In an internal employee-only briefing Tuesday, Secret Service security officials said that not all of the men may have had sexual encounters with prostitutes, according to a person familiar with the briefing. But the officials said that the employees implicated in Cartagena violated policy simply by soliciting prostitutes and negotiating prices for services, whether they received the services or not. In Colombia, prostitution is legal, but hotel guests are often asked to pay a fee if an additional guest joins them overnight.
The people familiar with the accused employees said some of them have said there was no sexual activity because the men were so drunk that they fell asleep immediately after bringing the women to their rooms.
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Agents not involved in the Colombia trip, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss matters publicly, said the events in Cartagena may be embarrassing, but they are not without precedent. They pointed to a 2009 visit to Buenos Aires by former President Bill Clinton, whose protective detail included agents and uniformed officers. During that trip, the agents said, members of the detail went out for a late night of partying at strip clubs.
“You take a bunch of guys out of the country and have a lot of women showering them with attention, bad things are bound to happen,” one agent said.
The scandal has been a deep blow to morale among current and former agents, who feel tarred by the behavior of the relatively small group of men, said James Huse Jr. , a former assistant director. He called the alleged misconduct “an egregious failure on the part of those people involved.”
One former agent disputed the suggestion that agents and officers accused of misdeeds in Cartagena risked impairing their abilities to perform their assignments after Obama arrived two days later. “Some guys could have a good time Wednesday night, and Friday morning they would be on their post, shaved and ready to go,” said this person, who emphasized that he does not condone paying prostitutes for sex.
Huse said he is particularly dumbfounded that the men partied so openly during an era when smartphones and social media can so easily spread details of misbehavior. “We live in different age that makes the behavior of these people more impossible to comprehend,” he said. “What were they thinking?”
Staff writer Justin Jouvenal and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.