U.S. President Obama waves as arrives from Air Force One at Zaventem airport in Brussels on Tuesday.
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WASHINGTON — A Secret Service agent found drunk by staff at a Dutch hotel was recalled to the U.S. along with two of his colleagues, the day before President Barack Obama was set to arrive in the Netherlands.
Word of another embarrassing incident to hit the elite agency came as the president was midway through a weeklong, four-country trip to Europe and Saudi Arabia. The Secret Service said the three agents were benched on Sunday for “disciplinary reasons” but declined to elaborate.
The Secret Service was alerted to the situation by U.S. Embassy officials in the Netherlands after hotel staff reported finding the highly intoxicated agent in the hotel, said a person familiar with the situation, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the alleged behavior on the record and demanded anonymity. The other two agents were deemed complicit because they didn’t intervene despite being in a position to assist the drunken agent or tamp down his behavior, the person said.
“It wasn’t like a big, crazy party,” the person said.
The three agents were part of the president’s Counter Assault Team, but have been placed on administrative leave, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the disciplinary action. The newspaper said one of the agents was a “team leader.”
Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said the incident did not compromise the president’s security in any way. Obama left the Netherlands late Tuesday for Brussels, and there were no known security issues during his stay.
Still, the incident represents a fresh blemish for an agency struggling to rehabilitate its tarnished reputation following a high-profile prostitution scandal and other allegations of misconduct. An inspector general’s report in December concluded there was no evidence of widespread misconduct, in line with the service’s longstanding assertion that it has no tolerance for inappropriate behavior.
Before Obama travels anywhere abroad, a slew of Secret Service and other government officials are dispatched in advance to prepare the intense security operation needed to protect the president in unfamiliar territory. Typically, counter assault teams travel with the president in his motorcade and if he came under fire, the team would be called upon to engage any attackers while the president was hustled to safety.
Stricter rules implemented in the wake of the prostitution scandal in Colombia bar agents from drinking alcohol within 10 hours of starting a shift. It’s unclear whether the other two agents were drinking heavily or what time any of them would have been expected to show up for a shift.
The Secret Service’s reputation for rowdy, fraternity-like behavior snowballed in April 2012 in the run-up to another Obama foreign trip, this one in the Caribbean resort city of Cartagena, Colombia, where 13 agents and officers were accused of carousing with female foreign nationals at a hotel where they were staying before Obama’s arrival.
After a night of heavy partying in bars and clubs, the employees brought women, including prostitutes, back to their hotel. Six of the employees eventually resigned or retired, while others had their security clearances revoked or were removed from duty.
Seeking to turn a page on that chapter in the service’s famed history, Obama last year named veteran Secret Service agent Julia Pierson as the agency’s first female director and signaled his desire to change the culture at the male-dominated service. Less than a year later, two additional officers were removed from Obama’s detail following allegations of sexually-related misconduct that came to light after an incident at an upscale hotel next to the White House.
A 145-page report issued late last year by the Homeland Security Department inspector general determined there was no evidence of widespread misconduct within the Secret Service. Following the South American prostitution scandal, the agency put new procedures in place, including a ban on bringing foreign nationals to hotel rooms where agents and officers are staying.