U.S. Secret Service Director Mark J. Sullivan is either deluding himself or is obfuscating — and neither is acceptable for the top protector of the U.S. president. And that's why it's particularly important that on Wednesday, the acting inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security promised to independently investigate the conduct of Secret Service agents who, while preparing for a presidential visit to Cartagena, Colombia, last month, drank heavily and engaged the services of prostitutes. The American people have every right to expect that those charged with providing security for the president and other government dignitaries meet the highest standards of professional and personal conduct.
Appearing before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee, Sullivan offered an obligatory apology for the conduct of at least 12 Secret Service agents who barhopped and picked up prostitutes. Six agents have been fired, while the others face various forms of disciplinary action. But the apology does not go far enough. Sullivan continues to insist that the Cartagena bacchanal does not represent a systemic pattern of agents behaving badly.
But Cartagena is not the first time in the past decade that agents have found themselves embroiled in accusations of improper sexual conduct, as senators recalled Wednesday. And with Sullivan seemingly unwilling to accept there may be a broader problem, it will be up to an independent investigator to get to the truth in an agency tasked with keeping the president safe. The tawdry Cartagena episode could have compromised the president's safekeeping as well as broader national security concerns.
No doubt most of the agency's 7,000 employees are loyal and dedicated public servants who respect the Secret Service's challenging and honorable mission. And they should understand more than most why it's so important to root out how some of the nation's most trusted government employees exercised such incredibly poor judgment.