[Debate] (Fwd) Austerity hits US Secret Service where it counts; Colombians get even with sex-tsotsis

Patrick Bond pbond at mail.ngo.za
Sat Apr 21 06:21:21 BST 2012


Hookers Downgrade US Credit Rating

Shortchanging by Secret Service Draws Strong Rebuke

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report) – Days after Secret Service agents
shortchanged a group of prostitutes in Colombia, the international
trade group representing hookers downgraded the United States’ credit
rating from AAA to B.

The strong rebuke from the International Alliance of Professional
Escorts came after a Secret Service agent reportedly paid one of its
members $30 for an $800 service, or only 4% of the stated price.

The statement from the International Alliance of Professional Escorts
said that in downgrading the United States’ credit rating it was
sending a clear message that its “members should be aware that doing
business with the government of the United States carries with it a
significant risk.”

“We are urging our members to avoid conducting transactions with the
United States and to focus on more reliable customers, like the
International Monetary Fund,” the statement added.

Just hours after the announcement from the escorts’ group, the U.S.
Congress passed the following resolution blasting the Secret Service
for its actions: “We strongly denounce the Secret Service for
consorting with prostitutes, which has traditionally been Congress's
role.”

But it was not all bad news this week for the Secret Service, which
today reported a 5000% jump in enlistment.

The agency said that enlistment offices across the country have been
packed with prospective agents, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich,
who abruptly dropped out of the Presidential race to join.

***



  Secret service scandal in Colombia has agency's culture under a microscope

'Wheels up, rings off' is a common attitude, at least one observer says, 
but others rush to defend the protectors of presidents

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      o
        Karen McVeigh <http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/karenmcveigh>in
        New York
      o guardian.co.uk <http://www.guardian.co.uk/>,Friday 20 April 2012
        15.34 BST
      o Article history
        <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/20/secret-service-scandal-columbia-agency#history-link-box>


The secret service has been dogged by misconduct allegations in the 
past, including a 2009 incident in which two would-be reality TV 
contestants crashed a state dinner at the White House. Photograph: Jae 
C. Hong/AP

What began as a quarrel over payment between an escort and her client in 
a Colombian hotel two weeks ago has already claimed the careers of three 
members of thesecret service 
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/secret-service>. With each new twist, 
the escalating scandal over allegations that 11 agents preparing for 
President Barack Obama's visit to Cartagena were embroiled in misconduct 
with prostitutes brings fresh scrutiny and adds up to an embarrassment 
of historic proportions for the elite agency.

Action against those involved has been swift, but the news that two of 
the three forced out Wednesday were senior supervisors with 20 years' 
experience has done little for questions over whether the debacle 
involving an organisation that prides itself on the strictest standards 
of ethical and professional behaviour was a one-off – or represents 
deeper, systemic problems.

Senator Susan Collins, a Republican on the Senate homeland security 
committee who has been briefed on the investigation by Mark Sullivan, 
the director of the secret service, she said she found it hard to 
believe it hadn't happened before because of the numbers involved. In 
comments echoed by others, she said she was concerned the episode 
suggested a "culture problem".

Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, who chairs the House oversight and 
government reform committee, has raised similar concerns.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, has reported that married agents have 
been heard to joke during aircraft take-off about an unofficial motto: 
"wheels up, rings off".

Ronald Kessler, a journalist and author who helped break the story, said 
he doesn't believe the type of behaviour displayed at Cartagena was 
widespread. But he believes it is symptomatic of a culture of "poor 
management", laxness and corner-cutting.

Kessler told the Guardian: "The secret service is overwhelmed with more 
and more duties and not enough agents. They are all working overtime."

He accuses Sullivan, who has held the post for six years, of 
corner-cutting measures that he claims has led to reckless behaviour and 
contempt for the rules. He cites examples of neglecting "basic security 
precautions" like not passing crowds through magnetometers at 
presidential events, but also of cutting back on the size of 
counterassault teams, not keeping up with the latest firearms, and not 
allowing agents time for physical and firearms training.

Secret service director Mark Sullivan has led the agency for six years. 
Photograph: Larry Downing/Reuters

Asked what he believed was behind theColombia 
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/colombia>scandal, Kessler said: "If 
your boss says it's OK to put people into an event without magnetometer 
screening, you will say if they are taking security lightly then why 
should I take it seriously. That's my personal opinion."

He believes the Colombia incident represented a "deadly serious" 
security breach.

"The prostitutes could blackmail an agent into giving them access to 
terrorists. They could later be approached by Russian foreign 
intelligence services to plant bugging devices."

Kessler cites the intrusion of two would-be reality TV contestants, 
Tareq and Michaele Salahi, who crashed Obama's state dinner at the White 
House in 2009, as further evidence of poor standards under Sullivan's watch.

Sullivan was forced to apologise to Congress after the Salahis managed 
to get past three secret service checkpoints, despite not being on the 
guest list. He acknowledged that the uniformed officers involved had not 
followed procedure.


