The Secret Service agents who brought prostitutes back to their hotel rooms in Colombia last week had copies of the president’s schedule in their rooms, which raises the issue of a potential security breach, officials told Reuters.
Secret Service personnel were in Cartagena in advance of President Barack Obama’s arrival at the Summit of the Americas, a trade conference, over the weekend. At least 11 were placed on administrative leave and flown back to the United States on Saturday when it came to light that they had hired prostitutes. Their security clearances have since been pulled, NBC News has learned.
The story might have been kept a secret had it not been for a disgruntled woman who claimed she had not been paid by one of the agents. She argued with two Secret Service agents and then went to Colombian police. Local police reported the matter to the U.S. Embassy, Reuters reported.
It has also been revealed that among the Secret Service personnel involved were full-fledged agents, which further ratchets up the seriousness of the incident, officials told NBC News.
The heavily armed agents play a key role in protecting the president, and their job is to neutralize attacks, according to the agency’s website.
It was initially reported that five military service members were also involved, but that they may have only broken curfew. Now officials say that more were involved and that they did more than just return to their hotel rooms too late –- several also paid for prostitutes.
The military service members involved were explosives experts and dog handlers from the Navy, Army and Marine Corps. The military advance team also included linguists and drivers, but they have not been implicated in the Wednesday night incident.
Members of elite unit among those suspended
At a press conference Sunday, Obama said he would be angry if the allegations turned out to be true.
“When we travel, we have to observe the highest standards,” he said. “We’re not just representing ourselves. We’re here on behalf of our people.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Secret Service, is weighing whether to launch an investigation into the prostitution allegations.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said they were embarrassed by the allegations.
“What we do know is that several of our members distracted the issue from what was a very important regional engagement for our president,” Dempsey said. “We let the boss down because nobody is talking about what went on in Colombia other than this incident, so to that extent we let him down.”
But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., defended agents in the service, calling them outstanding. He received Secret Service protection in 2008 when he was running for president.
“I am confident that the overwhelming majority of Secret Service people did not engage in this kind of behavior,” McCain said.