No operational security was breached during the Secret Service sex scandal in Colombia last month, the agency’s head told US lawmakers on Wednesday.
“At the time the misconduct occurred, none of the individuals involved in misconduct had received any specific protective information, sensitive security documents, firearms, radios or other security related equipment in their hotel rooms,” Secret Service director Mark Sullivan told a US Senate hearing.
Meanwhile Wednesday a Washington Post report said four implicated Secret Service employees had decided to fight their dismissal arguing they were made into scapegoats “for behavior that the Secret Service has long tolerated.”
Sullivan stressed the integrity of most of his agency’s members. “The overwhelming majority of men and women who serve in this agency exemplify five core values justice, duty, courage, honesty and loyalty,” he said.
“The notion that this type of behavior is condoned or authorized is just absurd,” he added in reference to the Post report.
The elite agency has been scrambling to contain fallout from the mid-April affair involving prostitutes and its agents in the Colombian city of Cartagena, where President Barack Obama attended the Summit of the Americas.
More than two dozen Secret Service agents and military personnel, tasked with preparing security for Obama’s high-profile visit, were sent home as a result. Nine Secret Service agents have since left the agency as it seeks to repair its tarnished reputation, and it tightened rules for employees.
“We reached out to the intelligence community as well to cast as wide a net as possible in determining if there was any type of breach in operational security as a result of the incident,” Sullivan told lawmakers. “No adverse information was found as a result of these inquiries.”
Senators listening to Sullivan’s testimony seemed intent on determining whether what happened in Cartagena was an isolated incident.
Senator Susan Collins appeared particularly skeptical.
“The number involved, as well as the participation of two senior supervisors, make me believe that this was not a one time event,” she said. “Rather, the circumstances unfortunately suggest an issue of culture”.
Senator Joe Lieberman, who heads the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs that hosted Sullivan, said an initial review of the agency’s disciplinary record over the past five years revealed 64 instances where allegations or complaints of sexual abuse were made against employees.
“We have begun to review the agency’s answers and found individual cases of misconduct over the last 5 years that I would say are troubling, but do not yet contain sufficient evidence of pattern of misconduct or a culture of misconduct,” Lieberman said.
“However we have not concluded our oversight of this matter,” he added.
[Mark Sullivan, Director of the United States Secret Service, testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski]