The head of the US Secret Service apologized on Wednesday for the sex scandal in Colombia that tarnished the reputation of the elite security force, as allegations of more misconduct surfaced.
The Secret Service has been scrambling to contain fallout from the affair in the middle of last month involving prostitutes and its agents in the Colombian city of Cartagena, where US President Barack Obama attended the Summit of the Americas.
More than two dozen Secret Service agents and military personnel, tasked with preparing security for Obama’s high-profile visit, were sent home as a result. Nine Secret Service agents have since left the agency.
“I am deeply disappointed and I apologize for the misconduct of these employees and the distraction that it has caused,” Mark Sullivan told a US Senate hearing in his first public appearance since the scandal broke. “I have no excuse for those actions ... all I can tell you is we acted quickly.”
Sullivan’s remorse came as US Senator Joe Lieberman, who heads the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs that hosted him, said an initial review of the agency’s disciplinary record over the past five years revealed 64 instances where allegations or complaints of sexual misconduct were made against employees.
“We have begun to review the agency’s answers and found individual cases of misconduct over the last five years that I would say are troubling, but do not yet contain sufficient evidence of pattern of misconduct or a culture of misconduct,” Lieberman said. “However, we have not concluded our oversight of this matter.”
Saying he was “dumbfounded” when he first heard of the developments, Sullivan also told the Senate panel no operational security was breached during the encounters between agents and prostitutes.
“At the time the misconduct occurred, none of the individuals involved in misconduct had received any specific protective information, sensitive security documents, firearms, radios or other security related equipment in their hotel rooms,” he said.
“We reached out to the intelligence community as well to cast as wide a net as possible in determining if there was any type of breach in operational security as a result of the incident,” he added. “No adverse information was found as a result of these inquiries.”
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, a Washington Post report said four implicated Secret Service employees had decided to fight their dismissal, saying they were made into scapegoats “for behavior that the Secret Service has long tolerated.”
“The notion that this type of behavior is condoned or authorized is just absurd,” Sullivan said in reference to the Post report.
However, he did not fully dispute the piece.
“We have two employees who had originally said that they were going to resign that have now come back and said that they’re going to challenge that,” he said.
Lawmakers listening to Sullivan’s testimony seemed intent on determining whether what happened in Cartagena was an isolated incident.
US Senator Susan Collins appeared particularly skeptical.
“The number involved, as well as the participation of two senior supervisors, make me believe that this was not a one-time event,” she said. “Rather, the circumstances unfortunately suggest an issue of culture.”