Friday, April 27, 2012

Secret Service changes its rules after scandal

Washington (CNN) -- The Secret Service agent at the center of the Colombia prostitution scandal has been identified as Arthur Huntington, sources with knowledge of the investigation told CNN on Friday.

According to the sources, Huntington was the agent in a seventh-floor hotel room in Cartagena who had a dispute over pay with an escort.

CNN also learned that Huntington, of Severna Park, Maryland, has now left the Secret Service, but it was not clear under what circumstances.

According to sources, the alleged prostitutes -- the youngest of whom were in their early 20s -- signed in at Hotel Caribe. One of these women, Dania Suarez, 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.

Earlier this week, a man who identified himself as Arthur Huntington declined comment to a CNN producer. Thursday, someone closed the door to his home and made no comment.

Suarez, 24, through a statement credited to her attorney, said she was an escort, not a prostitute, according to CNN's Drew Griffin.

Also Friday, the Secret Service distributed new rules for its agents on assignment intended to prevent a repeat of such alleged misconduct, according to two government sources familiar with the resulting investigation.

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Called Enhanced Standards of Conduct, the new guidelines given to all Secret Service personnel make clear that standards of behavior required in the United States apply on missions abroad, the sources told CNN.

Effective immediately, the new standards require detailed briefings before each trip that will include safety precautions and any necessary designations of establishments and areas that are "off limits" for Secret Service personnel, the sources said.

Also in the new standards, foreigners are banned from Secret Service hotel rooms at all times, except for hotel staff and host nation law enforcement and government officials on official business, according to the officials.

The new standards specify that U.S. laws apply to Secret Service personnel when traveling, rendering invalid the excuse that specific activity is legal in the foreign country, the officials said.

In addition, the new guidelines allow moderate alcohol consumption when off duty, but prohibit alcohol consumption within 10 hours of reporting for duty or at any time when at the hotel where the protected official is staying, the officials explained.

An additional supervisor from the Office of Professional Responsibility will now accompany the "jump teams" that bring vehicles for motorcades and other transportation, the officials said. Agents involved in the Colombia incident were part of such a jump team.

First word of the new regulations came Thursday night, when Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas outlined them on CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront" after meeting with Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan about the scandal that has embarrassed the 147-year-old agency and raised questions about possible security breaches.

Allegations of further transgressions by agents have emerged following the initial reports of heavy drinking and consorting with prostitutes earlier this month before President Barack Obama arrived in Cartagena, Colombia, for the Summit of the Americas.
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New claims include an account from El Salvador described by CNN affiliate Seattle TV station KIRO as very similar to the Colombia scandal, involving members of the Secret Service and other government agencies.

A U.S. government official, speaking on condition of not being identified, acknowledged there had been missteps among Secret Service members. Such problems are to be expected over the agency's long history and don't necessarily reflect a systemic or cultural issue, the official said.

"We have had employees that have engaged in misconduct," the official said. "People make mistakes."

Meanwhile, a congressional source said Thursday that reports of other incidents involving members of the agency, which is charged with protecting the president and other top officials as well as investigating criminal activity, have been brought to the attention of Congress.

That includes the alleged incident in El Salvador, which the Secret Service has told Congress it is looking into as well, according to the congressional source.

The KIRO report cited an unnamed U.S. government contractor who worked extensively with the Secret Service advance team in San Salvador before Obama's trip there in March 2011.

The source said he was with about a dozen Secret Service agents and a few U.S. military specialists at a strip club in the city a few days before Obama arrived.

The men drank heavily at the club, and most of them paid extra for access to a VIP section where they were provided sexual favors in return for cash, the source told the station.

The station reported that the strip club's owner corroborated the allegations. The owner confirmed that a large number of agents, and some military escorts, "descended on his club" that week and were there at least three nights in a row, KIRO reported.

The owner said his club routinely takes care of high-ranking employees of the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador as well as visiting agents from the FBI and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, KIRO said. The owner said his reputation for "security" and "privacy" makes his strip club popular with "those who want to be discreet."

The government contractor source said he told the agents it was a "really bad idea" to take the strippers back to their hotel rooms, but several agents bragged that they "did this all the time" and "not to worry about it," KIRO reported.

KIRO investigative reporter Chris Halsne told the CBS show "This Morning" on Thursday that he considers his source very credible, and he later told CNN that he had checked billing records, receipts, credentials and other information to confirm the contractor was with the Secret Service in Central America at the time of the incident.

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The source told him about the alleged scandal last year, while Halsne was in El Salvador on a different story. Halsne said he pressed for details at that time, but the man didn't want any information from him to be used then in a news story.

After the allegations involving Secret Service agents in Colombia surfaced, Halsne again pressed his source, who this time agreed to the use of his account in the KIRO report.

CNN cannot independently confirm the allegations.

Responding to the KIRO report, Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan said: "The recent investigation in Cartagena has generated several news stories that contain allegations by mostly unnamed sources. Any information brought to our attention that can be assessed as credible will be followed up on in an appropriate manner."

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday that his department is not investigating any of its troops over the reported incident in El Salvador. But the State Department is questioning its embassy staff in El Salvador about the allegations, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday.

The Drug Enforcement Administration also is prepared to look into, "in an appropriate manner and immediately," allegations that it deems "credible" regarding its agents in El Salvador, agency spokesman Rusty Payne said. But he added that, while the DEA has seen news reports, "We are unaware of any allegations of misconduct."

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa -- the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which received a briefing on the Colombia scandal this week by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano -- said the KIRO report "only reaffirms the need for independent investigations by the (Homeland Security Department's independent) inspector general."

Appearing on CNN Friday, Grassley said he had yet to get a response from the White House to his request for further information.

Another conservative Republican on the judiciary panel, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, called for Congress itself to investigate "as part of our oversight responsibilities."

But Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat and Judiciary Committee member, disagreed and said Napolitano's investigation needs to come first.

"After that, Congress should look into it and see what went wrong and what could be changed," Schumer said.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that an unnamed source said such behavior is part of the culture at the Secret Service and not a one-time occurrence.

The Secret Service said it has no comment on the Post story, but a Secret Service official, who was not authorized to comment on the continuing investigation said, "It's difficult for the Secret Service to defend against this," referring to the Post's article.

"The reaction by our leadership speaks for itself," the official told CNN, referring to the Colombia incident. "Everyone was sent home. There's an investigation. We have taken action regarding the agents."

White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to comment on the new allegations Thursday, saying questions should be directed to the Secret Service.

Nine Secret Service members have resigned or are being forced out as a result of the scandal over the alleged events in Colombia. The military has launched its own investigation into 12 members who were in Colombia in advance of Obama's visit.

Meanwhile, a woman involved in a separate incident in Brazil last December that led to three U.S. Marines being disciplined told CNN that she worked as a prostitute at the time.

Romilda Aparecida Ferreira said she and other women had drinks with the U.S. military men and a U.S. Embassy employee, then set a price. Prostitution is legal in Brazil.

An ensuing argument led to her removal from an embassy van, which then took off as she tried to get back in, according to the police report.

"That's when it dragged me and ripped the skin off my leg," said Ferreira, who is considering a civil lawsuit in the case. "I let go and then the back tire drove over me, literally right over me."

Ferreira, who said she no longer works as a prostitute, told CNN she turned down an offer of $2,000 from the U.S. Embassy for medical expenses.

Panetta, on a trip to Brazil this week, noted that the Marines involved "were reduced in rank and they were severely punished for that behavior."

"I have no tolerance for that kind of conduct, not here or any place in the world," the defense secretary said

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