Joint Chiefs chairman: Secret Service sex scandal "let the boss down"

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - The Pentagon's top man in uniform says he's very disturbed about reports of a sex scandal in Colombia involving the Secret Service and members of the military.

It has emerged that supervisors and members of an elite counter-assault team are among the Secret Service personnel who are now under investigation.

The scandal involves possible partying with prostitutes in Colombia prior to President Obama's visit last week.

CBS News has learned that the number of military personnel involved has doubled to at least 10, including at least one from every military branch. They were sent back to the U.S. Monday.

Secret Service revokes security clearances of accused agents

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he's embarrassed by what occurred, even though he's not sure yet exactly what it was.

"We let the boss down," he said, "because nobody's talking about what went on in Colombia other than this incident."

Members of the armed services provide communications, transportation and other services on all presidential trips. Their boss, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, didn't mince words, saying, "Whether these individuals were in Colombia or any country or in the United States, we expect them to abide by highest standard of behavior. And that's a requirement."

In addition to the 10 members of the military, there were 11 members of the Secret Service recalled last week from Colombia after U.S. officials learned of a night of heavy drinking and cavorting with prostitutes.

According to the Washington Post, agents picked up at least two women at a strip club and brought them back to the hotel. One demanded an additional $170, setting off a noisy argument that drew the attention of hotel workers. And the military looked at security camera footage from the hotel to determine how many people were allegedly involved.

They have now had their security clearances revoked, and have been barred from all Secret Service facilities.

That includes two supervisors and several members of the counter-assault elite unit whose job is to hold off an attack on the president.

CBS News has been told that Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan was outraged and ordered the team out of Colombia before the president arrived.

On Monday, Sullivan sent a memo, obtained by CBS News, to all Secret Service offices worldwide. In it, he called the incident "embarrassing" and wrote, "It is my hope that each of us will be steadfast in our efforts to ensure that our performance and behavior mirror the oath we have sworn to uphold."

The White House would rather have had the coverage over the weekend focus on the president's meeting with Latin American leaders, but officials admit the meeting probably wouldn't have gotten a lot of attention, anyway. And, as one official noted philosophically, at any given moment, someone in government is doing something stupid.

To see Bill Plante's report, click on the video in the player above.

  • Bill Plante

    Bill Plante is a CBS News Senior White House Correspondent

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