    A 'pressure-cooker' environment

The secret service has been dogged by misconduct allegations in the 
past. An article in the US News & World Report in June 2002 painted a 
picture of an agency "rife with problems" ranging from alcohol abuse to 
criminal offences, as well as allegations of extramarital relationships 
between agents and White House staff.

A follow-up piece in September that year reported a "pressure-cooker" 
environment where a "debilitating loss of manpower" coincided with 
increased responsibilities. It also reported longstanding management 
difficulties with the uniformed workforce and difficulty in retaining 
them, leading to concern that pressure to quickly hire and train new 
agents would lead to the wrong people being recruited.

Over the past decade, the agency has been involved in fewer salacious 
incidents and has moved away from the "good ol' boy" image that dogged 
it in the past, according to the New York Times.

Until now.

Kessler said turnover is still a problem and cites a current rate of 
more than 5% overall and 12% in the uniformed division.

The agency did not immediately respond to the Guardian's request for 
current figures on the departure of staff within the workforce, which 
has 3,200 special agents and 1,300 uniformed personnel. But one former 
agent, who was responsible for hiring new staff around 2002, said the 
attrition rate had never been a concern.

secret service carsJeffrey Robinson, co-author of a book on the secret 
service, said within the service, agents are angry at the men involved 
in the Colombia scandal. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Former agent Dave Wilkinson, who worked for presidents George Bush Sr, 
Bill Clinton and George W Bush, disagrees with Kessler's claims that the 
scandal indicates a systematic problem of lax standards under Sullivan.

Wilkinson said: "He's obviously got one or two disgruntled people at a 
very low level. Every agency goes through budget cuts. They might cut 
stuff on counterfeiting. But they always make sure they have the 
resources they need to protect the president."

Wilkinson, who retired from the service in 2005 and is now president of 
the Atlanta Police Foundation, moved up through the ranks with Sullivan 
and served with him as assistant agent in charge of the president's 
detail, said that he believed the Colombia episode was an isolated incident.

He said: "I have never seen anything like this in my 22 years in the 
service. There is a culture of zero tolerance towards any personal 
misconduct, especially among agents assigned to the president. Peer 
pressure alone is enough to keep you on the straight and narrow."

Wilkinson said the agents involved "were not part of the advance team 
and not part of the presidents detail".

"In no way was the security of the president in jeopardy by these 
officers and agents but it doesn't mitigate the seriousness because it 
opens the door to a security breach."

He said that the so-called "wheels-up" parties after foreign visits had 
been misconstrued and referred typically to the parties held by the 
ambassador to thank everyone for months of hard work.

"The comment 'wheels up, rings off' I've never heard it in my 22 years 
of service. There is certainly not a culture of that. These guys are 
working 18, 20 hours a day. They don't have time for that sort of thing. 
Any hint that this is accepted behaviour is not true."

He described the Salahi breach as an "embarrassment" but insisted: "Mark 
Sullivan is one of the most dedicated professionals I've ever worked 
with. You will not find more professional, more mission-driven people 
leading the agency."

The political fallout from the Colombia debacle continues in Washington, 
as the number of investigations has spiralled. They include inquiries by 
the secret service's office of professional responsibility, which 
handles the agency's internal affairs, and the House homeland security 
committee, which oversees the Secret Service. The homeland security 
department's inspector general also has been notified, and a separate 
investigation is also under way into 10 members of the US military 
allegedly involved in misconduct in Colombia.


    'The agents I know are furious'

Jeffrey Robinson, the co-author Standing Next to History: An Agent's 
Life Inside the Secret Service, said that, within the service, agents 
are angry at the men involved. But he too insists the security threat 
was minimal.

Robinson told the Guardian: "These guys were in support. They were not 
part of the president's protection, none of them were PPD (presidential 
protective division). The agents in support only know what they have to 
know.

"These guys are taking the same risk as any other businessman. Yes, he 
can have his gun stolen, have his ID card stolen, sure. These were 11 
guys on a mixture of alcohol and testosterone, and they were stupid. 
Their careers are over."

"The agents I know are furious. It is a huge embarrassment. They are 
upset with the 11 guys for being schmucks. They are angry but at no 
point was the president's security breached, and anyone who says it 
could have been doesn't know how they operated."

Robinson said that describing it as the worst scandal to hit the agency, 
as Kessley has done, was just "playing politics".

"The reason this is a big deal is that the secret service has an esprit 
de corp like the marines. They are very proud of what they do, and these 
11 guys have tainted the image of the secret service. They made news."

***

3 more Secret Service employees resign in wake of prostitution scandal
 From Dana Bash, CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent
April 21, 2012 -- Updated 0016 GMT (0816 HKT)


Two agents in Colombia scandal named
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
Three more Secret Service employees have "chosen to resign," the agency says
A 12th Secret Service employee is "implicated," the agency says
The Secret Service chief briefs Obama about the probe, officials say
11 U.S. military service members are also being probed in the 
prostitution scandal
Washington (CNN) -- Three more Secret Service employees have "chosen to 
resign" in the wake of a prostitution scandal that emerged last week, 
the agency said in a news release Friday.
Six Secret Service members now have left their jobs in the wake of the 
incident in Cartagena, Colombia, which came while they were on a 
security detail in advance of President Barack Obama's trip there for 
the Summit of the Americas.
The agency also announced Friday that a 12th Secret Service "employee 
has been implicated," having previously said 11 were under investigation.
One employee "has been cleared of serious misconduct, but will face 
administrative action," the Secret Service said.
Five employees are on administrative leave and have had their security 
clearances temporarily revoked.
In addition, the U.S. military is investigating 11 of its own troops for 
possible heavy drinking and consorting with prostitutes.
  Palin to Secret Service: You're fired Secret Service agents' risky 
behavior Escort details Secret Service incident Congress wants answers 
about sex scandal
A source close to the investigation said Secret Service Director Mark 
Sullivan -- who briefed Obama on the investigation Friday, according to 
White House officials -- has ordered a "comprehensive" investigation of 
everything that happened during the trip.
That includes interviews with every Secret Service member on site, hotel 
staff and alleged prostitutes, the source said. In addition, the source 
confirmed that Secret Service agents were staying at a second hotel on 
the trip -- identified as a Hilton in Cartagena -- which presumably will 
be included in the expanded probe.
The controversy has embarrassed the nearly 150-year-old agency that 
protects the president and other top officials and investigates criminal 
activity. It also raised questions about a possible security breach 
immediately preceding Obama's visit, though House Homeland Security 
Committee Chairman Rep. Peter King has said that "from everything we 
know, nothing was compromised."
Secret Service pushing out three members amid Colombia scandal
Two of the Secret Service employees whose departures were previously 
announced -- identified as David Chaney and Greg Stokes, a source 
familiar with the investigation told CNN national security contributor 
Fran Townsend -- were supervisors.
In a photo posted on his public Facebook page in January 2009, Chaney is 
seen standing behind Sarah Palin, wearing dark glasses and what appears 
be a wedding ring. Under the photo, Chaney posted a comment that said, 
"I was really checking her out, if you know what I mean?"
That remark drew a strong response Thursday night from Palin, who was a 
vice presidential candidate when the photo was taken.
"This agent who was kind of ridiculous there in posting pictures and 
comments about checking someone out," Palin said on Fox News. "Check 
this out, bodyguard. You're fired! And I hope his wife sends him to the 
doghouse."
Chaney, a son of a Secret Service agent, has been employed with the 
agency since 1987, according to his posting on Reunion.com. The posting 
notes that he is married, has an adopted son and his assignments 
included a stint protecting former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Questions raised about macho culture, women agents
Stokes supervised the canine training unit at the Secret Service's James 
J. Rowley Training Center outside Washington, according to PetLife Radio 
and a career development posting on the University of Maryland's website.
Attorney Lawrence Berger -- general counsel for the Federal Law 
Enforcement Officers Association, which represents Secret Service agents 
and others -- said he is not representing all of the agents involved in 
the Colombia story, but he does have several other clients in the group 
in addition to Chaney and Stokes.
He would not comment on specifics of the investigation, but complained 
about leaks that publicly identified Chaney and Stokes and gave details 
of what allegedly happened in Colombia.
"The concern I have is about illegal leaks coming from apparently rogue 
elements within the Secret Service of privacy-protected information," 
Berger said. "It is distorting the review of what happened."
All the employees are accused of bringing prostitutes to Cartagena's 
Hotel El Caribe ahead of last week's visit by Obama. They'd arrived 
earlier that morning as a part of the "jump team" that flies in on 
military transport planes with vehicles in the president's motorcade, 
said Townsend.
According to sources, the alleged prostitutes -- the youngest of whom 
were in their early 20s -- signed in at the hotel, where Secret Service 
members apparently stayed, flashing their local ID cards.
One of these women allegedly was later involved in a dispute about how 
much she was to be paid for the night, which brought the entire incident 
to light and sparked controversy in the United States and Colombia.
Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe told CNN on Thursday that the 
incident was due entirely to "a lack of ethics (on the part of) the 
Secret Service of the United States."
Members of the U.S. Congress offered similarly biting remarks. House 
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the allegations "disgusting," while 
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid described the agents' alleged actions 
as "either really stupid or a total lack of common sense."
The U.S. military is investigating six members of its elite Army Special 
Forces, or Green Berets, officials said.
The Green Berets' failure to make curfew the night of the incident 
involving the Secret Service agents led the military to start its 
investigation, a U.S. official told CNN.
All the military personnel are being investigated for heavy drinking and 
use of prostitutes while in Colombia as part of the support team for 
Obama's visit, the official said. They are not likely to redeploy until 
the matter is resolved, other military officials said.
The military investigation could end with no action, administrative 
action such as a letter of reprimand or a recommendation to proceed with 
criminal charges, officials said.
While soliciting prostitution is in most cases legal for adults in 
Colombia, military law bars service members from patronizing 
prostitutes, engaging in conduct unbecoming an officer or, for enlisted 
personnel, conduct "prejudicial to good order and discipline." It is 
also considered a breach of the Secret Service's conduct code, 
government sources said.

  

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