CARTAGENA (AFP) – The Secret Service was embroiled in a new row Saturday after it was revealed that about 12 agents protecting US President Barack Obama in Colombia were sent home amid rumors of a sex scandal.
Just hours after Obama arrived late Friday in Cartagena, under lockdown for the Summit of the Americas meeting with heads of state from across the region, the scandal erupted.
“There have been allegations of misconduct made against Secret Service personnel in Cartagena, Colombia prior to the president’s trip,” Secret Service special agent in charge Edwin Donovan said in a statement Friday.
“Because of this, those personnel are being relieved of their assignments, returned to their place of duty, and are being replaced by other Secret Service personnel.”
He did not specify what allegations had been made against the Secret Service staff, but at least one of the agents had been involved with prostitutes in the Colombian resort city, the Washington Post said, quoting Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.
Ronald Kessler, a former Post reporter and author of a book on the Secret Service, told CNN the scandal kicked off when one of the agents “did not pay one of the prostitutes, and she complained to the police.”
Kessler said 12 agents were being accused of involvement, from interfering with an investigation to actually participating in the alleged misconduct, according to CNN.
Donovan stressed on Friday the Secret Service staffing changes “will not affect the comprehensive security plan that has been prepared in advance of the president’s trip.”
“The Secret Service takes all allegations of misconduct seriously. This entire matter has been turned over to our Office of Professional Responsibility, which serves as the agency’s internal affairs component,” he added, but did not confirm the number of agents sent home.
The revelations came as two small bombs exploded in the capital Bogota, near the US embassy, and another two in Cartagena. No-one was hurt and there was no damage.
The Secret Service, which employs some 3,200 agents and 1,300 uniformed police, has been in the spotlight for a number of notable incidents since Obama took office three years ago.
In late 2009 investigations were launched after an uninvited couple — a pair of aspiring reality TV stars — gatecrashed Obama’s first state dinner at the White House, gaining access to the party and even getting photographed with the president.
The couple from Virginia, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, made headlines after attending the early part of the dinner honoring visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh despite lacking either an invitation or proper Secret Service clearance.
In November last year an agent was charged with second-degree murder after an incident in Hawaii in November ahead of an APEC summit, The Washington Post reported, while another was charged with drunk-driving last August while helping to arrange security for an Obama bus-trip in Iowa.
The Secret Service was created in 1865 to tackle currency counterfeiting, but it gained an expanded role to protect the president in 1901 after the assassination of president William McKinley. Its services were extended to presidential candidates after Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.