It turns out the Colombian sex scandal rocking the Secret Service isn't as novel as we all thought. With two more agents resigning from the the service on Tuesday, voices are starting to come out of the woodwork to deliver a message: This type of behavior is hardly unprecedented for U.S. government employees.
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The most recent example comes from The Associated Press' Lolita C. Baldor last night, involving three marines working a U.S. Embassy security detail with an embassy official in December. In a situation that sounds remarkably similar to this month's fiasco, the AP says the officials were "punished for allegedly pushing a prostitute out of a car in Brasilia late last year after a dispute over payment." Unfortunately for the prostitute in this case, she didn't walk away unscathed—a defense official says she broke her collarbone when she was pushed out of the car. In wake of the Colombia scandal, officials tell the AP she has lawyered up and is suing the Embassy. But even this doesn't seem to be an isolated incident.
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The Washington Post's Carol Leonnig and David Nakamura speak with a number of agents not implicated in this month's scandal who say this type of thing has gone on for years. “Of course it has happened before” an agent says. “This is not the first time. It really only blew up in this case because the [U.S. Embassy] was alerted.” Agents pointed to an incident in 2009, when the Secret Service detail covering former President Bill Clinton had a wild night. "During that trip, the agents said, members of the detail went out for a late night of partying at strip clubs," reports The Post. An agent adds, “You take a bunch of guys out of the country and have a lot of women showering them with attention, bad things are bound to happen."
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Of course, those weren't the only two reminders that the cocktail of sex and U.S. agents isn't something of confined to the 21st century. In a rather conspiratorial interview with Radio Iowa, Sen. Chuck Grassley reminded listeners about the Soviet Union's history of training female agents to seduce their U.S. counterparts. "The Russians are famous for that to get information out of us,” he said. For more on that, the Russian newspaper Pravda has a detailed look at the ins and outs (no pun intended) of the USSR's program training female spies to seduce men. "Girls were supposed to be able to execute any task," the newspaper wrote in 2002. "They were trying to deliver them from any shyness or shame, teaching them sex techniques, showing perverted pornographic videos ... The first contact with an object was supposed to be totally incidental, but it was all over with blackmail."
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So what do we take from all this? The agents speaking anonymously to the Post said because previous bad behavior was tolerated, the agents involved in the scandal this month should be punished but not dismissed. While their claim about precedent appears to be true, their argument still under-appreciates the gravity of the situation and the potential for blackmail. As Grassley said yesterday “The issue here isn’t just people messing around with prostitutes, the issue is the security of the president of the United States." Given the high stakes involved, it would be irresponsible not to draw a bright red line.