DALLAS – Picture the scene in Cartagena right before a summit for 30 world leaders: White House advance teams, the press corps, security experts and protocol chiefs would be tripping over each other in the hotel lobby.
Now 20 or so prostitutes come in and, like everyone else, must leave their identification at the front desk. Off they go with 11 Secret Service agents and 10 military personnel, according to the latest head count.
Now it’s a sexual romp involving 40 people. Outside of maybe Vegas or a college frat house, such things do not go unnoticed.
In a word, the escapade was flagrant.
A sexual tryst between two people is risky. This was brazen.
That’s one of the most troubling aspects of the events last week in Colombia. The Secret Service agents and personnel from four branches of the military evidently didn’t think they were in danger of risking their careers. The question is: why not?
In an ideal world, you’d wish these guys were faithful to their wives. But if not, shouldn’t they worry that partying with almost two dozen local prostitutes could imperil the job of providing security for President Obama?
Of course they should, but everything that’s come to light thus far suggests that they behaved as if the rules don’t matter. They were reportedly at a strip club less than 48 hours before President Obama's arrival. What happens in Colombia stays in Colombia, right?
That kind of thinking is almost surely a sign of a wrong-headed organizational culture. Fixing it will require real work.
The White House damage control effort is already in play on Capitol Hill. And in the coming days, there will almost certainly be questions about the political fallout for President Obama.
On the heels of the General Services Administration inquiry into lavish spending and potential bribes and kickbacks, the White House may want the Secret Service episode off the radar as soon as possible.
That might be politically expedient, but it would be short-sighted. This is a teachable moment for law enforcement and military brass. Once they’re convinced the behavior in Colombia is a career-ender, their troops will get the message.
Lori Stahl is a Texas writer who covers politics. Follow her on Twitter @LoriStahl.