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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Secret Service scandal rocks Obama trip

Secret Service scandal rocks Obama trip By DONOVAN SLACK and JOSH GERSTEIN | 4/13/12 10:43 PM EDT Updated: 4/14/12 9:14 AM EDT CARTAGENA, Colombia — Up to a dozen Secret Service agents in Colombia for President Barack Obama’s trip there have been relieved of their duties amid allegations of misconduct. The Secret Service did not detail the accusations but said they did not affect security for the president, who landed in the country Friday for a weekend at the Summit of the Americas. The Associated Press reported that the allegations involve prostitutes. A senior official told Fox News they were serious enough to require mediation by diplomats. “There have been allegations of misconduct made against Secret Service personnel in Cartagena, Colombia prior to the President’s trip. Because of this, those personnel are being relieved of their assignments, returned to their place of duty, and are being replaced by other Secret Service personnel,” Edwin Donovan, Secret Service spokesman, said in a statement. “The Secret Service takes all allegations of misconduct seriously. This entire matter has been turned over to our Office of Professional Responsibility, which serves as the agency’s internal affairs component,” Donovan said. “These personnel changes will not affect the comprehensive security plan that has been prepared in advance of the President’s trip.” Donovan would not release further details, and the White House referred all questions about the episode to the Secret Service. The story broke as Obama was preparing to attend a gala dinner with more than 30 leaders gathered for the summit. Security personnel were somewhat on edge Friday evening due to reports of small explosions in Cartagena and Bogota, about 400 miles to the south. The minor explosions in Bogota took place near the U.S. Embassy. There were no reports of injuries in any of the incidents. Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, confirmed to The Washington Post that an agent was involved with prostitutes. Adler subsquently told the AP that he did not know of any specific wrongdoing, though he had heard the prostitution allegations Cartagena is a city with a history of prostitution problems that has been making progress in battling.There are several nongovernmental organizations dedicated to eradicating the sex trade there. Cartagena Mayor Campo Elías Terán said in a radio interview earlier this week that plans for the summit involved moving homeless people and further restricting the presence of prostitutes in some parts of the city, where there’s limited legalized prostitution. The president said Friday that he intended to use the trip to talk trade policies and look to open markets for American goods, but attention is sure to be diverted by the misconduct allegations. Whenever the president travels, a contingent of agents precedes him to map out routes, check venues and assure that Obama can be guarded appropriately. The “advance team” can be composed of dozens of agents who perform all manner of roles, from IT specialists to threat and munitions detection. There have been several incidents with the president’s detail recently — a member of Obama’s security team was arrested in Iowa last summer for suspicion of drunken driving, and a federal agent with the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security was charged with second-degree murder after shooting a man in Honolulu late last year. But the Secret Service has not had a major scandal since officers failed to adhere to proper security protocols and allowed gate-crashers into a state dinner at the White House in 2009. Three agents were placed on leave after that incident, and the White House social secretary at the time, Desiree Rogers, left her post. The president said after that scandal that although “the system didn’t work the way it was supposed to,” he felt safe and trusted the agency to protect his family. “I could not have more confidence in the Secret Service,” Obama told USA Today at the time. Donovan Slack reported from Washington. Josh Gerstein reported from Colombia Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0412/75128_Page2.html#ixzz1s23GOWoq -------------- Secret Service agents relieved of duty in Colombia amid alleged misconduct From the CNN Wire Staff updated 11:46 AM EDT, Sat April 14, 2012 Cartagena, Colombia (CNN) -- A group of Secret Service agents and officers sent to Colombia ahead of President Barack Obama were relieved of duty and returned home amid allegations of misconduct that involved prostitution, according to two U.S. government sources familiar the investigation. Roughly a dozen Secret Service agents and officers are being investigated over early findings that they allegedly brought back several prostitutes to a hotel in Cartagena, the sources told CNN Saturday. None of the agents or officers were part of the president's personal protective detail. The incident overshadowed the start of the sixth Summit of the Americas, where the president was to focus on trade, energy and regional security. Before the president's arrival, an undisclosed number of Secret Service agents were relieved of duty and replaced, said Edwin Donovan, an agency spokesman. "There have been allegations of misconduct made against the Secret Service in Cartagena, Colombia, prior to the president's trip," Donovan said in a statement. "Because of this, those personnel are being relieved of their assignments, returned to their place of duty, and are being replaced by other Secret Service personnel. The Secret Service takes all allegations of misconduct seriously." There was a dispute between at least one Secret Service member and a woman brought back to his hotel over a request to be paid, the U.S. government sources said. "One of the agents did not pay one of the prostitutes, and she complained to the police," said Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post reporter and author of "In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes With Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect." Calling it "clearly the biggest scandal in Secret Service history," Kessler said 12 agents are accused of involvement in the incident "in one degree or another," from allegedly interfering in the investigation to participating in other alleged misconduct. Kessler did not identify to CNN who provided him with details of the investigation, and CNN could not immediately confirm the claim. The Washington Post, which was the first to report the story, said it was alerted to the investigation by Kessler. Donovan declined to identify the nature of the alleged misconduct, saying only that the matter was being turned over to the agency's internal affairs department. The Washington Post reported that Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said the accusations relate to at least one agent having involvement with prostitutes in Cartagena. Adler later issued a statement saying he was disheartened by what he called "Kessler's need to orchestrate an indictment by rumor." It was not clear whether he was disputing the newspaper's characterization of his comments. "I respect our due process and trust the Secret Service to investigate this matter professionally. I stand by the brave men and women of the Secret Service, and ask that everyone reserve judgment until the matter is properly reviewed," Adler's statement said. "It would be both reckless and premature to jump to judgment that either the president's safety or his mission in Colombia were jeopardized by the allegations in question." A spokesman for Colombia's National Police declined to comment, referring questions to the Secret Service. The president arrived in the Colombian coastal resort city Friday, a visit that will mark the most time a U.S. president has spent in that country, where security concerns had limited previous presidential trips. Amid the reports that Secret Service agents were being replaced, two small blasts occurred nearly back-to-back in Cartagena. The explosions, one near a bus station and another near a shopping mall, occurred well away from where the world leaders were gathering for the start of the summit, said Alberto Cantihho Toncell, a spokesman for the Colombia National Police. There were no casualties, and only minor damage was reported, Toncell said. The explosions came on the heels of a similar one earlier in the day near the U.S. Embassy in the capital city of Bogota, authorities said. The blasts were a reminder of the violence that has gripped Colombia as it battled powerful cocaine drug cartels. Violence has significantly fallen off in recent years as the Bogota government, aided by U.S. extradition efforts, has successfully picked apart the cartels. More than 7,600 police officers and thousands more troops have been deployed in the walled colonial city of Cartagena as part of stepped up security for the summit. Submarines are patrolling in the coastal waters near the city, armed helicopters are hovering at the ready and snipers in strategic locations are watching for suspicious activity, officials said before the summit's start. Anti-explosive robots and radiation detectors are also part of the security detail. CNN's John King, Dan Lothian, Randi Kaye, Chelsea J. Carter, Mike Ahlers, and journalists Jorge Baron and Fernando Ramos contributed to this report.

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