*updated 4/24/12 10:30 PM EST
Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee will be briefed by defense department personnel on Wednesday regarding the Secret Service sex scandal that has caused the resignations of six agents. Four of those six reportedly resigned, one retired, and one was terminated with cause.
Twelve Secret Service agents and another dozen military enlistees ensnared themselves in the sex scandal after it was found out agents were buying sex services from prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia one week before President Obama’s visit to the country.
Senator Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, told reporters on Tuesday night that he has a number of questions he wants to ask defense department officials.
“I want to ask if there was any evidence of misconduct by secret service agents in the last five or ten years,” he said. “If so, what was done about it? Could something have been done to prevent what happened in Cartagena? And now that it has happened, what do they intend to do?”
Senator Lieberman said that his committee is looking at whether the Secret Service has rules of conduct for agents who are on assignment but are off duty. Mr. Lieberman also mentioned that a number of whistleblowers have come forward to his office and told him and his committee there was a problem with prostitution and the Secret Service prior the trip to Colombia.
“We’re just at the beginning, and I’m hearing rumors. Since we announced the investigation, some whistleblower people have called the office and we’re beginning to talk to them and when we’re ready, we’ll go public,” he said.
The Connecticut Democrat also wants to ask Pentagon officials if there was any involvement of military contractors in the scandal. Members of Congress have not brought the issue up at any briefings yet but appear eager to find out more from the defense department.
“We’ll be looking into military contractors,” said Senator Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and Senate Armed Services Chairman. “That next step will be taken after we get briefed,” he told reporters Tuesday afternoon.
“That angle is not being investigated—unless it’s recently been investigated,” Senator Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, told me. “Last Friday, my last briefing by [Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan], there was no mention of that. And, of course, I didn’t know about that being a possibility or I would have asked that question,” Grassley said. “It hasn’t been asked yet. So I don’t know anything about that angle. It’s something I’d be glad to bring up to Sullivan.”
Kirsten Powers writes in a USA Today piece:
In 2004, at a Capitol Hill forum, Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., noted that “women and girls are being forced into prostitution for a clientele consisting largely of military services members, government contractors and international peacekeepers.”
The Defense Department’s American Forces Press Service posted an article in February telling troops and civilians to be on the look out for human trafficking: (bolding is mine)
“While traffic victims generally come from the poor places in the world, their destination … is all over the world,” Awtrey said. “A lot of countries where our service members are deployed have evidence of a lot of trafficking, and it’s here in the United States as well.
”DOD’s role primarily is of prevention and, specifically, education so that service members and civilian employees can report suspicious activity, Awtrey said.
“We don’t want our service members to be inadvertent supporters of trafficking,” he said. “It’s a crime; it’s a criminal business enterprise. And the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who say, ‘Well, I just go there to get some drinks,’ if it’s a place where the women working in there have been trafficked and are being held against their will, then you’re supporting that business.
”The Defense Department began training all service members and civilians on indicators of human trafficking after some service members were found in 2004 to be patronizing businesses in Korea involved in trafficking women from Russia and the Philippines, Awtrey said.Since then, the Uniform Code of Military Justice has made it illegal for service members to visit brothels — the main business involved in human trafficking, Awtrey said.
Other businesses common to human trafficking are nightclubs and bars, restaurants, spas, nail salons and dry cleaners, as well as domestic work in people’s homes.
In 2002, according to a piece in Salon, two former staffers of the government military contracting firm DynCorp won whistleblower legal battles after accusing DynCorp of firing them for reporting two colleagues who were involved in Bosnian sex trafficking.
A February 2012 Huffington Post piece discusses the DynCorp/Bosnia saga further and posts responses DynCorp sent to HuffPo about the story. These responses were:
“In addition to cooperating fully with the CID investigation, the Company conducted its own investigation. The investigation did not find any evidence of human trafficking involving the Company, but did find areas where improvements could be made.”
“Since these allegations were raised more than a decade ago, the Company has changed ownership and leadership; developed a strict Code of Ethics and Business Conduct, which includes a zero tolerance policy on human trafficking; created the position of Chief Compliance Officer; introduced global training programs; and has taken a number of steps to ensure a compliant, ethical, successful workplace.”
According to lawmakers, the women who came into contact with the agents were not minors. However, while prostitution is legal in Colombia, U.S. military law bans its service members from patronizing prostitutes, regardless of its lawfulness in other nations. The House and Senate introduced bipartisan bills last month addressing the issue of preventing human trafficking in the government contracting business (H.R. 4259 and S.2234).