Seeking to shake the disgrace of a prostitution scandal, the US Secret Service late on Friday tightened rules of conduct for its agents to prohibit them from drinking excessively and visiting disreputable establishments while traveling, or bringing foreigners to their hotel rooms.
The new policies apply to Secret Service agents even when they are off duty while traveling, barring them from drinking alcohol within 10 hours of working, according to a memorandum describing the changes obtained by The Associated Press.
In some cases under the new rules, chaperones will accompany agents on trips. Embattled US Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, urged agents and other employees to “consider your conduct through the lens of the past several weeks.”
The Secret Service said it would hold a training session on ethics next week.
The agency-wide changes are intended to staunch the embarrassing disclosures since April 13, when a prostitution scandal erupted in Colombia involving 12 Secret Service agents, officers and supervisors, and 12 enlisted military personnel who were there ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit to a South American summit.
However, the new policies announced on Friday raised questions about claims that the behavior discovered in Cartagena was an isolated incident: Why would the Secret Service formally issue new regulations covering thousands of employees if such activities were a one-time occurrence?
“It’s too bad common sense policy has to be dictated in this manner,” said US Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“New conduct rules are necessary to preventing more shenanigans from happening in the future, and whether these are the best, and most cost effective, rules to stop future misconduct remains to be seen,” he added.
The new rules did not mention prostitutes or strip clubs, but they prohibit employees from allowing foreigners — except hotel staff or foreign law enforcement colleagues — into their hotel rooms. They also ban visits to “non-reputable” establishments, which were not defined.
The US Department of State was expected to brief Secret Service employees on trips about areas and businesses considered off-limits to them.
During trips in which the presidential limousine and other bulletproof vehicles are transported by plane, senior-level chaperones will accompany agents and enforce conduct rules, including one from the service’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
Meanwhile, the operator of the “Lips” strip club in San Salvador, Dan Ertel, organized a news conference late on Friday, at which he said he did not know whether any Secret Service employees were among his customers.
Ertel said the club was the only one in the country where prostitutes did not work, but a dancer who identified herself by her stage name, Yajaira, said she would have sex with customers for money after her shift ended.
“You can pay for dances, touch a little, but there’s no sex,” she said. “But if somebody wants, if they pay me enough, we can do it after I leave at 3am,” she said.
The Republican chairman of the US House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee Representative Peter King, praised the new rules as “very positive steps by the Secret Service to make clear what is expected of every agent and also makes clear what will not be tolerated.”
The Secret Service has already fired eight employees and is seeking to revoke the security clearance of another, which would effectively force him to resign. Three others have been cleared of serious wrongdoing.
The military is conducting its own, separate investigation but has canceled the security clearances of all 12 enlisted personnel.
US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano assured senators earlier this week that the incident in Colombia appeared to be an isolated case, saying she would be surprised if it represented a broader cultural problem.
The next day, the Secret Service acknowledged it was investigating whether its employees hired strippers and prostitutes in advance of Obama’s visit last year to El Salvador. Prostitution is legal in both Colombia and El Salvador.
In a confidential message to senators on Thursday, the Secret Service said its Office of Professional Responsibility had not received complaints about officer behavior in El Salvador but would investigate.
On Capitol Hill, early signs surfaced of eroding support for the Secret Service director. Grassley said Sullivan’s job could be secure if the scandal were an isolated incident.
“But if it goes much deeper, you know, nothing happens or nothing’s changed in Washington if heads don’t roll,” Grassley said on CBS’ This Morning.
The White House said on Friday that the president remained supportive of Sullivan and confident in the capabilities of the Secret Service.
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