Ronald Kessler reporting from Washington, D.C.
— By allegedly hiring prostitutes, married Secret Service agents in Colombia violated their top-secret security clearances.
Every agent has such a security clearance. An extra-marital affair if proven can be grounds for revoking a clearance. Without that, no one can be an agent.
While some are single, most of the 11 Secret Service agents and uniformed officers suspended in the Colombia scandal are married. Two are supervisors. Aside from jeopardizing security clearances, engaging prostitutes violates the basic Secret Service code of conduct.
The scandal began last week two days before President Barack Obama’s trip to Cartagena in conjunction with the Summit of the Americas. A prostitute at the Hotel Caribe refused to leave an agent’s room because he had not paid her.
The hotel requires guests’ visitors to leave identification at the front desk and insists that they leave by 7 a.m. When hotel officials noticed that one guest had not left by the curfew, they knocked on the door of the room in question.
When they were refused admittance, the hotel called the local police. The agent eventually paid her, but the police notified the Secret Service and State Department because the incident involved a foreign national.
The breach is deadly serious. A prostitute could blackmail an agent into cooperating with a foreign intelligence service, a terrorist, or a drug cartel leader. The SVR, the successor to the KGB, would like nothing better than to have an agent in its pocket — to plant bugging devices in the president’s hotel room, limousine, or the White House itself. A terrorist could use an agent to obtain access to the president to carry out an assassination.
Some lawmakers have praised Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan for taking quick action to replace the agents. That is a sickening misinterpretation of the situation.
As outlined in my book “In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect,”
under Sullivan the Secret Service has been cutting corners, leading to a culture that encourages reckless behavior and allowed three intruders to crash a White House state dinner in November 2009.
I broke the story of what happened in Colombia in the Washington Post after being tipped by a Secret Service agent who — like many current agents — is convinced that the agency’s corner-cutting could lead to an assassination.
Once the story broke, the Secret Service started patting itself on the back by saying Obama’s security was not compromised. In fact, sending in new agents at the last minute put an extra strain on existing personnel and required the newcomers to get up to speed quickly on the terrain.
The standard should not be that an assassination did not occur. The standard should be that nothing like this scandal — the worst in Secret Service history — should ever have been allowed to happen.
It is not true, as suggested by some media accounts, that agents routinely engage in wild partying and drinking. What is true is that the culture of corner-cutting fostered by Secret Service management breeds contempt for rules, leading agents to flout them.
As noted in my story Secret Service Laxness Puts President at Risk
, the Secret Service’s corner-cutting includes:
- Not passing crowds through magnetometers at presidential, vice presidential, and campaign events. In other cases, when crowds are waiting to get in, the Secret Service shuts down magnetometer screening, under pressure from impatient White House or campaign staffs.
- Cutting back on the size of counter-assault teams and, for the sake of cosmetics, bowing to demands of staff that the teams remain at a distance from protectees.
- Not keeping up to date with the latest, most powerful firearms used by the FBI, other federal law enforcement, and the military. Both the FBI and military have switched to the M4 carbine, while the Secret Service continues to use the MP5 submachine gun. Even the Amtrak Police Department is equipped with the M4.
- Not allowing agents time for regular firearms requalification or physical training. The Secret Service covers up that practice by dishonestly telling agents to fill out their own test scores.
A female Secret Service agent on the president’s detail is so out of shape that she literally cannot open the heavy doors to exit the president’s limousine.
Instead of removing her from protecting the president and requiring her to pass the physical fitness tests that all agents are supposed to take every three months, Secret Service management told drivers to try to park so it would be easier for the vehicle door to swing open for her.
“Forget physical fitness tests,” says a recently retired agent. “We are not given the time to do them.”
Demands on the Secret Service have increased in recent years without a commensurate increase in staff. As a consequence, agents routinely work overtime and often get little sleep, working 18-hour days.
“How tired do you get? Just imagine sleeping three or four hours a night for a week,” an agent says.
In addition, the agency bows to political pressure, further jeopardizing security. When agents refused to drive friends of Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary to restaurants, she got her detail leader removed.
The fact that Secret Service management does not back personnel when they are just doing their jobs contributed to Secret Service uniformed officers’ reluctance to turn away party crashers Michaele and Tareq Salahi and Carlos Allen, who showed up at the White House state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
This favoritism and disregard for the safety of protectees leads to low morale and increasingly high turnover. Underscoring the favoritism, the female agent who cannot open the president’s limousine doors is a supervisor. If the president were shot, she could not help carry him to safety, an agent notes.
The Secret Service may need an overhaul, but it is unparalleled when it comes to providing special access to members of Congress and sweet-talking them and the president into thinking the agency is competent.
When the Secret Service proudly shows members of Congress its Rowley Training Facility, it wows them with supposedly unrehearsed feats of heroism that bring down the bad guys and save the lives of protectees. In fact, as revealed in my book, those scenarios are dishonestly secretly rehearsed.
What is needed is a new director from outside the agency who will institute sweeping reforms. Tragically, it may take another assassination before that happens.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is the New York Times bestselling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. Read more reports from Ronald Kessler — Click Here Now.
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