The Secret Service holds a special place in the hearts of Americans. Their mission of hurling their bodies in front of bullets to thwart presidential assassination attempts captures the essence of true bravery. Sadly, the agency's sterling reputation has been replaced with global embarrassment after agents reportedly brought prostitutes to their hotel rooms during an official trip to South America to protect President Obama.
On Wednesday, the Secret Service announced 11 agents have been ousted after the wild partying in Cartagena was exposed. Some believe that the carousing may be art of a corrupt subculture pervasive at the law-enforcement agency. Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, told Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan that it is not credible that this was a one-time incident because so many people were involved. Along with the Secret Service agents, the scandal has ensnared 10 military personnel and 20 professional call girls.
Capitol Hill lawmakers want Mr. Sullivan and Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano to tell the American people whether the prostitutes had access to sensitive information. "In Colombia, where you have the FARC, you have narco-terrorism and you have the president of the United States coming in," Rep. Peter King, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, told MSNBC's Joe Scarborough.
"It was the height of irresponsibility to allow anyone into that zone of security, especially prostitutes, where you would be in a compromising position," said the New York Republican whose committee is one of several looking into the widening scandal.
To obtain top-secret clearance in the federal government, an applicant cannot be vulnerable to blackmail. Hiding money troubles, drug use, affairs and other personal issues are a bigger hurdle to getting top-secret security clearance than the acts themselves. Congress now wants to know whether married agents who frequent sex workers could have given up information about the president's movements to protect an unknowing spouse.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney told radio talk show host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday that he would "clean house" of the "people who have violated the public trust and have put their play time and their personal interests ahead of the interests of the nation."
Mr. Obama said at a bilateral meeting in Colombia last weekend that he will not "pass judgment" until the full investigation is completed. He added that the Secret Service is part of his official traveling delegation and ought to "observe the highest standards because we're not just representing ourselves, we're here on behalf of our people."
More than that, these protective agents should be held to an even higher standard of discretion because of their proximity to the chief executive and their access to sensitive logistical information. Some agents clearly didn't care.
ABC News reported the agents bragged about working for Mr. Obama in order to impress the Colombian courtesans. The agents allegedly engaged the services of these escorts while at the "Pley Club" brothel. Then they brought more women back to a previously rented space at the hotel before continuing the wild night in their taxpayer-funded rooms.
The security risks of this reckless behavior cannot be overstated. Cleaning up the damage from this particular breach should be a top priority, but the investigation should not end there. It is essential to learn the full extent of the dereliction of duty at this law enforcement agency. Secret Service employees are public servants. Any one of them who places a higher value on personal pleasure than the president's security ought not to be paid another dime by the taxpayers.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
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