What’s Left: Forget About It



Last week, President Obama’s trip to Colombia for the Summit of the Americas was overshadowed by a media sideshow, accusing members of the United States Secret Service with alleged misconduct and solicitation of prostitutes. Prior to the President’s arrival, 11 Secret Service agents, who were sent to Cartagena, Colombia on detail to protect the President, were sent back to the United States and placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation. On Friday, a 12th member was implicated, placed on administrative leave and stripped of his security clearance. These allegations have given rise to what the media refers to as “the biggest scandal in the United States Secret Service’s history.” The image of the Secret Service’s proud yet insular culture has been challenged in a way that it has never been in the one hundred and forty six years of the agency’s existence. Although prostitution is legal in Colombia in some “tolerance zones,” the misconduct came to light after one of the women involved complained to police that one of the members of the Secret Service refused to pay her the previously agreed amount.

Six employees, including two supervisors, have either resigned, retired or have been proposed for firing due to clear violations of the agency’s code of conduct. While the scandal is getting a lot of attention on Capitol Hill, most lawmakers have voiced their support for the way Secret Service director, Mark Sullivan, has handled the problem. He has been praised for immediately launching an investigation and for being transparent about the agency’s handling of the scandal. So far, no recent incidents of similar misbehavior have surfaced publicly, reinforcing Sullivan’s claim that the incident in Colombia was isolated. However, this has not stopped the media from tarnishing the image of the United States Secret Service and the Obama

Administration as a whole.

It is easy for the media to criticize the members involved, for they explicitly violated the code of conduct rules laid out for them in their training. The intense stress, long hours and occasional boredom that accompany duties are no excuse for their actions. The internal investigations by the Obama Administration and the Secret Service agency have condemned those involved, and it is clear that the violators will not work for the agency again. That should be the end of it. This scandal in no way reflects the agency as a whole and the success it has had during its lengthy existence. More importantly, it should not turn the public eye away from the reason for President Obama’s trip to Colombia.

The discreditable behavior exhibited by the Secret Service agents has clearly overshadowed the good will President Obama was looking to gain from the Summit of the Americas. Obama intended to be a key speaker during the talks directed toward fostering civil society through economic and trade relations with Latin American countries, focusing on Panama and Colombia. The administration also hoped the trip would bolster Obama’s Open Government Partnership initiative, which he launched in September 2011. The Open Government Partnership’s mission was initiated to help advance a new standard of governance in the 21st century by taking steps toward greater transparency, accountability and participation and resolving problems with corruption. 

Now is a critical time for President Obama. It is general election season and critics will be aggressively examining the President’s policy promises, record and campaign operations, as they should. It is imperative that the general public does the same. That being said, the Secret Service scandal, while reprehensible, does not reflect the performance of the Obama Administration as a whole. Voters should remain focused on the President’s campaign rather than get wrapped up in a media frenzy that threatens to shift the focus of this election.

Contact Thomas McGarrity at [email protected].