(NEW YORK) — Secret Service, congressional and military investigators are conducting a methodical fact-finding mission into allegations of misconduct by a security detail assigned to a Colombian hotel ahead of President Obama’s visit.
Eleven Secret Service agents and five military service members have been accused of cavorting with prostitutes and drinking excessively at the Hotel Caribe in Cartagena.
Since adult prostitution is legal in Colombia in designated “tolerance zones,” officials said the investigation would center less on moral or legal aspects of the alleged behavior and more on whether Secret Service and military protocols were violated — and whether the security of the president could have been compromised.
“If all this happened, this compromised the agents themselves,” House Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told ABC News. “It left [the agents] open to be threatened and blackmailed in the future. … They could have been threatened or blackmailed secondly to bring prostitutes in an area that’s a secured zone. It just violates a basic code of conduct.”
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who chairs the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee, said Congress will also scrutinize the Secret Service as a whole to determine whether and how often similar situations may have happened before.
“In this particular case, the president may not have been in danger. But that begs the question — what happens if somebody six months ago, six years ago became the victim of their own misconduct and is now being blackmailed?” Issa said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“The question is, is the whole organization in need of some soul searching, some changes before the president, the vice president, members of the cabinet are in danger?” Issa said.
The Secret Service members were interviewed Saturday in Washington and have been placed on administrative leave. If the allegations are proven true, they could face reprimands and could be fired.
The Defense Department restricted to their quarters five personnel who were assigned to assist the Secret Service for alleged participation in the inappropriate conduct. They will return to the United States for questioning at the conclusion of the mission, officials said.
The House Homeland Security Committee, which oversees the Secret Service, has also launched an inquiry.
The Secret Service most recently faced public embarrassment and intense scrutiny in November 2009 when several agents allowed two uninvited guests onto White House grounds for a state dinner and photo line with the president. The so-called “Gate-crasher” incident resulted in three agents later being placed on administrative leave.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN