Thursday, April 19, 2018

Investigation into Secret Service scandal in Colombia widens

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is investigating 10 U.S. military members in a widening inquiry into whether an advance team led by the Secret Service hired prostitutes or engaged in other misconduct before President Barack Obama visited Colombia for a summit, officials said Monday.

The Pentagon inquiry is focusing on five Army Special Forces soldiers, two Marines, two Navy personnel and one member of the Air Force, a U.S. military official said. Officials had said five service members were under scrutiny.

The Navy and Air Force personnel belong to an explosives detection unit, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

At least five of the 10 were flown back to the United States on Monday. A U.S. colonel was en route to Cartagena, Colombia, to supervise the Pentagon portion of the inquiry into an incident that has embarrassed the White House, the Secret Service and the Pentagon.

"We let the boss down," Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news conference, referring to Obama. "I can speak for myself and my fellow chiefs: We're embarrassed by what occurred in Colombia, though we're not sure exactly what it is."

The Secret Service ordered 11 agents home from Cartagena on Thursday, a day before Obama arrived, after local police were called to their beachfront hotel and discovered women believed to be prostitutes in several rooms. The agents, who were not part of the elite unit assigned to protect Obama, were placed on administrative leave.

The 10 military members "were in the same hotel, and when the police were called they somehow got caught up in the incident," said Col. Scott Malcom, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command, which is handling the military investigation.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said the military members were assigned to support the Secret Service in preparation for Obama's visit to the weekend Summit of the Americas and were not directly involved in his security.

Obama said Sunday that he would be "angry" if the allegations of misconduct were true because he expected representatives of the U.S. government to act with "the utmost in dignity and probity."

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