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Secret Service woes plunge deeper after Colombia caper

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Tales of drinking and unpaid contractual obligations to prostitutes among members of an advance Secret Service team sent to Cartagena, Colombia have dominated U.S. media accounts of President Obama's trip there.

In Colombia for a triennial summit meeting of Caribbean, North-, Central- and South- American leaders, Obama mostly let go unremarked reports that 11 Secret Service agents had been sent home and placed on administrative leave on April 12 following drunken carousing and utilization of prostitutes at the Hotel Caribe, where the agents were staying. It's unclear how many of the 11 agents were directly involved; Obama arrived in Cartagena on April 13 for Summit of the Americas and officials have emphasize that the advance team's behavior never placed him in danger.

On summit's final day, Obama said he expects a full investigation to be conducted and will defer until the results before passing final judgment.

"If it turns out that some of the allegations that have been made in the press are confirmed, then of course I'll be angry," he said April 15. "We're representing the people of the United States."

News of the agents' behavior--five Defense Department personnel may also be implicated--reportedly came to the attention of Secret Service official in Washington, D.C. after one of the prostitutes refused to leave an agent's room on the grounds that she hadn't been paid. According what Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has told the Washington Post, police were summoned, who reported the matter to the U.S. embassy, who informed the Secret Service. The Post broke the story after a tipoff from true crime author Ronald Kessler.

So far the Colombian press have added little to the story. An April 14 story from the Bogotá-based El Tiempo stated that "the only thing that can, in effect, be said with certainty is that the agents were lodged at the Hotel Caribe and that for a week they dedicated themselves to drinking."

The newspaper also noted that in Cartagena, prostitutes are known as "prepagos," or "pre-paids." Prostitution is permitted in Colombia in "tolerance zones."

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee went on CBS's Face the Nation April 15 to say the incident might be endemic of wider problems in the Secret Service.

"The question is--is the whole organization in need of some soul searching, some changes, before the president, the vice president, members of the cabinet are in danger?" he said.

The Secret Service has come under increased scrutiny particularly since November 2009, when two uninvited social climbers, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, crashed a White House state dinner.

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