Commentary: 'Secret Service' in Colombia

The Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-EnquirerApril 18, 2012 

Think of Chevy Chase in "Vacation" telling Christie Brinkley he's ex-CIA. Or Bill Paxton schmoozing Jamie Lee Curtis in "True Lies" by posing as an international spy.

The Secret Service agents at the center of the Colombia prostitute scandal actually do work for the government. Whether that makes them more or less buffoonish than the aforementioned movie clowns is a good question.

As most Americans know, the scandal doesn't stop with the Secret Service; military personnel have been implicated as well, which led Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to tell reporters earlier this week, "We are embarrassed."

No kidding.

The whole scuzzy saga of booze and hookers among members of the president's advance security team has provided great fodder for comics and cartoonists -- and, yes, newspaper pundits. And given that Americans can't do anything about it at this point except hope and demand that the government fixes what is so obviously broken, we can't be blamed for enjoying a few raunchy jokes at the government's expense. After all, most of the price of this raunchy party came at ours.

But in terms of the deadly seriousness government security, this is ultimately anything but a joke.

Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs chair, got it right when he told reporters, "We let the boss down, because nobody is talking about what went down in Colombia other than this incident."

True enough. The White House mission of strengthening U.S. economic ties with growing Latin American economies at a "Summit of the Americas" in Colombia has been overshadowed, at least in the public mind, by the hi-jinks and misconduct of the security team at a five-star hotel (on our tab, remember) in Cartagena.

That might not even be the worst of it. While the Secret Service steadfastly maintains that the embarrassing incidents did not affect its ability to provide security, at least one member of Congress says otherwise.

Rep. Peter King, R- N.Y., is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. King, while defending the overall performance of Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, told NBC's "Today" show Tuesday morning that "we really lucked out on this" in that agents compromised the president's security: "You don't allow a potential enemy into your security zone."

Eleven Secret Service agents on the Colombia mission were sent home and replaced, and the five service members implicated were confined to their quarters. That's a start. But the whole mindset and culture of an organization whose members reportedly joke that their motto is "wheels up, rings off" demands serious scrutiny as well.

Rep. King is absolutely right: Bringing sex partners into the "security zone" poses a serious risk. Haven't these guys ever seen a spy movie?

To read more, visit www.ledger-enquirer.com.

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