Thu April 19, 2012
Secret Service Forces Out 3 Agents
LYNN NEARY, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION, frpm NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep, good morning.
The Secret Service scandal has now cost three men their jobs. The government says they were involved in misconduct in South America, and they are leaving the agency. Agents, as well as military personnel, allegedly hired prostitutes in advance of President Obama's recent trip to Colombia.
NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been following this story. She's in our studios. Good morning.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK, so who are the three men who lost their jobs?
JOHNSON: So, here's what we know. The service issued a statement late last night, saying two of these people are very high-level supervisors at the agency. They've been there over 20 years, and they may have been the highest-ranking supervisors on the ground in Colombia. One has been allowed to retire. A second is being forced to resign, although he has a right to a lawyer under civil service rules, and may sue the agency now. A third is a much younger agent who's being allowed to just resign.
INSKEEP: Now, you said three. There's a total of 11 people who were allegedly involved here? What are the details that you know about what actually happened on the ground?
JOHNSON: Sure. What appears to have happened is that members of this team arrived in Cartagena; went out to dinner for a night of what congressional investigators have been told was a night of heavy drinking, and some sort of carousing. They ran into women. Prostitution is legal in parts of Colombia, and some of those women wound up back at the agents' hotel.
INSKEEP: The following morning, there was a payment dispute between one of the women and one of the agents, in which the woman said in English, broken English: baby, my cash money - to the agent. They got in a big fight over how much money she was supposed to be paid. And eventually, local police in the hotel were consulted, and that's how all of this came to light.
The woman's complaint that's come to light because of the New York Times, is that right?
JOHNSON: Exactly. The New York Times interviewed a 24-year-old, single mother they say is the escort at the center of this scandal.
INSKEEP: So do I understand this correctly - if there had not been a payment dispute, we would never heard about any of this?
JOHNSON: It's quite likely and in fact, Steve, that's on the mind of a lot of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. They want to know if this was a single episode of debauchery, or a pattern of behavior that represents something bad about the Secret Service culture.
INSKEEP: OK. So American investigators have gone down to Colombia, to try to learn more. They're looking for more of the women who are involved here, is that right?
JOHNSON: They're looking for the women. They've already interviewed maids at the hotel, and other workers at the hotel. They're also trying to interview all the agents involved, but they believe some of those agents may not be telling the full truth.
INSKEEP: Now, I seem to recall that as this came to light, people were emphasizing, oh, this happened before the president was there. The president's security was never compromised. But, of course, you're asking that again and again and again. Was the president's security compromised?
JOHNSON: It's true that the president did not arrive until the following day. That said, some new details are emerging out of Capitol Hill. Both a Republican and a Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform panel sent a letter to the Secret Service yesterday, saying they believe some kind of sensitive security information was available to these women.
We don't know exactly what that is. It may have been something like a presidential schedule in one of these hotel rooms.
INSKEEP: Or just somebody's laptop being present or something like that, we just don't know?
JOHNSON: They're looking.
INSKEEP: So you said that there is a question about whether this incident indicates a larger problem. What evidence is available there, as of this morning?
JOHNSON: Lawmakers are asking the Secret Service to go back and look at the disciplinary records for the last five years, of all the agents involved in this episode, as well as to look back at recent overseas trips by agents. Clearly, back in the Kennedy administration and to some extent, in the Clinton administration, there were one off allegations of bad behavior by agents. But people are wondering whether this speaks to a larger breakdown in culture.
INSKEEP: Allegations - I mean, in some presidencies, bad behavior by the chief executive himself, here and there. But you're saying that the question here is with the Secret Service, in particular.
JOHNSON: That's exactly right.
INSKEEP: OK. Carrie, thanks very much.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Carrie Johnson with the latest on the Secret Service scandal. Three Secret Service agents have lost their jobs. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.