By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A prostitution scandal in Colombia involving U.S. Secret Service employees did not result in any security breach and was not behavior that reflected the high ethical standards of the agency, the director of the agency said.
Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan defended the culture of the agency in testimony prepared for a Senate hearing on Wednesday, saying its employees were among the most dedicated and "self-sacrificing" in the federal government. It will be his first public appearance before Congress since the scandal.
But in the wake of the scandal over events in the coastal city of Cartagena, Colombia, Sullivan said he has ordered a review that will produce an "action plan" to reinforce professional conduct standards at the agency. His testimony for the Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing was obtained on Tuesday by Reuters.
Secret Service employees and military personnel have been linked to raucous behavior in which they took as many as 21 women, at least some of them prostitutes, back to their hotel rooms ahead of a visit to Colombia by President Barack Obama for the April 13-15 Summit of the Americas.
Sullivan said that Secret Service personnel that had gone to Colombia ahead of the summit were scheduled to be briefed on their assignments on April 12, the day after the night of misconduct.
"Thus, at the time the misconduct occurred, none of the individuals involved in misconduct had received any specific protective information, sensitive security documents, firearms, radios or other security related equipment in their hotel rooms," he said.
The security plan for the summit was not compromised and there were no negative security-related incidents at the summit, he said.
However, the agency also reached out to the U.S. intelligence community "to cast as wide a net as possible" in determining whether security had been breached, Sullivan said.
"No adverse information was found," he said.
Nine Secret Service personnel were found to have been involved in serious misconduct in Colombia, but Sullivan noted that this was out of 200 agency employees there at the time. Three were cleared of the most serious allegations.
The misconduct "is not representative ... of the high ethical standards we demand from our almost 7,000 employees," he said.
'ISSUE OF CULTURE'
Sullivan may have some trouble convincing some of the lawmakers at Wednesday's hearing. Senator Susan Collins said she did not believe it was an isolated incident.
"Contrary to the conventional story line, this was not simply a single, organized group that went out for a night on the town together," she said in a statement prepared for the hearing.
"These were individuals and small groups of two and three ... that went out at different times to different clubs, bars, and brothels, but who all ended up in similar circumstances," Collins said.
"The numbers involved, as well as the participation of two senior supervisors, make me believe that this was not a one-time event. Rather, the circumstances unfortunately suggest an issue of culture," Collins, a Republican, said.
Sullivan noted the Secret Service had issued new rules of conduct on April 27 banning heavy drinking and bringing foreign guests back to hotel rooms on trips abroad.
He also has established a "Professionalism Reinforcement Working Group" to review the agency's conduct standards and prepare recommendations to reinforce them.
He said the agency had examined a report of similar misconduct by agents at an El Salvador strip club last year ahead of an Obama trip, but had found no evidence to substantiate it.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)