WASHINGTON (AP) — Seeking to restore its reputation tarnished by a prostitution scandal, the Secret Service late Friday tightened conduct rules for its agents to prohibit them from drinking excessively, visiting disreputable establishments while traveling or taking foreigners to their hotel rooms, The Associated Press has learned.
The new behavior policies apply to Secret Service agents even when they are off duty, barring them from drinking alcohol within 10 hours of working, according to three people briefed on the changes. All of them spoke on condition of anonymity because the agency had not yet announced the new policies publicly. Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan declined to discuss the new rules.
The agency-wide changes were intended to staunch the embarrassing disclosures since April 13, when a prostitution scandal erupted in Colombia involving 12 Secret Service agents, officers and supervisors and 12 more enlisted military personnel who were there ahead of President Barack Obama's visit to a South American summit. But the new policies announced Friday raised doubts about early claims that the behavior discovered in Cartagena was an isolated incident: Why would the Secret Service formally issue new regulations covering thousands of employees if such activities were a one-time occurrence?
The Secret Service already forced eight employees from their jobs and was seeking to revoke the security clearance of another employee, which would effectively force him to resign. Three others have been cleared of serious wrongdoing. The military was conducting its own, separate investigation but canceled the security clearances of all 12 enlisted personnel.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano assured senators earlier this week that the incident in Colombia appeared to be an isolated case, saying she would be surprised if it represented a broader cultural problem. The next day, the Secret Service acknowledged it was investigating whether its employees hired strippers and prostitutes in advance of Obama's visit last year to El Salvador. Prostitution is legal in both Colombia and El Salvador.
In a confidential message to senators on Thursday, the Secret Service said its Office of Professional Responsibility had not received complaints about officer behavior in El Salvador but would investigate.