What happened exactly?
The 11 agents reportedly brought prostitutes back to the hotel last Wednesday night. The women registered at the front desk, as required by local custom, but one of them failed to leave by 7 a.m., the accepted departure time. A hotel employee went up to the room to find the find the agent and a prostitute locked in a quarrel over whether he had paid her. The agent forked over the cash, but the Cartagenan police were called and the U.S. embassy was subsequently informed, leading to the 11 agents' recall.
Was there anyone else involved?
It looks like it. The Pentagon says five military personnel stationed in Colombia are currently under investigation for their possible role in the affair, and a department spokesman says even more men may be involved.
Does the Secret Service agents' behavior reflect a larger problem?
Possibly. "Wheels up, rings off" is a "running joke" among Secret Service personnel heading for foreign assignments, meaning their wedding rings get slipped into pockets as soon as their planes take off, say Laura Meckler and Keith Johnson at The Wall Street Journal. Issa says "wheels up parties" are not uncommon, but that agents typically wait until the president is on a plane returning to the States. These 11 agents had a "pre-wheels down party" before Obama arrived, which "clearly compromised the ring of security."
How did President Obama react?
Obama says he will be "angry" if the allegations prove true. "My attitude with respect to Secret Service personnel is no different than what I expect out of my delegation sitting here. We represent the United States. When we travel to another country, I expect them to observe the highest standards because we're not just representing ourselves." The scandal largely overshadowed Obama's business in Colombia, where he attended a regional summit and finalized a Colombian trade pact.
What action is the government taking?
The White House is conducting a "thorough" and "rigorous" investigation into the incident, Obama says. Issa and other lawmakers say they might hold hearings on the scandal, as a way to shine a spotlight on the Secret Service's broader behavior. "We clearly have lost confidence" in the agency, which could be prone to blackmail and other security breaches, Issa said.
What are others saying?
The scandal is "outright tacky," and has turned the Secret Service into a "farce," says Amy Davison at The New Yorker. "It's a national embarrassment" that calls for an "agency-wide cleanup," says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial.