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Published: Wednesday, 5/2/2012


Agents of disgrace

It's absurd that it took the firing of eight Secret Service employees for the rest of the agency to get the strong message that common sense must govern their behavior.

That sensibility was missing when a prostitution scandal blew up in Colombia last month. It involved 12 Secret Service agents, officers, and supervisors, along with 12 enlisted military personnel, all of whom were part of an advance team preparing for a visit by President Obama. Not only do these employees have one of the most critical responsibilities of any federal worker -- presidential security -- they also represent the American people abroad.

In this case, it was conduct unbecoming. It surfaced after an agent failed to pay a prostitute. It's irrelevant that prostitution is legal in Colombia. What matters is that it's a crime in the United States.

A memo last week from Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan reminded agents that "laws of the United States shall apply to Secret Service personnel while abroad." The memo tightened rules on alcohol, prohibiting agents from drinking within 10 hours of working.

Mr. Sullivan also barred visits to "non-reputable" establishments and forbade employees from allowing foreigners, except law-enforcement officers or hotel staff, into their rooms.

Although the clear and strict rules are welcome, one ludicrous new provision requires a chaperone to accompany agents on some trips. Really? This is not the senior prom.

The Secret Service remains largely a male bastion. Women make up 25 percent of the agency's work force, but account for only 11 percent of its agents and uniformed officers. A greater female presence in these roles would lead to greater accountability.

If this incident is isolated, as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano insists, then the damage to the Secret Service and the nation's reputation will be limited. But if proof surfaces that similar conduct occurred last year in El Salvador and perhaps elsewhere, then the scandal is bigger and may require Mr. Sullivan to be sacked.

The president, regardless of party or politics, deserves the strongest security the nation can afford. He or she won't get it from agents who are distracted by booze, hookers, and strip clubs.

This may be an opportune warning that heads off a presidential tragedy. If nothing else, it reminds agents to act in a way that honors their country.

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