US Secret Service agents have been accused of more than 60 acts of sexual misconduct in recent years, it emerged Wednesday, as senators grilled the agency’s director over his handling of the Colombian prostitute scandal.
By Raf Sanchez, Washington
Six weeks after it was revealed that members of President Barack Obama’s elite bodyguard had hired prostitutes ahead of a major international summit, Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan apologised to a congressional hearing but denied there was a widespread culture among his agents.
However, his claim to enforce a “zero tolerance” policy towards misbehaviour by agents was met with scepticism from by a committee of US Senators, who detailed a long list of alleged impropriety by the Secret Service.
Senator Joe Lieberman said the Service’s own records showed 64 allegations or complaints of sexual behavior by employees in the last five years.
While many of these involved sending sexual emails there were at least instances of agents beginning relationships with foreigner nationals, something strictly against the rules of an agency tasked with protecting the President.
Mr Lieberman also said one agent had been accused of “non-consensual intercourse”, while Mr Sullivan admitted that another had been fired after trying to hire a prostitute in Washington, who turned out to be an undercover police officer.
Senators seized on the long record as proof that April’s incident in Cartagena, Colombia, was not an isolated incident.
Eight agents have so far lost their jobs over the scandal, which only emerged after one of them refused to pay a prostitute the $800 he had drunkenly promised.
Senator Susan Collins, the most senior Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the Colombian incident was “morally repugnant” and “not a one-time event”.
“The circumstances unfortunately suggest an issue of culture,” she said.
Mr Sullivan, who has so far retained his job and the confidence of the Obama administration, said he could “understand” the allegation but insisted that the vast majority of his 7,000 employees were among “the most dedicated, hardest working, self-sacrificing” members of the US government.
He added that the scandal was the work of a small minority and he apologised “for the conduct of these employees and the distraction it has caused.”
While Mr Sullivan has earned praise for his seemingly decisive handling of the incident, which has also implicated 12 military personnel, he faces the worrying possibility of a fresh eruption after it emerged that four of the sacked agents would appeal against their dismissals.
The appeals raise the prospect of fresh and damning details emerging.