WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's safety in Colombia wasn't compromised because of a prostitution scandal that involved Secret Service and U.S. military personnel, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a Senate committee yesterday.
"That was my first question to [Secret Service Director Mark] Sullivan," Napolitano told the Senate Judiciary Committee, "and the answer is no. There was no risk to the president."
Napolitano was gently peppered with questions by senators about whether the behavior of the Secret Service and U.S. military personnel with prostitutes at the Hotel Caribe days before Obama's arrival in Cartagena for the Summit of the Americas was symptomatic of problems within the agency.
"No one wants to see the president's security compromised, or America embarrassed," Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) likened the behavior of the Secret Service agents involved in the sex scandal to the behavior of the soldiers who took the controversial pictures of humiliated prisoners at Abu Ghraib. "Systems obviously failed then, and obviously there's a system failure here," he said.
Napolitano responded that investigators are trying to determine whether the situation in Colombia "was an aberration or not." She said Secret Service members are schooled in proper conduct through training and supervision. But she added that the agency is "looking at the standards, the training, the supervision, to see what, if anything, needs to be tightened up because, again, we don't want this to be repeated."
Twelve Secret Service employees and a dozen military members were implicated in the scandal, which came to light when a Secret Service employee got into an argument with a prostitute over money. In the continuing Secret Service investigation of the incident, eight employees, including two supervisors, have been fired or have retired or resigned.