Defense boss' guards expected on best behavior on Latam trip

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 20, 2012 2:33 PM
Defense boss' guards expected on best behavior on Latam trip

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The security detail accompanying Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to Colombia next week is expected to be on best behavior following the prostitution scandal that overshadowed President Barack Obama's recent visit there.

Obama's participation in last weekend's Summit of the Americas in Colombia's seaside city of Cartagena was tainted by the news of a night of partying, allegedly involving prostitutes, by Secret Service agents and U.S. military personnel just before Obama arrived.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said Panetta's security detail, which usually is made up of U.S. military personnel, had not been given a special briefing on rules of conduct abroad before the trip, which also includes stops in Brazil and Chile.

"I don't think anyone needs to be told that they need to conduct themselves in the manner that they should," Little told reporters.

"We expect the highest standards of the U.S. military. That's certainly what the secretary is looking for, for the entire delegation," he said.

Eleven Secret Service agents and 10 U.S. military personnel allegedly took as many as 21 women back to their hotel before Obama arrived in Cartegena last week.

Little said a military investigation into the incident - which is taking place in parallel to a secret service probe - was ongoing.

Hiring prostitutes, no matter the legal status where the act takes place, is prohibited for U.S. military personnel. Those convicted under the military justice system can be imprisoned for up to a year and be discharged dishonorably.

Prostitution is legal in "tolerance zones" in Colombia.

Panetta's Latin America trip comes as the U.S. military seeks to deepen ties with the region even as fiscal pressures constrain defense spending.

(Reporting By Missy Ryan; Editing by Vicki Allen)